Hoodia gordonii Description
Hoodia gordonii is a spiny succulent. In the early stages only one stem is produced but at a later stage the plant starts branching. Mature plants can have as many as 50 individual branches and weigh as much as 30 kg. Plants under ideal conditions can attain a height of 1 m. Flowers are borne on or near the terminal apex (top part of the plant). The flowers are large and have a carrion-like smell (smell similar to rotten meat). In some ways the Hoodia flowers resemble a petunia flower. Flowers vary in colour from pale straw to dark maroon. Flowers are normally borne in early spring (August or September). Flowers can reach a diameter of 75 mm. Seed is produced in early summer (October and November). The seed capsules resemble small antelope or goat horns hence the Afrikaans common name of bokhorings.
Distribution and habitat
Hoodia gordonii has a very wide distribution. It occurs in the north-eastern part of the Western Cape, the north and north-western regions of the Northern Cape and southern Namibia. It is used to extreme heat (above 40°C), but it can survive in relatively low temperatures (-3°C).
The plant appears to have a wide tolerance of growing habitats, found in deep Kalahari sands, on dry stony slopes or flats and under the protection of xerophytic bushes. Hoodia gordonii can, under ideal conditions, live for 25 years in cultivation. In the wild they probably don’t live much longer than 15 years.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Hoodia gordonii was discovered by Paterson and Col. R.F. Gordon in December 1778 in the Upington area. Francis Masson, a famous botanist, named this plant Stapelia gordonii with the specific epithet named after Gordon. In 1830 the genus was later transferred by Sweet into the genus Hoodia, which was named in honour of Van Hood, a keen succulent grower.
Pollination is done mainly by flies. This unusual pollination biology is referred to as myophily (pollination by flies). Myophily takes place in some of the following genera: Stapelia, Huernia and Ceropegia.