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Cyphostemma juttae - the Tree Grape - is a rare, crazy-looking succulent from South Africa and neighboring Namibia. It forms a bizarre canopy of serrated, blue-green leaves that emerge each spring from swollen, tree-like trunks. Each plant takes on a unique shape, with its own "personality". The plants normally grow to 6 or 7 feet tall, but they can potentially reach 12 feet! This is a great species for fans of funky caudex plants!
Cyphostemma juttae is an odd member of the Grape family (Vitaceae). It's a summer-growing species that sheds its leaves during winter, showing off its attractive caudex and stems. The fat, succulent trunks are lined with a papery, peeling bark. The saw-toothed leaves look truly bizarre, like some sort of carpenter's tool! The foot-long leaves have a rubbery texture, and are curled upward along the edges, possibly to catch water.
Flowers appear in the summer, followed by attractive, grape-like berries. Despite their tasty look, the fruits should not be eaten, since they contain a toxin. This is a slow-growing, long-lived plant. While it will take many years to reach maximum size, it is handsome at any age!
Cyphostemma comes from hot, dry areas in southern Africa. It has no problem taking temperatures in the 90s (35°C), although it may need some afternoon shade in hot climates to avoid leaf burn. It can handle winter temperatures in the upper 20s (-2°C), but it's best to protect it from frost. It is easily grown indoors in a pot. Grow it in fast-draining soil, such as cactus mix. It is drought-tolerant, but it appreciates some water and fertilizer during the summer growing season. Despite coming from areas that are dry in winter, it can adapt to wet-winter areas like coastal California.
First scratch the seeds lightly a few times over sandpaper or a nail file. Then soak them in a cup of water for 24 hours. Plant 1 seed per pot. Use small containers about 2" (5 cm) wide. The soil should be well draining, but be able to hold water. A good mix is 1/2 regular potting soil and 1/2 perlite. Cover the seed with 1/2" (1 cm) of soil. Don't compress the soil. After filling the pots, water the soil so that it's uniformly moist. Keep the pots at about 65-75°F (18-24°C). Ensure that the soil surface doesn't dry out, but don't keep the soil soggy either.
Germination is erratic and can take anywhere from days to months. Be patient, as most will eventually sprout. If you have a bag over the pots to retain moisture, remove it immediately after germination or the leaves can rot if they touch it.
Once the seeds sprout, give them filtered sunlight initially until they are a little taller. More tips on growing them are here.
Have fun growing them!
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