Cussonia is a genus of plants of the family Araliaceae, native to the Afrotropics. It originated in Africa and has its center of distribution in South Africa and the Mascarene Islands. Due to their striking habit, they are a conspicuous and easily recognizable group of plants. Their genus name commemorates the botanist Pierre Cusson.
The species occurs in grasslands, woodlands and forests, from sea level to over 6,500 feet (2,000 m) in altitude. Geographically, they are indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula and the Comoro Islands.
Cussonias are squat to lanky shrubs and trees with a palm-like habit. Their leaves are typically grouped in umbrella-shaped arrangements at the tips of long erect branches. The leaves are carried on long petioles, and have conspicuous stipules. The leaves are very variable in shape, often palmately compound with leaflets likewise variable in shape, but also simple or palmate. Their usually dense inflorescences are often spiked, and their small flowers usually have 5 greenish petals. Their stems and underground parts are succulent and their bark is often corky.
Growing Conditions and General Care
Cussonia is easy to grow from seed and does not require much care. Most species are drought tolerant and prefer a sunny spot to grow. Protect them from frost and grow in a well-drained and slightly rich soil. These plants can handle an occasional and mild frost, but a chill will make the leaves fall off. Water regularly.
All the members of this genus form a swollen stem base beneath the ground and care must be taken not to damage this when planting out.
The best method of propagation is by means of seed harvested from fresh ripe fruits. Sow seed as soon as possible as it loses much of its viability within 3 months. However, seed sown in summer months will germinate faster (in about 4 weeks) than seed sown in winter (7 weeks to germination). Make sure seed trays are at least 6 inches (15 cm) in depth to allow the small tubers to form. Do not allow seed to become waterlogged or dry out. Keep seed and seedlings in a semi-shaded area. Seedlings can be transplanted at about 4 months, but be very careful not to damage the fleshy roots when transplanting.
One can grow Cussonia from a cutting, but this is not advisable because it does not make the proper, fleshy, underground rootstock that it forms when grown from seed.
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