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How to Grow and Care for Fockea

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Fockea is a genus of 6 succulent scrubs native to southern Africa. It was established in 1838 by Endlicher for the single species, Fockea capensis and based on a specimen cultivated at the Schönbrunn Garden at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria. This famous plant had been collected in the Cape Colony sometime after 1786 by explorers sent by Emperor Joseph II of Austria. It is apparently still living today, perhaps the world's oldest potted plant. The name for the genus honors the Dutch botanist Charles Focke (1802-1856).

These plants have large tuberous roots. In their native regions the tubers and sometimes other parts are eaten. The tubers are made up of spongy tissue capable to becoming engorged with water during the rainy season and then storing it for use during the dry season. Some Fockeas have been found weighing close to 100 pounds (45 kg).

Young plants usually grow in the shade of companion plants, trees and bushes. As they mature the Fockeas send up twining, straggling or erect aerial stems which can become so dense they sometimes strangle the support shrub to death. At other times, when rain has been scarce, Fockeas are hardly detectable in the field, as they can drop their leaves and branches, leaving the remaining plant underground.

Photo via flickr.com

The leaves are all simple and opposite, but vary in size and dimension. Some have entire and flat margins, while others have undulating and strongly crisped margins. The leaves are variable in many extended populations. Flowers are typically greenish-white, regular and nearly inconspicuous, with some exceptions.

Growing Conditions for Fockea

Fockeas are relatively easy to grow. They are present in most caudiciform collections. A coarse, gritty, well-draining soil mix that provides fast drainage, along with providing warmth and dryness in the cold winter months is an absolute necessity.

It can tolerate full sun but only if the rays do not fall directly on the plant during the hottest parts of the day. Alternatively, you can place the plant in partial shade.

The tubers are best planted on the surface of the compost and the vegetative growth allowed to twine around supports which should be larger than initially appears to be necessary as the foliage will outgrow almost any support provided.

Choose a pot fairly deep to leave the right space to the rich root system of the plant.

Fockeas are hardy to light frost and short duration temperatures down to USDA hardiness zones 9b, 25 °F (−3.9 °C).

General Care For Fockea

Growth of the tubers to a showable size is faster if they are buried in the soil, which can be partly removed for showing. To increase the size of the tuber at a measurable rate, the plant should be well fed with high nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season. Tubers do not seem especially prone to rotting but can collapse suddenly.

Water regularly from spring to fall with a frequency of once every 5 to 7 days. The tuber, with its shape, can be a good indicator to check that the plant receives enough water because otherwise it will tend to shrivel.

Intermittent scalping of the stems or a mechanism for twining foliage growth (such as a trellis) helps to keep the plant in shape.

How to Propagate Fockea

Propagation is easy from fresh seed. Fockeas are dioecious, so a male plant and a female plant are needed to produce seeds. Growth of seedlings is rapid but is helped by frequent repotting and raising of the tubers.

Vegetative propagation is difficult to impossible.

Pests and Diseases of Fockea

The foliage attracts whitefly and periodic spraying with an insecticide or fumigation may be required to control this problem. Also watch out for mice.

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