Although the Aizoaceae family has roughly the same number of species as the Cactus family, and although most of them are found in a single country (and almost all of them in two countries), it manages a huge diversity of growth habits and climatic conditions. There are alpine summer growers, dead-stick summer dormant species, large shrubs, and single leaf-pairs no bigger than your thumbnail. So knowing how to grow them can be something of a challenge.
Mesembs share a few common traits that will be found throughout the family. One is that all are leaf succulents with the frequent habit of recycling resources from older leaves to new growth. They are mostly adapted to relatively predictable rainfall patterns rather than extreme drought and irregular rainfall. Total rainfall may be extremely low, but water is available at least seasonally or through fog and condensation. This leads to or allows plants that are not especially large and sometimes very small and affect how they need to be treated in cultivation.
Mesembs require a loam-based compost with extra drainage material such as horticultural grit or perlite. They all like good light conditions and plenty of ventilation.
Some are relatively cold-hardy and can even survive mild winters outside. Most will survive temperatures down to the freezing point. Some Mesembs begin to grow in the fall as the temperature drops and the days get shorter. Examples are Conophytum, Manilaria, and Mitrophyllum.
Because different genera within the Mesemb family have different growing conditions, special care must be taken when watering. Some genera will benefit from light spray water to prevent shriveling during their dormant period.
The basics of Mesemb care are very simple, with well-draining soil, plenty of sun and ventilation, and regular light watering in the right season. Yet the difficulties are endless, trying to adapt to the Mesembs' adaptability and follow their growth habits in your particular conditions.
- Succupedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus