Contents of the Summer 2011 Northants News

The sex life of Dorstenia lavrani                                     Tina Wardlaugh

You can click on Tina's images for a better view.

When I saw the first pictures of the newly described Dorstenia lavrani in the American Journal (CSJ Vol. 80, No.2, 2008), it was lust at first sight and this became the plant I had to have.

D. lavrani is apparently unique in the genus as each plant produces only male or female flowers (so it is dioecious), so to produce seed, plants of both sex are needed. This contrasts with other dorstenias that have flowers of both sexes on the same plant (and are therefore monoecious) so that seeds are freely produced from just a single plant. It’s quite a recent addition to the genus since it was only discovered by John Lavranos in 1973 and named in his honour by Tom McCoy and Mike Massara in 2008. In habitat it grows in shady moss filled cracks in a limestone gorge - this gives a clue to the growing conditions needed in cultivation.

Then the challenging task of trying to obtain some of these lovely plants began. In addition to its ‘proper name’, it is also listed under various names such as Dorstenia Taba’a Gorge, Dorstenia species Mait Plateau and Dorstenia L&H 10341; these all relate to its habitat localities and collections from the Republic of Somaliland. You do need to see before you buy or check on the origin of the plants if you can, as there seem to be some hybrids being miss-sold as D. lavrani.  

My first plant was a purchase from Arid Lands in Tucson, Arizona, USA. This nursery does not sell outside of America, but my purchase was assisted by a friend. The plant arrived in July 2008 and soon started growing.  

click for a better view of Dorstenia lavrani

Above: A rooted cutting of Dorstenia lavrani.

Below: A group of D. lavrani, two females at the rear and a male at the front.

It is a very knobbly plant, which produces branches all over the main stem so there have been some doubts about its parentage. When the inflorescences developed it was a female plant.

Then I was lucky to buy an unrooted cutting from Bob Potter  in August 2009. It did not appear to grow for about 6 months, but when I compared photos taken of it during this time I could see that the base had in fact doubled in girth even though the top had hardly grown, establishing roots perhaps. It then started to produce small offsets at the base. This plant flowered under lights during the winter and turned out to be another female.

So I still needed a male and the hunt continued!  

By 2010 I was getting slightly disappointed, (obsessed maybe), as this isn’t a common plant and most suppliers are in the USA. Luckily my friend managed to contact the nursery Out of Africa, Naples, Florida and purchased a known male plant for me. The nursery is owned by Mike and Maureen Massara and since Mike was co-author of the original article on the species this source ought to be authentic. This plant arrived in September 2010. It wasn’t cheap but as the deal involved swapping some plants the transaction was quite painless!  

click for a better view of Dorstenia lavrani

click for a better view of this Dorstenia

click for a better view of Dorstenia lavrani female flowers

click for a better view of Dorstenia lavrani male flowers

The original 'Arid Lands' plant of suspect parentage. Note unusual excessive branching.

Female flowers visible as fine white filaments (the stigmas).

Lots of small male flowers in the inflorescence (hypanthodium).


These plants do not seem very demanding. All three plants were at least 3" tall when purchased so it’s perhaps the seedling stage at which they are more difficult to re-establish. In the greenhouse I grow them at a minimum of 12oC on a bed of sand with under soil warming cables, out of direct sun in a slightly shaded corner. The soil mix is 50:50 John Innes No. 2 and Tesco Premium cat litter to make it free draining. I allow the pots to totally dry out before the next watering, judged by weather conditions and also the cat litter is a useful marker as it lightens as it dries out. Having the pots on sand does mean they have nice moist roots without being wet. The unrooted cutting from Bob Potter was dipped in hormone rooting powder and left for about a week, then placed in damp Tesco cat litter at 25oC for about 2 months until well rooted. For the winter they are pampered and come to work where they live in a hot room, under lights at 25oC daytime temperature and 18oC at night with a 12 hour light-dark cycle. The humidity is set at 60% day and 75% night; this is mainly to establish them as they are young plants.

All three plants are slightly different looking as can be seen in the photos, the new male plant has broader leaves which are a silvery, matt colour but it could be because of its previous growing environment.

Plans for the future

Dorstenias seem to need a winter rest to promote flowering, so once my plants are larger I will let them rest over the winter. In the summer I intend to do a complete repot of all three plants so I have them all growing in exactly the same pots and soil mix, so that any variations with the plant, leaf colour and shape will be genetic and not due to cultivation differences.

I will let them grow unhindered in 2011 and then in the summer of 2012 I intend to take cuttings so I have ‘back-ups’, especially since the males are difficult to obtain so these will make good swaps especially because I need another plant of Dorstenia gypsophila.

Finally many thanks to Colin for all his help and encouragement.


Ed: Now here is  a story that has everything; passion, lust, uncertain parentage and maybe the future patter of little Dorstenia feet. And I just love the name of that Nursery - Out of Africa, Naples, Florida.

Thanks Tina!


Dorstenia: Genus of the Moraceae (Fig) Family with about 105 genera. Most cultivated species come from tropical Africa, Socotra and Madagascar. Dorstenia is named in honour of the German physician and botanist Theodor Dorsten (1492 - 1552)

Monoecious: bearing separate male and female flowers on the same plant.

Dioecious: bearing either male or female flowers on separate plants

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