Common names: miniature aloe, pearl plant (Eng.); vratjiesaalwyn, kleinaalwyn, seepaalwyn (Afr.)
These attractive, dwarf, leaf succulents, with their often white-tuberculed leaves in compact rosettes, are very popular among succulent plant collectors. All four members of this small genus are endemic to the Western Cape Province of South Africa. They are perfect for container gardens or small rockeries in these areas, whereas they are suited to growing under cover in other areas.
Fig. 1. Variation of leaf characters in species of Tulista. Left to right: T. kingiana, T. marginata, T. minor, T. pumila (S.D. Gildenhuys)
Tulista is a genus of dwarf, succulent plants, that was previously included in Haworthia subgenus Robustipedunculares. Based on evidence from molecular research on the relationships at generic level among the alooids, the genus Haworthia was split into 3 segregate genera, which roughly correspond to the previously recognized subgenera. The meaning of the name Tulista is unclear.
Members of the genus Tulista are characterised by their small, stemless rosettes of succulent leaves that are generally larger than those of the other haworthioids (Haworthia and Haworthiopsis species). Fibres are completely absent from the leaves of all species and the leaf exudate is yellow. Leaf characters vary among the different species of Tulista, as well as within a species, in terms of colour and texture. Plants are usually solitary or occasionally suckering to form small clumps.
Among the haworthioid genera, Tulista has the most robust inflorescences, which are generally well branched. In bud the flowers are carried erect, but when the flowers open, they are disposed horizontally or at an angle. Flowers are bilabiate (with a fairly distinct upper and lower lip), with a straight tube, slightly recurved tips, and are generally white or whitish, with a pink or brownish green central vein on the tepals (flower leaves). The flower tube has a wide base and joins the flower stalk (pedicel) quite abruptly (flower tube not narrowing towards the pedicel as in Haworthia and Haworthiopsis).
Tulista species mostly flower in spring and summer in the southern hemisphere. The 3-chambered fruit capsules dry and split open to reveal the flattish, yellowish brown to dark brown seed. Plants are perennial, relatively slow growing, and have a fairly long lifespan, surviving for up to several decades in nature or in cultivation.
Fig. 2. Tulista pumila near Worcester, showing dried remains of robust inflorescences. (S.D. Gildenhuys)
Two of the 4 Tulista species are regarded as species of conservation concern. Tulista kingiana and T. marginata are both Endangered (EN), whereas T. minor and T. pumila are Least Concern (LC). Main threats include habitat destruction because of agriculture, urban and industrial expansion, overgrazing, and competition from alien invasives, as well as unscrupulous collecting of wild plants for the succulent plant trade.
Distribution and habitat
All 4 Tulista species are endemic to the Western Cape Province of South Africa, where they occur to varying degrees in the region between Worcester and Mossel Bay (Worcester-Robertson Karoo, Breede River Valley and Overberg regions) and northwards, further inland as far north as Matjiesfontein in the Greater Karoo. This is a winter rainfall region.
Species are found in Rainshadow Valley Karoo, Renosterveld, Fynbos, and Strandveld vegetation, where they grow on a variety of substrates (shale, sandstone, limestone or gravel). Plants can either be found growing among tufts of grass, in the shelter of other vegetation, or exposed in more rocky areas.
Fig. 3. Habitat of Tulista minor. (S.D. Gildenhuys)
Their succulent nature make it possible for plants to survive long periods of drought and to withstand wild fires. The small flowers are pollinated by proboscis flies or bees, and the fruit are often parasitized by insect larvae.
Species of Tulista are very popular among succulent plant collectors, and these plants are widely cultivated and traded globally. They are also often used in the horticultural trade in small rock gardens or as pot plants.
Traditional healers reportedly grind up the leaves of Tulista pumila to use as a soap. Crushed leaves of this species can also be applied as a poultice.
Fig. 4. Species of Tulista do well as potplants. (S.D. Gildenhuys)
Species of Tulista are best suited to container gardening. In frost-free, winter rainfall areas with a lower rainfall, they can be grown successfully in rockeries. Although they are hardy plants that can tolerate full sun and drought, they flourish in semi-shaded positions, but brighter light conditions are needed to bring out the leaf colourations in species like T. pumila.
Tulista species are best propagated by seed, although artificial pollination is normally required, and the development of the seedlings is a timeous process. Seeds should be sown in spring or autumn in a fine mixture of sand and composted bark, sprayed lightly on a daily basis to keep the surface slightly moist. Germination could commence after 2 weeks, and seedlings can be transplanted into individual pots after the first or second year.
Species in the genus can also be propagated by removing offsets. Offsets can be removed when they have started developing their own roots. Planted offsets should be watered sparingly until the plant has rooted and shows signs of growth. Older clumps can also be divided into individual plants and replanted. Unlike Haworthia and Haworthiopsis, species of Tulista are not as easy to propagate from leaves.
Tulista kingiana (Poelln.) Gideon F.Sm. & Molteno (= Haworthia kingiana Poelln.)
Plants form a stemless rosette, with erect to spreading, yellowish green leaves. Rosettes can be up to 180 mm tall, but are usually smaller than this, and occasionally form few-headed clusters. The leaf surface is scabrid (rarely glabrous) with white to concolorous, raised, non-confluent tubercles.
This species has a narrow distribution, restricted to a few scattered populations in the vicinity of Mossel Bay, Hartenbos, Great Brak, and near Herbertsdale in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Plants are normally found in sandy soils, and either grow exposed in grassy terrain or sheltered beneath larger shrubs on sloped rocky areas.
Tulista marginata (Lam.) G.D.Rowley [= Haworthia marginata (Lam.) Stearn]
Plants form a stemless rosette, with erect to spreading, pale brownish green leaves. Rosettes are up to 200 mm tall, and occasionally form small clusters. The leaf surface is smooth and usually without any tubercles.
This variable species is restricted to the Western Cape, South Africa, from near Ashton and Bredasdorp in the west, to Riversdale in the east. These large plants usually grow exposed on flat to sloped grassy terrain with scattered shrubs.
Tulista minor (Aiton) Gideon F.Sm. & Molteno [= Haworthia minor (Aiton) Duval; H. minima (Aiton) Haw.]
Plants form a stemless rosette, with erect to spreading, light to darker green leaves (only occasionally bluish green). Rosettes are up to 150 mm tall, and occasionally form small clusters. The leaf surface is scabrid with white, raised, flattened, non-confluent tubercles. This species is morphologically variable, with many interesting and distinct geographical forms.
This is the most widespread species in the genus. It is mainly a coastal species, and is known from near Mossel Bay in the east, to Bredasdorp in the west, and to the north of the Langeberg Mountains, Western Cape Province, South Africa. The habitat varies considerably, but it is generally found in grassy vegetation.
Tulista pumila (L.) G.D.Rowley [= Haworthia pumila (L.) Duval; H. margaritifera (L.) Haw.; Haworthia maxima (Haw.) Duval]
Plants form a stemless rosette, with erect to spreading, brownish to olive-green leaves. Rosettes are up to 250 mm tall, and occasionally form small clusters. The leaf surfaces are variably scabrid with white, raised, generally rounded, non-confluent tubercles.
This species has a wide distribution range in the Western Cape, South Africa, and is the only species in the genus that may be locally abundant in some areas. Its main distribution area lies from near Worcester, eastwards to near Laingsburg in the north, and Swellendam in the south. The typical form is found in the Worcester-Robertson Karoo area, whereas some of the outlying populations are morphologically variable.
- Bayer, M.B. & Manning, J.C. 2012. The Haworthia nomenclator: a list of accepted species with some guidelines for infraspecific names. Haworthiad Special Edition. Haworthia Society, UK.
- Grace, O.M., Klopper, R., Smith, G.F., Crouch, N.R., Figueiredo, E., RØnsted, N.E. & Van Wyk, A.E. 2013. A revised generic classification for Aloe (Xanthorrhoeaceae subfam. Asphodeloideae). Phytotaxa 76,1: 7–14.
- Manning, J.C., et al. 2014. A molecular phylogeny and genetic classification of Asphodelaceae subfamily Alooideae: A final resolution of the prickly issue of polyphyly in the alooids? Systematic Botany 39: 55–74. http://dx.doi.org/10.1600/036364414X678044
- Oliver, I. 2003. Tulista pumila (L.) G.D.Rowley. PlantZAfrica. Online. http://pza.sanbi.org/tulista-pumila.
- Red List of South African plants. 2019. Genus Tulista. Online. http://redlist.sanbi.org/genus.php?genus=15465. Accessed on 7 August 2019.
- Rowley, G.D. 2013. Generic concepts in Alooideae: Part 3 – The phylogenetic story. Alsterworthia International Special Issue 10: 3–6.
- Smith, G.F., Figueiredo, E. & Molteno, S. 2017. A new combination in Tulista, T. kingiana (Asphodeloideae, Xanthorrhoeaceae/Alooideae, Asphodelaceae). Phytotaxa 297 (3): 285, 286.
- Smith, G.F., Figueiredo, E. & Molteno, S. 2018. A new combination in Tulista, T. minor (Alooideae, Asphodelaceae). Phytotaxa 346(2): 201, 202.
Ronell R. Klopper, National Herbarium, Pretoria,
and Sean D. Gildenhuys, Gariep Plants,
Images by Sean D. Gildenhuys who holds the copyright for the images.
Plant Type: Succulent