History of cacti in South Africa

On our website you can find a brief history of cacti in South Africa. Last night we received a nice addition from the USA:

The restablishment of the Soekershof garden after many years of
neglect is fantastic — the photos were fantastic.  Here is what I
have in my records for Marthinus Malherbe:

Malherbe, Marthinus [Maarten] (1885-1976); RSA nurseryman & amateur
botanist; creator & owner of Sheilam Cactus Gardens nursery in
Robertson, RSA on and after 1936; designed succ garden at Soekershof
Walkabout 1965; explored & collected in RSA; introduced cacti &
other Amer succ in RSA 1910; spouse Molly [nee Darling] Malherbe
( -1994);

Nananthus (Aloinopsis) malherbei was named after him and he
discovered Haworthia comptoniana, now Haworthia emelyae var

In addition to this: The name SHEILAM is an abbreviation of the names of his children. During the first 15 years the nursery was named SHEILA and the M was added in 1951 when his (second) wife gave birth to their daughter Marsha.



Recently we submitted a more general article about succulents. this time a bit more about cactaceae

Cactus is the name given to any member of the flowering plant family Cactaceae. Cacti are almost exclusively New world plants. This means that they are native only in the Americas and West Indies. There is however one exception, Rhipsalis baccifera; this species has a pantropical distribution, occurring in the Old World in tropical Africa, Madagascar and Shri Lanka as well as in tropical America. This plant is thought to be a relatively recent colonist in the Old World (within the last few thousand years), probably carried as seeds in the digestive tracts of migratory birds. Many other cacti have become naturalized to similar environments in other parts of the world after being introduced by people.

Many species of cactus have long, sharp spikes.Many succulent plants in both the Old and New World bear a striking resemblance to cacti, and are often called “cactus” in common usage. This is, however, due to parallel evolution; none of these are closely related to the Cactaceae. One distinct identifying characteric of the Cactus family is the areole, a specialized structure from which spines and new shoots grow.

Cacti are believed to have evolved in the last 30 to 40 million years. Long ago, the Americas were joined to the other continents, but separated due to continental drift. Unique species in the New World must have developed after the continents had moved apart. Significant distance between the continents was only achieved around in the last 50 million years. This may explain why cacti are so rare in Africa; the continents had already separated when cacti evolved.

Cactus Flower

Like other succulents, cacti are well-adapted to life with little precipitation. The leaves have evolved into spines, which in addition to allowing less water to evaporate than regular leaves, defend the cactus against water-seeking animals. Photosynthesis is carried out by enlarged stems , which also store water. Unlike many other succulents, the stem is the only part of a true cactus where this takes place. Very few members of the family have leaves, and when present these are usually rudimentary and soon fall off; they are typically awl-shaped and only 1-3 mm long. Two genera, Pereskia and Pereskiopsis, do however retain large, non-succulent leaves 5-25 cm long, and also non-succulent stems; they are possibly primitive genera, thought to be closely similar to the plants that cacti evolved from.

Cacti come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Some grow to great size. Some cacti produce beautiful flowers , which like spines and branches arise from areoles. Many cactus species are night-blooming, as they are pollinated by nocturnal insects or small animals, principally noths and bats.  Cacti range from small and round to pole-like and tall, such as the Saguaro

A number of cactus species are cultivated for use as houseplants, as well as for ornamental gardens. They often form part of xerophylic (dry) gardens in arid regions. Some cacti bear edible fruit.



The word cactus is ultimately derived from Greek Κακτος kaktos, used in classical Greek for a species of spiny thistle, possibly the cardoon , and used as a generic name, Cactus, by Linnaeus in 1753 (now rejected in favor of Mammillaria). There is some dispute as to the proper plural form of the word; as a Greek loan into English, the correct plural in English would be “cactuses”. However, as a word in Botanical (as distinct from Classical Latin) “cactus” would follow standard Latin rules for pluralization and become “cacti”, which has become the prevalent usage in English.


One of the largest cactus (and other succulents) collection in the unprotected open air (NOT under cover of a roof or shade net) can be found at Soekershof Walkabout in South Africa.


This article is an extract from Brainyenceclopedia


Succulents; not only humans are smart!

Carl Linnaeus laid the foundations for the modern scheme of Nomenclature. His Systema Naturae describes the hierarchical classification of plants and animals.

To simplify things a little bit botanical names always consist of a genus and a specie name sometimes added with a sub-specie name; for example Acacia sieberani woodii (paperbark tree).

But genera (plurial of ‘genus) belong to a family. The succulent family Cactaceae is composed of about 100 genera with around 2000 different species.

Example: Cactaceae (family); Ferocactus (genus) acanthodes (specie).

Other succulents are botanically divided in approximately 50 families with over 600 genera and an estimated 15000 natural species (except cultivars and hybrids) of which around 10,000 are native to Southern Africa including Madagascar.

Other parts of the African continent with a significant number of native succulents are South Morocco and the isle of Socrota. The Canary Islands, India and Australia also have a number of ‘indigenous’ succulents. In Europe one can find the endemic areas of some sedum- and sempervivum species.

The America’s are home to the Cactaceae (except for one genus; Rhipsalis); and Agavaceae (a.o. genera Agave and Yucca) originating to a wide diversity of local environments within a stretch of 10,000 kilometres; altitudes ranging up to 4000 metres; climates with temperatures ranging from -18 degrees Celsius to +45 degrees Celsius; from dry rocky deserts to foggy deserts and (sub-)tropical rainforests and from fertile soils to soils with a high salt content. More or less the same diversity applies to succulents from other parts of the world.

Despite their different backgrounds it is very well possible to let a wide variety of succulents, including cacti, live harmoniously together in one garden provided that the involved gardener can organise (by simulation) some measurements/precautions in which certain plants will adept to their new environment.

In the description of the different families, genera and (where applicable) species we will indicate these measurements in the future.

In general it’s always worthwhile to find your way in the endemic habitat of plants in regards to soil structure/contents, local climate and local ecological aspects such as the nature of other plants.

A plant has, in its natural habitat, always a reason to grow just there. Not only humans are smart!