aggregata Berger. (and E. pulvinata and E. ferox)
Rikus van Veldhuisen.
E. aggregata Kommadagga
E. pulvinata, Steynsburg.
E. aggregata, J&R94, north-west of Grahamstown.
Euphorbia aggregata belongs to a group of plants,
together with the closely related species Euphorbia ferox and
Euphorbia pulvinata, which can be recognised by their striking
growing-shape. They exist mostly of compact, multiple branched
and heavely thorned cushions. The english nickname "pincushion"
Farmers in South Africa are not very fond of these plants because
they can injure their cattle badly. When an animal steps on one
of these plants, the thorns can penetrate the hoof quite deep.
The infections caused by this are very persistent and sometimes
they even can cause death. Therefore the stock-farmers call these
plants "voetangel", which means mantrap.
During our journey through South Africa in 1997,
we found, during a short break, impressive large plants of Euphorbia
pulvinata, just nearby the road. Although we had only little time
to explore this locality, south of Aliwall North in the Elandspas,
it was one of the highlights of our trip.
The giant cushions of many thousends little heads of just four
to five centimeter in diameter were sometimes until three meters
in height. A quick calculation informs us that such a plant must
have 40.000 heads or more. I can only guess at their age, but
no doubt they are very old.
Euphorbia pulvinata grows, in contrary to Euphorbia aggregata
and Euphorbia ferox, preferably on stoney slopes, at the sunny
northside of a hill of mountain.
Later this journey we stayed in Grahamstowm.
We planned an excursion to find Euphorbia aggregata which grows,
amongst others, in the surroundings of Carlisle Bridge, about
45 km north of Grahamstown. But we did not make it that far that
day. We are used to stop quite often during our travelling, and
on every of these stops we found something interesting. This took
so much time that we didn't reach our destination. A part of what
we found that day is described in the articles about Euphorbia
polygona and Euphorbia inermis.
Now you might say that it's a bit silly to not accomplish the
mission, but looking back now we are glad, because this was a
good reason to try again. And so we did in 1999. This time with
succes and we found Euphorbia aggregata at several localities.
Luckely we again didn't find some of the species we were looking
for also, so we have a good excuse to visit this wonderful country
E. aggregata Kommadaggaroad J&R 94
It is not known who discovered Euphorbia aggregata
nor when. Mister Berger is the person who took notice of her presence
in culture in 1902. At first he assumed it was the long lost Euphorbia
enneagona of Haworth. In the end this identification did not satisfy
and in 1907 he described these plants as a new species: Euphorbia
Until today the identity of Euphorbia enneagona is still not clear.
White, Dyer & Sloane presumed her to be identical with E.
heptagona var. viridis, which they described themselves.
Euphorbia aggregata is a very variable species. The population
west of Carlisle Bridge existed of about 150 plants, growing on
approximately 1 hectare. Sometimes some plants grew together but
between most of them was a distance of about 10 meters. Not two
plants were similar.
The variety shows mostly in bodycolour, colour and length of the
thorns, colour and size of the glands that surround the cyathia
and the number of thornes per plant. Also there were plants with
some crystate-shaping side-branches, closesly packed between the
N.E. Brown described Euphorbia alternicolor, but White, Dyer &
Sloane reduced this species to a variety: Euphorbia aggregata
var. alternicolor. I don't think this is correct, because this
description was based on a variegated individual and can therefore
be a forma at most.
We found plants with a not plain green bodycolour between all
three species: Euphorbia aggregata, Euphorbia pulvinata and Euphorbia
ferox. We didn't find though the white-green stripes, as mentioned
in the description of the variëteit alternicolor.
The distribution-area of Euphorbia aggregata is north of Grahamstown,
around Carlisle Bridge and from there to the north-west to Somerset
East and futher to Graaff-Reinet.
In the south-east the plants have the most thorns. North of Graaff-Reinet
the plants are greener and have less thorns. These show much resemblance
with Euphorbia pulvinata.
White, Dyer & Sloane also mention Willowmore and Fauresmith
as a habitat. Willomore lays in the middle of the distribution-area
of E. ferox and Fauresmith lays in the Vrij Staat, inside the
distribution-area of E. pulvinata. Therefore its more likely that
these habitats are occupied by intermediate forms between the
We did't find any differences between the populations of the several
localities which we visited at Carlisle Bridge and Somerset east.
The populations existed of plants with a great variety, but comparable.
E. pulvinata Askeaton, growing on vertical cliffs.
E. pulvinata Cathcart
Dr. Marloth has described Euphorbia pulvinata
by the plants found by Dr. Galpin nearby Queenstown, two years
after the description of Euphorbia aggregata. It's a remarkable
fact that is took so long before these big and impressive plants
attracted someones attention. These cushions they make are thus
hard and solid you can just step on them without damage. That
is to say: without damage to the plant, be sure to wear solid
Ephorbia pulvinata has, of the 3 named species, by far the largest
area of distribution. It is located from the south at Queenstown,
to the north, through and along Lesotho, the Drakensbergen, Free
State and kwazulu Natal until in the Zoutpansbergen in the Northern
The plants from the northern distribution-area differ clearly
of those of the south. Marloth's intentention was to grant the
nothern forms a different status. However he didn't push through,
because, after an intensive studie, he came to the conclusion
that none of the distinctive characteristics was constant. The
differences though are considerable and to my modest opinion
the differences are greater as those between the southern form
of Euphorbia pulvinata and Euphorbia aggregata.
The plants from the north distinct themselves by their leaves
which have a length of no less than 3 cm, and by their ribs that
exist of tubercles and which are larger in number and more narrow
.There are more differences though. If you very interested you
can study the literature named at the end of this article, you
will find many pictures of both forms.
E. ferox Springbokvlakte
E. ferox, between Beaufort West and Aberdeen, or is it a
ferocious spined E. mammillaris?
The third and last described species by Dr. Marloth
in 1913 is Euphorbia ferox. She thanks her name to the fact that
her thorning is the most heavy of the three species. And in contrary
to the other two species she doesn't form a cushion, but she looks
more like a closely-branched bush.
The distribution-area of Euphorbia ferox is located west of the
one of Euphorbia aggregata. It starts in the east around Graaff
Reinet and from there to the west until Beaufort West. More southern
she is commonly found. At some locations her presence is even
the most dominant vegetation, often growing together with Euphorbia
On Springbokvlakte she often grows together with Euphorbia mammillaris.
E mammillaris can be recognized by her longer and straighter and
less thorned trunks. These trunks have ribs with little cross-channels.
Because of that the trunks show a great resemblance with a corncob
At several localities on Springbokvlakte, and also at Graaff Reinet,
we found an Euphorbia with a different appearance, looking like
a small Euphorbia ferox with lesser spination. These plants are
also fairly widespread in cultivation. We think that a further
investigation of these plants won't be a waste of time.
In "The Succulent Euphorbiaceae" by White, Dyer &
Sloane we find a picture of a plant from the surroundings of Van
Rhijnsdorp at the Knersvlakte. This plant shows a great resemblance
with Euphorbia ferox. The Knersvlakte however is more than 500
km away from the distribution-area mentioned above. Unfortunately
there is no other information about this finding. It does point
out though that there is still a lot to explore in this immens
Subspecies or variety?
Recently G. Marx placed Euphorbia valida as a subspecies under
Euphorbia meloformis and also Euphorbia symmetrica became a subspecies
under Euphorbia obesa. These species are closely related and for
an outsider its very difficult to distinguish them. There are
Perhaps the same can be done for the species under discussion
here. Even better would be to place them as a variety instead
of a subspecies because at many places intermediate populations
can be found. A definite population consists of a collection of
variable forms. The difference between populations is the frequency
of the appearance in which these forms do occur. So can it be
be that two individuals of two different populations look very
similar and also, two plants of the same population can look very
different. However when you are looking at the whole population,
you can see the difference of the population with another one.
When these mixed populations do appear also in the two forms of
Euphorbia pulvinata in the North and with the lesser spined form
of Euphorbia ferox in the East, then these two can be added to
the complex, in my view best as varieties. Euphorbia aggregata
with its several varieties would thus give a better reflection
of the situation in nature.
Euphorbia Pulvinata is, like mentioned before, a plant that grows
on hills. With a little imagination she even could be called an
alpine-plant. Another reason for this is that she sometimes grows
in areas with a lot of rain, up to 1000 mm per year, and even
with snow sometimes. Herefor she can be very easily grown in culture.
This also applies to the other species, though less. They do need
a lot of light though to keep their compact growth-form. I myself
grow especially E. Pulvinata in summer outside and until now that
gets me very beautiful plants. In winter however some plants started
to rot a little, perhaps I should keep them outside also in winter,
who can tell?
It just remains a fact that a beautiful compact plant of these
species provide us with a magnificent view, unfortunately these
plants ara seldom found in our collections.
White, A., Dyer, R. A., Sloane, B. L., (1941), The Succulent Euphorbiceae
(Southern Africa) 2 Vols.
Fourie, S. P., An Introduction to the Succulent Euphorbias of
the Transvaal, part 3, The Euphorbia Journal, Vol. 6, p. 113 -
Hargreaves, B. J., The Other Spurges of Lesotho, The Euphorbia
Journal, Volume 8, p. 126 – p. 132.
Marx, G., The Succulent Euphorbias of the Southeastern Cape Province,
The Euphorbia Journal, Volume 8, p. 74 – p. 102, part 1.