Always Open but Covered Up

The common name vygie is used for members of the Aizoaceae with showy daisy-like flowers. The name, prounounced “fay-gh-ee”, comes from the Afrikaans for “little fig”. The seedpods do look rather fig-like, especially those belonging to the genus Carpobrotus, which are fleshy and have numerous small seeds inside. Most vygies only open their flowers fully in the sun, when their shiny petals reflect the light in dazzling arrays of whites, pinks and yellows. However, members of the genus Erepsia open their flowers regardless of whether the sun is shining or not, sometimes even through the night. They are therefore known as altydvygie (always vygie).

Close-up of Erepsia anceps (Aizoaceae)

Erepsia anceps has a typical vygie flower

Flowers of Erepsia anceps (Aizoaceae) Altydvygie

Erepsia anceps only produces a few flowers at a time

Most vygies enjoy the succulent karoo of the winter rainfall region of South Africa, but Erepsia shows a preference for the fynbos. Succulent plants are rare amongst the fynbos but Erepsia anceps is one species that appears to be happy growing right amongst the ericas and restios. It produces deep magenta flowers with many rays and a central boss of yellow staminodes (non-functional stamens). It never forms robust shrubs and there are often only a few flowers showing at a time. It therefore does not produce the dazzling display of some vygies. Nevertheless, it does shine out in the late summer fynbos like a Michaelmas daisy in an English garden.

Botanical Bit

Vygies used to all belong to the family Mesembryanthemaceae, but now they are regarded as part of a larger family Aizoaceae. The vygies themselves are divided into two subfamilies, Mesembyanthemoideae and Ruschoideae. Mesembyanthemoideae is considered by some to now contain the single genus Mesembryanthemum. The subfamily has ovules attached to the central axis and the keels of the fruit reach to the centre. Erepsia belongs to the Ruschioideae; that subfamily is recognised by the ovules attach to the base or wall of the fruit and the keels not reaching to the centre. The Ruschioideae is the most diverse of the subfamilies and includes plants such as the “living stones”.

Habit of Erepsia anceps (Aizoaceae)

Erepsia anceps is unusual for a vygie growing amongst fynbos

Cross-section of Erepsia anceps (Aizoaceae) flower showing stamens hidden by staminodes

Cross-section of Erepsia anceps flower shows the fertile stamens hidden in a pit, covered by a roof of staminodes

The generic name Erepsia comes from the Greek for “covering with a roof or thatch”. This refers to the characteristic way the reproductive parts of the flowers, the stamens and styles, are covered over by the staminodes (non-functional stamens). The genus is also quite easy to tell by the leaves, which are usually 3-sided, with sharp angles, and a pointed, often curved, tip. The colour of the flowers are invariably pink to magenta. Erepsia are good for a fynbos garden; easily propagated by seed or cuttings. The cuttings should preferably be from young growth as the older stems are more reluctant to produce roots.

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