What do you need to know about caudiciforms?

What classifies a succulent as a Caudiciform?

Caudiciform, which means ‘like a stem’, is derived from the Latin word caudex, meaning ‘tree trunk’. As the name implies, these plants have something that resembles a stem but looks a bit different than the norm. Caudiciforms have a caudex, which is an enlarged, bulbous stem or trunk, or a thick set of aboveground roots. The primary reason for plants to have these iconic “fat” stems is to store water.

Examples of well known caudiciforms

Dioscorea elephantipes – Elephant’s Foot Plant

There are hundreds of examples of caudiciforms, but one of the more famous examples from South Africa is the Elephant’s Foot’ plant or Dioscorea elephantipes. It has a uniquely fissured appearance and is popular as a collector’s succulent all over the world.

This species can grow extremely large in nature, with some specimens known to be as big as a car. This would make them thousands of years old. Legally grown soccer ball size specimens, which are generally 10-15 years old, can be found for sale on the market.

There are approximately 15 species of ‘elephant’s feet’ plant native to South Africa. The most popular and well-known in cultivation are Dioscorea elephantipes, Dioscorea sylvatica and Dioscorea hemicrypta.

Dioscorea elephantipes - Elephant's Foot Plant
Dioscorea elephantipes - Elephant's Foot Plant leaves

Adenium multiflorum – Impala Lily

Adenium multiflorum, or the ‘impala lily’, is an attractive caudiciform plant native to the eastern provinces of South Africa. It is quite famous for occurring in Kruger National Park.

This plant is deciduous and only has leaves during spring and summer. In winter, it produces bicolor bright-pink flowers. Many different flower colour morphs have been produced in cultivation, ranging from pure white, to red, and even pure black.

Some other examples from southern Africa include Adenium, Cyphostemma, certain Euphorbia, Fockea edulis, Ipomea, Trichodiadema and several Pachypodium species. Caudiciform plants occur all over the world, though. There are a variety of arid areas on our planet, and many of these include their own species of caudiciform. Bursera and Pseudobombax occur in severla regions of Mexico, Dorstenia foetida is from Eastern Africa, Jatropha originates in the United States, and Stephania heralds from southern Asia. 

Other types of caudiciforms

Did you know that there are trees classified as caudiciforms? The famous African Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is not only the largest stem succulent plant on Earth, it is also one of the largest caudiciforms. The Queensland bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris) from Australia is another famous caudiciform tree.

Caudiciforms in our collections

What is your favourite caudiciform, or which do you have in your collection? Let us know in the comments below. A firm favourite for the Living Desert Plants team is Dorstenia foetida.

- Henti G

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