Cotyledon orbiculata var. macrantha (Pig's Ears)
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A fast growing succulent that produces large, lush green or grey leaves and bell-shaped orange-red flowers. It is drought-resistant and can be grown in light shade, but does best in full sun. Also a good container plant for a sunny patio.

Cotyledon orbiculata has five varieties, based on differences in leaf and flower shape. Selected forms in cultivation have been given names such as 'Elk Horns' or 'Silver Waves'.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Cotyledon orbiculata var. macrantha

Common names:
Pig's Ears (English); Plakkie, Platjies, Varkoorblare, Varkoor, Kouterie (Afrikaans)

Plant family:

Plant categories:
Shrubs; Cacti and Succulents; Non-herbaceous Perennials

Name derivation & history:
The genus name Cotyledon comes from the Greek word 'kotyledon' meaning cup-shaped hollow, referring to the leaves of some species.

The species name orbiculata comes from the Latin word meaning round circle.

The name pig's ears is derived from the oval shape of the grey-green leaves of some forms, which are very variable with a red or pale margins.

The genus Cotyledon consists of 10 species in South Africa.



Leaf habit:



Plant shape:
Pig's ears form a low dense shrub.

Leaf description:
This succulent plant has thick leaves which may vary from green to grey, often with a red line around the margin. The variability of leaf size, shape and colour is influenced by the immediate environment.

Flower description:
Flowering time is mostly in winter, but in the winter rainfall areas such as the Western Cape, it is often in mid-summer. The colourful, hanging, tubular/bell-shaped flowers are carried in clusters on the ends of an elongated flower stalk. They are mostly orange-red , but yellow flowering forms are also occasionally found.

Flower colour:
Mostly orange-red, sometimes yellow

Flowering months:
June to August


Natural distribution:
Cotyledon orbiculata is widespread throughout South Africa.

Usually confined to rocky outcrops in grassland fynbos and karoo regions. Black frost will damage the flowers, if planted in an unprotected spot, but the plant itself will tolerate moderate frosts.

Water requirements:
Waterwise (little water required)

Frost tolerance:
Semi-hardy (tolerates mild frost for short periods)

Light conditions:
Sun; semi-shade

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant
Has non-aggressive roots
Suitable for growing in containers

Edibility & Toxicity

We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is edible
We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is toxic, however we urge caution as this information may be incorrect.


Interaction with physical surroundings:
The brightly coloured flowers attract bees and birds, which feed on the nectar of the plant.

The silver-grey leaves of some forms owe much of their attractive colouring to a powdery white coating which may assist in reflecting much of the sun's heat to prevent excessive water loss from the thick succulent leaves.
Attracts birds
Attracts insects

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
This is a well-known medicinal plant. The fleshy part of the leaf is applied by many South Africans to soften and remove hard corns and warts. The Southern Sotho use a dried leaf as a protective charm for an orphan child and as a plaything. In the Willowmore District, the heated leaf is used as a poultice for boils and other accessible inflammations, in particular, earache.

Van Wyk et al. (1997) report that a single leaf is eaten as a vermifuge and that the warmed juice can be used as drops for toothache or earache. They also report that the juice has been used to treat epilepsy.

This is an easy to grow plant suitable for a number of places in the garden. Cotyledon orbiculata is an ideal plant for the rockery, but also grows well as a pot plant placed on a veranda (stoep). It will also add texture and form to the well-drained flower border. When planted as a pot plant, good drainage is important. It is often found in full sun, but also grows well in semi-shade under trees. This is an ideal plant for the water-wise gardener.

Plants may be grown from seed, but take care in the early stages not to over-water. The best time to sow the seed is in spring, and they should be kept moist, not waterlogged. Once the seedlings have reached 20 to 40mm they can be transplanted.
Taking tip cuttings is the fastest method of increasing plant numbers; they must be kept fairly dry to prevent rotting. Once the tip cuttings have rooted they can be transplanted in a medium of 2 parts gravel to 1 part compost.

Pests & diseases:
This plant has few pests, but it may be attacked by snails in the garden.

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