Saturday, November 9, 2013

FREREA INDICA, by Piper's Mom


Mom hogged the computer ALL evening yesterday, which meant I had NO chance to write a blog entry.  I don't understand why, but for some reason, Mom thought what she was writing was more important than my blog.  And what she was writing was an article for the cactus club newsletter, which is called the Prickly Press.  

I kept fretting and fretting, and finally, Mom said, "Why don't you just let me publish my article in your blog as a guest blogger?"  And I had to admit that was a sort of okay idea.  I just wish she had written her article about something more interesting than a stupid plant.  But Mom said some of her friends, who also are my friends and follow my blog, are actually interested in plants.  Besides which, as she reminded me, if they don't like the topic, they don't have to read the blog.

So after we decided all that, I took a nice nap, and Mom wrote her article, and we were both more or less happy.


This charming plant with cheerful red flowers is in the Asclepiad family, the only species in the genus Frerea.  Nicol A. Dalzell first described the plant in 1865, naming it in honor of Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, who was Governor of Bombay at the time.  In addition, Frere was himself a prominent scientific researcher. 

The state of Maharastra
CC-by-sa PlaneMad/Wikimedia

Frerea indica is only found in six separate populations in Maharastra, a state in the west-central part of India.  The natural habitat consists of cliff faces and crevices at elevations of 2,500 ft. to 4,400 ft.  Dalzell determined, based on the plant’s habit, that it should be classified in a different genus from Caralluma, although the name Caralluma frerei  was preferred by Gordon Rowley, and that name is often used as a synonym.

F. indica growing on a rock face
Photo:  Prashant Awale

The branches of F. indica generally reach 20” in length, and its elliptical leaves are 2.8” long.  The leaves grow actively in the monsoon season, then drop off during dry weather to conserve moisture.  The corollas of the star-shaped flowers are approximately one inch in  diameter, with blooms opening in August and September.  Patterns of yellow markings on the red blossoms vary from one population to another.

In previous years, Frerea indica was considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to be one of the twelve most endangered  species in the world.  The wild population had been greatly diminished by overgrazing, insects, landslides, and fire.  In addition, the plant’s natural pollinators had apparently gone extinct, so F. indica could no longer produce seeds in habitat.

Photo:  Succulentisima/Lourdes

Fortunately, the Indian government and several private agencies have been working diligently to establish a stable greenhouse population of Frerea indica, using flies and ants as pollinators.  In addition, stem cuttings can be easily rooted to produce new plants.  A study done in 2010 by the Botanical Survey of India concluded that Frerea indica was no longer endangered.  As a result of a proposal to the IUCN, this plant has been removed from the IUCN’s “red list” of extremely endangered species.

In temperate climates, collectors of succulents can enjoy growing F. indica in a greenhouse or on a windowsill.  There are also a number of interesting hybrids that have been produced by crossing Caralluma species with Frerea indica.


  1. Dear Mrs Piper's Mom

    I liked your blog, but I must have missed where you said if they were edible. This is the sort of important information that us dogs need to know.

    Also my mom says they look like funky starfish. I think this is redundant since all starfish are funky looking.

    Zest! feisty redhead in charge.

    1. I read that some local people eat the stems of these plants, which may have contributed to their threatened status, but I did not include that information because humans are always getting blamed for every environmental disaster, so I thought I would give us a break. Anyway, I guess if people can eat the plants, so can dogs, but I'm not sure dogs would want to. I believe that the plants would be quite suitable for male dogs to pee on, if they could do so without falling off a cliff. Maybe that would be better than eating them. Just sayin'.