Pig's ear

Pig's ear

Cotyledon orbiculata

Scientific name

Cotyledon orbiculata is an extremely variable species that grows to approximately 1.3 m in height. It has gray-green leaves that can be up to 13 by 7 cm with a white powdery substance on them that helps reflect sunlight and conserve water. The shape of the leaves was thought to have a resemblance to a pig's ear, thus the common name. The bell-shaped flowers are small, usually less than 3 cm in length, and droop from the top of a 60 cm tall stalk. The flowers are usually orange-red but yellow varieties also exist.

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.

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, earache in particular .

Propagation instructions

By seed

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 20-40 mm they can be transplanted.

By cutting

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.

References and further reading

PlantZAfrica profile »

Wikipedia page »

Image credit: Abu Shawka
Seedbank Quantity
Arundel Seedbank 1000
Total 1000

This table below shows how many plants we are trying to obtain for this species.

Site Area Quantity
Site #2 Delft 4
Site #3 Delft 2
Site #8 Delft 4
Site #9 Delft 5
Site #15 Rosebank 20
Site #16 Rosebank 20
Site #22 Rosebank 30
Site #23 Rosebank 40
Site #27 Mowbray 80
Site #30 Rosebank 30
Site #40 Rosebank 40
Site #44 Rosebank 100
Site #52 Rosebank 40
Site #54 Langa 30
Site #61 Claremont 5
Site #64 Mowbray 40
Site #102 Newlands 5
Site #96 Bonteheuwel 5
Site #103 Mowbray 5
Site #95 Bonteheuwel 5
Site #104 Athlone 5
Site #105 Rosebank 5
Site #107 Mowbray 0
Site #127 Rosebank 50
14 other sites 335
Total 570

Important characteristics

Conservation status: Least Concern

This species was selected because it has various important characteristics.

This is a bird-friendly species

It provides medicinal value


Good potplant

Easy to grow

Suitable for clay soil

Suitable for sandy soil

It provides food for:


Southern double-collared sunbird

Cotyledon orbiculata is indigenous to: Cape Flats Dune Strandveld Cape Flats Dune Strandveld

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