Gasteria batesiana, The Sandpaper Gasteria - Cactus Club

Go to content

Main menu:

Gasteria batesiana, The Sandpaper Gasteria

Plant of the Month > Species G to H

by Bruce Brethauer

   Gasteria batesiana is a good sized member of the genus, with a rosette of highly succulent leaves. The entire plant can exceed a foot in diameter. The leaves are up to about 2 inches wide at the leaf bases and are approximately 1/2 inch thick on my plant. Leaf color varies, and is often dependent upon light intensity and other growing conditions: leaves are typically dark green, but when grown in particularly bright light, will produce gold/bronze to brick-red tones. The reddish tones are most pronounced on older leaves. While photographs of some plants on the internet show silvery banding, the leaves on my plant are barely marked, with new leaves appearing unmarked. Unlike many Gasterias, which produce their leaves in two closely stacked ranks, the leaves of this plant are produced in spirals. The leaves of this species are remarkably textured with minute pebbly outgrowths, giving the leaves (both top and bottom surfaces), a very rough texture, earning this plant the common name of "Sandpaper Gasteria".

   The flowers are produced on short spikes, and are generally a bit larger than the flowers of other Gasterias - ranging from just over an inch to about an inch and one half on my plant. The flowers are a bit more pastel than those of other Gasterias in my collection, with pale carmine-red bases, and greenish tubes, sometimes with an indistinct yellowish transition zone between the two colors. Also, the flowers of this species have only slightly inflated bases.

   The following information comes from

       Distribution and Habitat

       Gasteria batesiana has the most northerly distribution in the genus, occurring east of the inland escarpment from north of the Tukhela (Tugela) River in northern KwaZulu-Natal to the Olifants River Valley in the Limpopo Province. It is found in bushveld (savannah) at elevations from 500 to 700 m, in hot, dry, frost free river valleys in mountainous terrain and the plants are mostly confined to cliff faces. Its habitat consists of shady southern and eastern aspects where it occurs in shallow humus-rich soil (pH 6,8 - 7,1).

       The most attractive form of Gasteria batesiana originates from Barberton in Mpumalanga, bearing dark almost black-green triangular-lanceolate leaves. In spite of much searching it has not yet been re-located. However it lives on in cultivation.

       Derivation of name and historical aspects:

       Gasteria batesiana commemorates Mr. John Bates, a trolley bus conductor in London and a keen collector of South African succulents. It was described by Mr. Gordon Rowley in the National Cactus and Succulent Journal in 1960. Mr. Rowley is a well known succulent author living near Reading, England

       Gasteria batesiana is probably one of the most popular Gasteria species due to its ease of cultivation and ornamental appearance. It was first collected in May 1924 by Mr Frank Frith, first horticulturist of the South African Railways, a keen plantsman, succulent collector and explorer who might have been responsible for its introduction to Europe. Although it had been in cultivation in Europe and in South Africa since the early part of the previous century its location in the natural habitat remained unknown until 1958 when Mr Theo Sprengel of Igogo Natal collected living specimens near Piet Retief in Mpumalanga and brought them to Mr Harry Hall at Kirstenbosch. Fortunately today, many sites in northern KwaZulu-Natal are known.


       Gasteria batesiana is pollinated by sunbirds. Its fruiting capsules becoming erect after fertilization, opening from the top only to release its flattish seed by gusts of wind, thus ensuring a sufficient dispersal distance. Its fleshy leaves store water making it a drought tolerant and ideal water wise garden plant. In spite of its habitat on cliffs becoming bone dry during winter, the plants have enough water supply for survival.

       Uses and cultural aspects

       Gasterias are popular among the traditional healers. These plants are believed to have the magical power of transferring their camouflage properties, which are provided by their mottled leaves that blend in well with surrounding vegetation, to humans who wash with the leaves.

   This plant is easy enough to grow, tolerating a variety of growing circumstances. It responds well to my general guidelines for growing cacti and other succulents, with only a few minor variations: this plant typically grows in varying degrees of shade in habitat, and will tolerate somewhat lower light levels than many other succulents. Even so, when I move my plants outdoors in the spring, this plant will tolerate full sun after being properly acclimatized to increased exposure. This may not reflect the experience of growers in sunnier regions such as the American Southwest, or growers at higher elevations, where this plant may benefit from somewhat more shaded conditions. Also, while it has demonstrated a good tolerance to an extended cold winter dormancy, and will briefly tolerate temperatures down to nearly freezing (and perhaps will survive a few degrees of frost), I believe that this plant will suffer less stress if temperatures are maintained above 55 degrees Fahrenheit during its winter dormancy.

   This species grows very slowly, adding a leaf or two to each rosette every year. This plant also will add an occasional offset, but again, this is a very slow process; I grew my plant for 4 years before it showed any sign of a first offset, and two or 3 years later, I see evidence of one or two more.

   While this plant can be propagated by division, removing the occasional offsets, it is perhaps more easily propagated by rooting leaf cuttings, and waiting for these to produce offsets. The large leaves are quite rigid, and tend to become brittle with age. In moving my plants, and during repotting, I have broken off leaves or leaf sections, and (following a 2 to 3 week period of dry storage to allow the leaf ends to heal), I potted these up, barely inserting the leaf bases into dry to barely moist potting soil. By the end of the season, these established roots, and in the following year (sometimes in the first year), produced an offset or two. Plants can also be grown from seed, but to date, my plant has not produced viable seed, so I cannot report on how to grow this plant from seed, however indicates that this is also a very slow process, taking years to grow a plant to flowering size.

   Gasteria batesiana is a good plant for most growers. Like virtually all Gasterias, it tolerates somewhat lower light levels than many cacti and other succulents. It is a spineless plant, and to the best of my knowledge, it is also non-toxic, making this plant better suited to households with children and pets. This is a small to medium sized plant, ultimately growing to just over a foot in diameter, but due to its very slow growth rate, it will not outgrow its allotted space for many years. Because of its slow growth rate, it will not require frequent repotting, and may require somewhat less frequent fertilization than other succulents. It is an attractive plant, and its exceptionally textured leaves provides added interest. As with virtually all Gasterias, this plant seems to be resistant to most insects - I have never seen colonies of mealybugs, scale insects, or spider mites on my plant. Sadly, this is not an easy plant to find in the trade, to date, I have never seen plants offered at any of the "Big Box" nursery departments, and it is not always available from the mail order nurseries specializing in cacti and other succulents. I acquired my plant from Bob Smoley's Gardenworld, but it is also be available from Mesa Garden, and Arid Lands. If you should ever come upon this plant at a cactus society sale or at your local nursery, give it a try.

Back to content | Back to main menu