Tylecodon paniculatus

Tylecodon paniculatus


Tylecodon paniculatus (Butter Tree)

Tylecodon paniculatus (Butter Tree) is an erect, robust succulent shrub with a caudiciform trunk, usually well-branched and up to 8.2 feet…

Tylecodon paniculatus

Common names: butter tree (Eng.) botterboom, baadtjies (Afrik.)


Tylecodon paniculatus is a stocky, caudiciform, arborescent succulent that occurs over a wide area.



Tylecodon paniculatus can reach heights of 2 m, making it the largest of the tylecodons. It is summer deciduous. The plants conserve energy by photosynthesising through their greenish stems during the hot dry summer months. The yellowish-green, papery bark is a very attractive feature of this plant and has given rise to the common name. During the winter, plants are covered with long, obovate, succulent leaves clustered around the apex of the growing tip.

The long, reddish-orange, tubular flowers are borne in upright racemes at the onset of summer in November each year, just as the leaves turn yellow and drop off. In nature the plants tend to grow in groups, making a spectacular show when they flower. The seeds, which are very fine, are released from seed capsules during the autumn (March/April), just in time for the winter rains. In summer rainfall areas, flowering times and subsequent seed maturation may be delayed by a few months. The shrub is reported to have a surprisingly weak and shallow root system for its size.

Distribution and habitat

Distribution description

Tylecodon paniculatus is found from Eastern Cape near Steytlerville in the Little Karoo, along the southern and western Cape coastline, and as far north as the Auas Mountains in central Namibia. It is common in the Worcester/Robertson Karoo, the Bushmanland area, and northern Namaqualand.

Tylecodon paniculatus appears to have wide tolerance of growing habitats, growing in weathered rock in the north to coastal sands in the south.

Derivation of name and historical aspects


The genusTylecodon is an anagram of the original genus Cotyledon. It was the taxonomist Tölken who described this new genus in Bothalia 12 (1978).

The genus Tylecodon, of which there are 45 species, is divided into two groups: dwarf to small shrubby species, and the medium to large species. The variousTylecodon species are endemic mainly to the dry western areas of South Africa and Namibia.



The attractive, bright flowers are bird-pollinated. The flowers contain nectar protected by a tuft of hairs halfway up the inside of the corolla tube. These hairs are easily pushed aside by the bird's beak, and lesser double-collared sunbirds have been observed visiting the flowers.

Hybrids of T. paniculatus and related species have been reported.

The botterboom is poisonous to stock, causing 'krimpsiekte'. In the past, the smooth, slippery stems were sometimes used to slide or ski at great speed down smooth rock faces or dam walls, adrenaline rushes before the days of bungy jumping!

Growing Tylecodon paniculatus

Tylecodon paniculatus makes a wonderful pot plant. They are striking feature plants, ideal subjects for sunny, dry courtyardsand water wise gardens.

This species can be cultivated either by seed or by cuttings. Growing from seed (sexual propagation) is a long process and it will be many years before one has plants of any size.

The seed is very fine and light brown in colour. The seed takes about 4 months to mature. The easiest way of harvesting seed is to cut the branched fruiting bodies in late March (autumn in the southern hemisphere). Allow the seed capsules to open in a closed paper bag. This will ensure the seed is not lost through wind or other means.

Sow the seed in a seed box. DO NOT cover the seeds. Simply sow the seeds in a coarse sand topping, with a well-drained substrate underneath. Water with a fine mister or a fogger once a week during winter and once a month in summer. The seeds will germinate readily during the cooler period of the year. After about two years, the young plants will be about 2-3 cm in height and can be pricked out and planted in bags. Always ensure that plants are grown in a well-drained medium.

To grow from cuttings (asexual propagation), select cutting material at least 3 cm in diameter. Place cuttings in a sharp quartzite substrate and use bottom heat if the winters are very cold. The cuttings usually take about one year to form a strong root system. Plant these cuttings in well-drained soil. Give them a sunny position.


  • COURT, D. 2000. Succulent flora of southern Africa, revised edn. Balkema, Rotterdam.
  • BARKHUIZEN, B. P. 1978. Vetplante van Suidelike Afrika. Perskor, Johannesburg
  • HENDERSON, M. 1953. Cotyledon paniculata. The Flowering Plants of Africa 29: t. 1142.
  • BURGER, S. 2002. Poisonous plants 2: Botterboom. Farmers Weekly,1 March: 28.
  • GESS, S. et al. 1998. Birds, wasps and tylecodons: pollination strategies of two members of the genus Tylecodon in Namaqualand. Veld & Flora 84: 56, 57.


Ian Oliver and Yvonne Reynolds
Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens
August, 2002

Plant Attributes:

Plant Type: Shrub, Succulent

SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape

Horticultural Data

Names and Synonyms: Tylecodon paniculatus Cotyledon tardiflora, Cotyledon mollis, Cotyledon fascicularis, Cotyledon paniculata
Common Names: Butter tree, Botterboom
Family: Crassulaceae
Origin: It is found growing in South Africa in clay soils in the Spekboomveld, Gwarrievelds and also on rocky slopes from Namibia to the South-Western Cape and the Eastern Cape
Size Label: 1 Gallon
Height: 5-6′
Width: 3-4′
Cold Tolerance: 25 to 30°F -3.9 to -1.1°C
Heat Tolerance: Very high
Light Requirement: Full sun to dappled shade in hot desert climates
Water needs: Extremely drought tolerant in summer, needs winter rains
Maintenance: None
Uses: Dry rock gardens, succulent plantings. A great plant for a larger treelike bonsai. Fun specimen plant around pools and stark architecture or in front of a contrasting-colored wall where its interesting shape can be set off.
Propagation: Replant cuttings, collect seeds after flowering. Sow uncovered in coarse sand topping with well-drained soil underneath. Seeds germinate readily during cooler weather.
Problems: Root rot, requires good draining soils.
Research Links:

Plants→Tylecodon→Butter Tree (Tylecodon paniculatus)

General Plant Information (Edit)
Plant Habit:Cactus/Succulent
Life cycle:Perennial
Sun Requirements:Full Sun
Minimum cold hardiness:Zone 9b -3.9 °C (25 °F) to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
Plant Height :Up to 6 feet
Fruit: Dehiscent
Flower Color:Yellow
Flower Time:Late spring or early summer
Suitable Locations:Xeriscapic
Wildlife Attractant:Bees
Resistances:Drought tolerant
Toxicity:Other: Stem is poisonous to livestock
Containers:Needs excellent drainage in pots
Miscellaneous:Tolerates poor soil
Goes Dormant

Chunky, branching caudiciform shrub with summer-deciduous green leaves and bell-like flowers. One of the more common Tylecodons in cultivation. Provide strong light and regular water during the growing period when the plant is in leaf (fall though spring). Do not overwater during dormancy (occasional summer water is fine). This succulent is from dry western, winter-rainfall areas of South Africa and Namibia and is an excellent low-maintenance choice for dry Mediterranean climates like coastal Southern California.

Fastest growth is observed in the ground. This plant will not reach anywhere near its full potential size of about 6 feet in a container. Growth will be especially slow when plants are kept constrained in small pots. However, this Tylecodon looks great as a bonsai, after being grown to size elsewhere and then staged for presentation.

Best form in full sun. Requires excellent drainage. May benefit from pruning to induce branching and encourage broader growth. May be self fertile. Seeds are very small and young seedlings require protection for some time after germination. Propagate from cuttings in the fall.

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