Gibbaeum heathii (N. E. Br.) L. Bolus
Mesembryanthemum heathii, Rimaria heathii
Gibbaeum heathii is a dwarf succulent, with a very short stem and green to whitish or grayish pair of leaves when grown in full sun. It grows up to 1.2 inches (3 cm) tall. The body is fleshy, almost spherical to obovoid, and up 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Flowers are enclosed between the leaves, white, cream, or pale pink and up to 1.2 inches (3 cm) in diameter.
USDA hardiness zones 10b to 11b: from 35 °F (+1.7 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).
How to Grow and Care
Mesembs are mostly adapted to relatively predictable rainfall patterns rather than extreme drought and irregular rainfall. Total rainfall may be extremely low, but water is available at least seasonally or through fog and condensation. This leads to or allows plants that are not especially large and sometimes very small and affect how they need to be treated in cultivation.
The basics of care are very simple: free-draining soil, plenty of sun and ventilation, and regular light watering in the right season. The difficulties are endless, trying to adapt to the Mesembs' adaptability and follow their growth habits in your particular conditions.
These plants require a loam-based compost with extra drainage material such as horticultural grit or perlite. They all like good light conditions and plenty of ventilation.
Some are relatively cold-hardy and can even survive mild winters outside. Most will withstand temperatures down to the freezing point. Some Mesembs begin to grow in the fall as the temperature drops and the days get shorter. See more at How to Grow and Care for Mesembs.
Gibbaeum heathii is native to South Africa.
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Common names: baby bums (Eng.) bababoutjies, hondebalvygie, hondebal, volstruiswater (Afr.)
One of the curious miniature succulents that grow in between quarzitic stones and is endemic to the Klein Karoo. It is one of the most popular species in its genus and a real gem for any succulent enthusiast.
Gibbaeum heathii is a robust, compact, clump-forming, succulent plant, which normally grows above ground but is partially sunken into the ground in the dry season. It can grow up to 60 mm high and approximately 30 mm in diameter and has a long root system.
G. heathii forms 2-3 globe-like smooth leaves, partially identical. Old dead leaves cover the stems and enclose the new young leaves.
Flowers vary from white, pink to purple and are visible from late winter to early spring. The capsules of this species, which are 7 or 8 locular, contain very small seeds. It is a slow growing succulent, but can live for many years.
According to the Red List of South African plants website, accessed on 02 July 2018, this species is not threatened and has a conservation status of Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Gibbaeum heathii can grow in and out of quartz outcrops and is endemic to the Klein Karoo in the Western Cape. It occurs in areas from Swellendam, Montagu and Ladismith. It is restricted to the winter-rainfall region and thrives in areas with minimal rainfall.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Gibbaeum belongs to the family Aizoaceae, which are known to be leaf succulents. Aizoaceae is the largest family of succulent plants. Initially 21 species of Gibbaeum had been listed, but because of extensive research by H.F. Glen, these numbers have been reduced to 15 species and 1 subspecies. The number has increased to 16 with the latest description of Gibbaeum johnstonii. Gibbaeum is derived from the Latin word gibbus, which means ‘hump’, referring to the hump-shaped leaves of this genus. This species is named after Dr Francis Harold Rodier Heath (1874–1940), an English cultivator of succulent plants.
Gibbaeum heathii are small button-shaped succulents that occur in quartzite patches in the Klein Karoo, typically mimicking their surroundings. These quarzitic stones also reflect most of the heat, creating a much cooler climate for the plants. These plants shrivel during the dry season and become partially sunken into the ground, protecting themselves from extreme heat. Leaves become turgid and swell in the rainy growing season. G. heathii has the ability to withdraw water from their succulent leaves in dry months of the year, causing them to shrivel. The showy white to pink flowers attracts bees, which are the main pollinators. These flowers open during the day and close during the night. Capsules are specifically adapted to open when it rains and close during dry periods. These capsules are known as hygroscopic.
Gibbaeum heathii is not known for any medicinal or cultural uses. It is, however, the most popular of all the Gibbaeum species in the horticultural trade and plants are mostly used in rockeries, personal collections and water-wise gardens.
Growing Gibbaeum heathii
Gibbaeum heathii can easily be propagated from seed and cuttings. Harvest seeds in summer (December to February) and sow seeds in autumn (March to April), or late spring (October to November). Use a sterilized, shallow seedling tray and fill it up with a mixture of 60% coarse river sand and 40% sieved compost. Sow seeds on top of the mix, ensuring that they are spread evenly. Cover with a fine layer of sand, and then water, using a mist sprayer. Seedlings will germinate within 1 or 2 weeks. Propagation by cuttings is also easy. Remove the whole plant during autumn (March to April). Take cuttings just below the growing point, where the body meets the stem. Ensure cuttings do not tear by using sharp secateurs. A rooting hormone can be applied to hasten root formation. Place cuttings in a growing medium mixture of 60% coarse river sand and 40% sieved compost, allowing enough space between cuttings. Always use sterilized equipment and growing mediums. Care should be taken not to overwater propagation material. Seedling and cuttings can be transplanted the following season and placed in a medium with a high compost ratio. Place rooted material in an area with partial sunlight.
Do not give too much water during the summer period, as plants might rot. G. heathii is not affected by too many pests, but occasionally it does get attacked by mealy bugs, woolly aphids and scale. A general insecticide can be used to prevent death by these pests.
G.heathii can be used as a windowsill pot plant or in a small rockery.
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden
Gibbaeum Species, Marble Gibbaeum
Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Where to Grow:
Can be grown as an annual
Suitable for growing in containers
Soil pH requirements:
From seed winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
From seed germinate in a damp paper towel
Allow pods to dry on plant break open to collect seeds
Allow seedheads to dry on plants remove and collect seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
These dwarf succulents are characterized by distinctively asymmetrical pairs of leaves, mostly globular or sometimes thick and arcuate. The sizes of the leaves of each pair are nearly always different. Gibbaeums grow in clumps and produce pink or white flowers in spring.  
Genus Gibbaeum is predominantly indigenous to the Little Karoo region of the Western Cape Province, South Africa. A few species extend outside of this region. Three species extend north into the Great Karoo region: Gibbaeum gibbosum, Gibbaeum heathii and Gibbaeum nuciforme. Two extend south into the Overberg region: Gibbaeum esterhuyseniae and Gibbaeum hartmannianum.
Sunny exposure and well drained soil. Their natural range spans the boundary between winter and summer rainfall areas of southern Africa, and their growth period (emergence of new leaves and flowering) is therefore in summer for some species and in winter for other ones. However, overall most species can be watered primarily in winter. Temperature must stay above 10 °C in winter.
Propagation can be done by cuttings or by seeds. Many of the species hybridise easily - with each other and with the related genus Muiria.