Submitted by: Jim Tanner
Caudiciform plants, also known as ‘Fat Plants’, are a grouping of many totally unrelated plants all having a fat, short, swollen stem-trunk.
A fat, short, swollen stem is referred to by botanists as a caudex, while plants that display this kind of growth habit are called caudiciform plants. Caudiciform plants are almost exclusively desert dwellers that use their swollen stems for water storage between periods of drought. Cacti, especially the barrel type, have short, swollen stems, but are excluded because their stems have the major photosynthetic role. Caudiciform plants are found in many families, including the passion vine family, the grape family, the euphorbia family, the dogbane family and the baobab family.
In nature, these fat-stemmed plants can attain enormous size. Baobab trees (Adansonia sp.) of Africa and Madagascar have swollen trunks more than 50 feet in diameter with what often looks like a modest topknot of growth to support the enormous base. The ponytail palm (Nolinia recurvata) of Mexico can have swollen bases 4 to 5 feet across.
Some of the most beautiful caudiciform plants are the Adeniums, known collectively as desert rose. In the wild, Adenium obesum, has swollen stems to 3 or 4 feet across. Most caudiciform plants, are propagated by cuttings.
Caudiciform plants adapt well to pot culture and are easy to grow. Caudiciform plants are frost-tender and even 28 degrees will kill most of them. Most of these plants grow during the hot summer months and are dormant during the winter, so they adapt well to moving indoors during the winter. Evergreen species will need a bright location during winter. Ideally, a cool greenhouse maintained at 45 to 50 degrees is perfect for overwintering most kinds.
To keep the size of the plant somewhat in check and lessen the possibility of overwatering, keep the pot size of caudiciform plants relatively small for the size of the plant. When repotting, use a clay pot and a good, well-drained potting soil designed for cacti.