Aptenia cordifolia is an evergreen and fast-growing succulent, often a short-lived perennial, 250 mm high. The roots are fleshy and thick. The succulent stems are four-angled or rounded, 600 mm long, and grow flat on the ground. Bladder or water cells are closely arranged on the surfaces of the stems and shine in the sunlight. The green leaves are fleshy, flat, heart- to oval-shaped, 60 x 25 mm long, and are widely spaced in pairs or singularly arranged. Water cells are scattered on the leaf surface. It is a well-known groundcover or creeping plant.
Flowers are purple to red, shiny, small to medium, 15 mm wide and borne singly or in clusters on short flower stalks. Terminal flowers are found in the forks of the branches. The flowers are self-fertilized and flowering occurs from spring to autumn (August to April). Flowers open during the bright hours of the day (midday to early afternoon).
The fruit is a capsule with four lidless chambers (locules). Each chamber contains one large black-brown seed with a rough surface.
The shiny, bright flowers attract butterflies, bees and other insects. It is a drought-resistant plant, tolerates high rainfall and irregular watering.
Health Benefits of Aptenia
Aptenia cordifolia is used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory, as a dressing (poultice) and deodorant. The plant is also used as a love and good luck charm. Zulu medicinal uses include making a mild enema for babies; the black powder is used for vaccination and against witchcraft (sorcery). Burnt stems and leaves are applied to aching joints.
It is used as an ornamental plant and on dry slopes or steep embankments to hold the soil.