C. orbiculata is an extremely variable species that grows to approximately Template:Convert in height.<ref name="potw"/> It has gray-green leaves that can be up to Template:Convert with a white powdery substance on them that helps reflect sunlight and conserve water.<ref name="sanbi">Template:Cite web</ref> The shape of the leaves was thought to have a resemblance to a pig's ear, thus the common name.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> The bell-shaped flowers are small, usually less than Template:Convert in length, and droop from the top of a Template:Convert tall stalk.<ref name="potw"/> The flowers are usually orange-red but yellow varieties also exist.
Varieties and cultivars<ref>HR. Tölken (1985). Crassulaceae. In O.A. Leistner, Flora of southern Africa 14. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.</ref>
This diverse species includes a large number of varieties and cultivated forms.<ref>Cotyledon orbiculata Plantzafrica</ref> Recognised varieties include:
- C. orbiculata var. flanaganii (Schönl. & Baker f.) Toelken, with elongated leaves in whorls
- C. orbiculata var. oblonga (Haw.) DC., defined by its red leaf-margins and 20–50cm inflorescence.
- C. orbiculata var. spuria (L.) Toelken, defined by having (2–)3–5 bract pairs on the stem of its inflorescence.
Other forms include:
- C. orbiculata var. "Dactylopsis", a small and proliferous plant with elongated, terete leaves.
- C. orbiculata var. "Engleri" (= cultivar: "Viridis"), with leaves of a deep and slightly glaucous green
- C. orbiculata var. "Mucronata", defined by its mucronate leaves.
- C. orbiculata var. "Oophylla" Dinter (= cultivars: "Boegoeberg" and "Lizard Eggs"), defined by its round, white, pruinose leaves.
- C. orbiculata var. "Undulata" Haw. (= cultivar: "Silver Crown"), defined by its wide, flat, round leaves with bent margin.
- C. orbiculata f. "Takbok", with leaves that often have multiple lobes, becoming antler-like.
Native to South Africa,<ref name="potw">Template:Cite web</ref> it is popular in gardens in many countries. In the wild, it grows naturally in rocky outcrops in grassy shrubland and the Karoo region. In New Zealand, it is considered an invasive plant and is listed on the National Pest Plant Accord.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
C. orbiculata has a number of medicinal uses. In South Africa, the fleshy part of the leaf is applied to warts and corns. Heated leaves are used as poultices for boils and other inflammations. Single leaves may be eaten as a vermifuge and the juice has been used to treat epilepsy.<ref name="sanbi"/>
However, the leaves contain a bufanolide called cotyledontoxin, which is toxic to sheep, goats, horses, cattle, poultry, and dogs, causing a condition known as cotyledonosis.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>