Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

The Strange and Unsual

Wow has it been hot out lately. There has been more than one day at work where I thought I was melting. Seamless blue skies, a radiant heat, the plants go wild and grow grow grow. This is the time of year where a gardener must stand vigil and protect their plants from the unforgiving heat. My garden doesn’t have irrigation so there I am long day or short watering around dusk keeping things hydrated. I sometimes daydream what it would be like to have it all hooked up to one switch. Perhaps one day I will, but for now it’s a good meditation and a chance to watch them grow.

This has been a great season for succulents and now that my son is a little more self sufficient I’ve been able to make more time for plant science. I moved 80% of my collection to a glass house in the valley where it receives the heat and sun it deserves. At home I predominantly grow vegetables, citrus, tropical foliage, echiums & trial garden plants. That and some of my top shelf succulents that I couldn’t bare to relinquish to a secondary site. Spiral Aloes, Medusa Euphobias, Haworthias etc. I know I’m supposed to love them all equally but some just take the cake.

Anyhow I’m already somewhat off topic. Today I thought I’d share some photos of my latest favorite plants.

Carpbobrutrus edulis
I know some people from California will detest me for advocating the intentional growing of this plant but enjoy it I do. I love iceplants, delospermas lampranthus and the like. I’m obsessed with sedums and iceplants are sort of the sedum of Africa, and yet they grow well up here. If you drive south down the 101 to L.A before you reach San Fransisco you’ll encounter giant fields of this plant growing feral on the sides of the road. I’ve read that they planted thousands of acres of the stuff to slow down erosion but overtime it took over and just exacerbated the problem. Up here in the north I don’t suspect it will be a problem anytime soon. Semi hardy if kept dry on a porch but doesn’t like the cold and the wet. I’ve been growing it for a couple years now and this season it sent out a wave of flowers mid spring. The flower is almost identical to Delosperma cooperi, a neon pink aster-esk flower, but about 4 times as big. Yep. Love it.

carpobrotus edulis

carpobrotus edulis

hottentot fig

carpobrotus edulis

Albuca spiralis
Plant nerd or not you can’t help but to enjoy the whimsical foliage of Albuca spiralis. Corkscrew vining foliage, twisting and curling, it doesn’t look real. I’ve always been fascinated by the occurrence of fibonacci spirals in nature. Think spiral aloes, agaves, and the back of my sons head of hair.  Anyhow this plant is far from home again; the deserts of Africa, A theme in my collection. I’ve been searching for this one for years and had almost given up hope when there there it was at Phoenix Perennials in Vancouver earlier this spring. I’ve slightly tamed my plant hoarding in the past few years (25000 plants is enough) but I couldn’t say no to this one. Glad I didn’t because it’s been an endless source of visual splendor. Easy to grow, water when dry, full sun, no problems.

Now why do these plants twist and curl? I have read that plants like this have adapted over time to use their twisting foliage to gather in mist & dew and draw the moisture to it’s center. In their natural habitat there isn’t much rainfall, but plenty of dew and mist. Interesting!

Albuca spiralis Albuca spiralis Albuca spiralis Albuca spiralis

Avonia papyracea
Some have regarded this as a difficult plant to grow. Stressing the importance of good drainage and careful watering but I haven’t had much of a problem. It’s managed to survive for 3 years in my collection on a windowsill, badly needing to be repotted until this year where it got an upgrade. Papery feathery sprawling foliage. Delicate short lived flowers. Easily grown by seed. A relative of anacampseros, another personal favorite.

Avonia papyracea

Deuterochonia brevifolia
Acquired down south from Berkeley Botanical Gardens this is my most favorite bromeliads. It forms incredible mounds of spiky hard foliage. Great as a bonsai specimen and amongst succulents it fits right in. In warmer climates it can be planted in the ground and grows into immense hills and valleys of awesome spikiness. I have had zero problems growing this plant and it’s even given me a few flowers over the years. Nothing too unusual, somewhat similar to a tillandsia flower.

Deuterochonia brevifolia Deuterochonia brevifolia

Until next time. Stay hydrated and have fun.

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Being a plant collector is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever embarked on. In a world where most things have been discovered, plant collecting brings that much needed astonishment to life. As the collection grows, so does my intrigue, nature never fails to amaze me. It started off honest enough, a few potted plants in the living room, “wow those look great”. Nearly 4 years later and hundreds of plants added to the equation and I’m one one busy boy. While many collectors specialize in one specific genera of plant life, I can’t help but to dabble in most. The more plants in the collection, the more amazement that is added to my life, the dream is to create one never ending fireworks display.

One group of plants that I find particularly interesting is cacti and succulents. It’s easy to fall in love with succulents.  They’re often easy to grow, require little maintenance and are by far the strangest and most mysterious of all plant life. A couple weeks ago I brought some of my collection outdoors to photograph and inventory.  I had hoped that in time I would write in depth plant profiles on these amazing plants, but the more I think about it, the more I think that’s a bit far fetched. With a large collection such as mine, a busy work schedule and a meager social life it’s hard enough keeping regular blog posts going, let alone getting overly academic with my writing. Smart writing is for the winter, fun photographic tours are the best I can do for now. So rather then hoarding the photos until a later date I thought today was as good a day as any to take a peak at some of the gems in my collection. Another plant tour, “Yes Please!”

2012 Cacti and Succulent tour:


Mitrophyllum grande, a winter growing succulent from South Africa.


A staple in any succulent collection, Euphorbia obesa are easy to grow and are ranked high in my books. Some have warned me to give them a winter dormant period but mine still gets a regular drink. It’s pot seems to go dry every 3-4 days and it gets a small drink shortly after. It’s rewarded my care with lots of fresh growth and some new flower buds. Looks like an alien egg to me, perhaps we don’t have to look up to the stars any longer.


A new addition to the collection from Brentwood Bay Nursery, Euphorbia mammillaris variegata is about as strange as it gets. How bizarre is this one!? So strange.


An old favorite Parodia haselbergii still continues to please.


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus (Paper-spined Cholla). Say that 5x fast. A walmart score of all places, I enjoy it’s unusual fingernail like spines.


A new addition to the collection via the ever so gracious Mr. Bob Archer. Stenocactus has the strangest ribs.


Adromischus clavifolius


Austrocylindropuntia subulata (Thx for the id Gerhard) This small potted specimen has a funny story attached to it. About a year and a half ago I purchased an established 4″ pot of this plant, and attempted to do some cuttings. Shortly after taking the cuttings, the mother plant got an infection and deflated and died a few weeks later. 2 years from the date of this catastrophe, the few remaining cuttings are still only 1/3 the size.. Plant collecting does involve some trial and error.


Who couldn’t love Graptoveria amethorum. Miniature echeveria-esk rossettes that don’t elongate or get strange with indoor culture. This plant has remained tidy and compact throughout overwintering on the front window sill. Some say they rot easily, but underpotted in terracotta, mine seem tolerant enough of the wet stuff. A personal favorite.


My oldgrowth Sinningia leucotricha has started to wake up from it’s winter sleep. It flowers with the emergance of new leaves, and at this time of year it seems a thirsty plant indeed. Known for their ability to survive neglect, I’m not particularily worried about this plant. Which is good, I need a couple easy oddities in the collection. Thank you Linda Macewko for sharing this plant with me.


Another big thank you to Bob Archer for this strange Mammillaria specimen, and in such a nice pot too.


Humble beginnings, this haworthia was the first succulent in my collection. A common variety this plant still holds it’s own.


The Monadenium richtii I got at the VCSS Sale last year has been growing a new leaf every couple weeks.


Acquired roughly around the same time, this Monadenium magnificum cutting is slow to get going. I’m curious to see what the summer does for it.


Cotyledon tomentosa, otherwise known as the bear paw crassula.


You can see why it gets it’s name. Right out of a cartoon.


I love plectranthus and plectranthus ernestii is no exception. Unlike other plectranthus in my collection, this one will eventually grow an interesting caudex. The leaves have a light aroma when crushed, these plants make excellent bonsai specimens.


No bigger then a dime, Frailea asteroides have survived the winter woes.


A 50-100 year old Dudleya attenuata saved from a cattle field in California grows happily under the grow lights. Winter growing.


I’ve had this Graptoveria paraguayense ‘Fred Ives’ for a couple years now. I love it’s subtle colorings.


As many true succulent growers are probably shaking their heads right now, I’ve taken a different approach with this specimen. While normally I break my echeverias down and re-root them when the elongate like this, I’ve encouraged this one to grow strange. A little copper wire and a stake and my graptoveria gets to reach for the stars. So far I’m pleased with the results.


Everyone seems to have one, Pleiospilos nelii, split rock is a must have.


Happy fuzzy rebutias.


I love stapelias, this Stapelianthus decaryi cutting is rooted, but slow to grow. Only time will tell.


Out of 10 or so seeds, this is the only Dioscorea elephantipes seedling that grew. In 10-15 years I should have a nice little turtle backed specimen.


Last but not least, a strangely planted Mirabilis jalapa makes for an easy caudiciform.

Thanks for joining me for the tour.

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Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.