Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

The Strange and Unsual

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.

Today was a good day. As my time off work is quickly coming to an end I’ve found myself really appreciating the lazy dog days of December. After having a leisurely late breakfast, I spent much of the afternoon cleaning up my outdoor potting area. It’s amazing how messy the area has become, a year’s worth of frantic potting, failed seedlings, and nursery refugees can get out of hand. Why I bother to keep 400 4″ plastic pots is beyond me, maybe one day I’ll wake up from this insanity. After cleaning I rotated the compost heap and marveled in the successful process of turning food waste into black gold. Last year I threw a couple handfuls of large earthworms into the compost, this season they’ve multiplied into thousands. The center of the compost held a dense layer of wiggling worms, I have never seen more in all my life.

I know, gross, but look at all of them, and this was only one scoop.

“Quick! Honey! Grab me the camera, I’ve gotta photograph these worms!” . . . . . *blink* *blink*

In more exciting news, a plant package I had been expecting for some time now arrived at my door. As I wondered to the front of the house, I saw a post office truck parked outside, it seems he was in the process of writing me a parcel slip because I didn’t answer the door. Thrilled to have caught him before he left, I signed the the bill and grabbed my package frantically. I love receiving packages in the mail, and a plant package is even better. The order I speak of was from Absolute Cactus, a most excellent mail-order cacti and succulent nursery located in California. What’s better Diane at Absolute Cactus went through the trouble of hand-wrapping my plants for extra effect, with nice little envelopes with cultivation tips to boot. I love belated Christmas gifts.

Absolute Cactus plant order

Do I need a second Euphorbia obesa? No… Did I order one… Yes… Yes I did…

After seeking out some pots for these fine specimens (EI stealing them from bonsai’d horse chestnuts) they were potted up with fresh cacti soil, gravel and sand.

Although this Dudleya attenuata looks a bit worse for wear, I’m confident it will spring back to life. Harvested with permission from a cattle ranch in California, Dudleya attenuata are rare plants indeed. Often referred to live forever plants, this specimen is believed to be over 50 years old. Although this photo doesn’t do it justice, each echeveria-esk rosette comes out of a small woody caudex. Winter growing, Dudleyas are said to be tough plants. The one thing to keep in mind of course is not to over-water them, especially in their summer dormant period. This Dudleya had a large tap root underneath it’s caudex stem and I planted it in 50% gravel, 20% sand and 30% cacti soil, let’s see if it’s a recipe for success.

After all the excitement of my new plants this afternoon I went out for dinner at my girlfriend’s mother’s house. Salmon and scallop potatoes, and more presents, lucky me. Having just returned from a trip to South Africa, her mother and partner, got me a very nice Protea seed kit and book about Kirsten Bosch Botanical Gardens. I found this to be an incredibly thoughtful gift and I look forward to seeing if I can get them to grow.

Amazing Protea seed kit from a small South African Seed Company Fine Bush People

It’s quite a nice way to lay out seeds, and as a product it’s a real winner. They have the strangest fuzzy seeds, only time will tell if I can get them to grow. 6 new species of tender perennials to care for, ok, you guys can follow me home too.

Today was a good day.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas! Mine certainly went well, large glasses of scotch and significantly more turkey and junk food then any one man should ever endure. Life is tough.

In the cold days of winter I often find myself perusing Google images, exploring the wealth of humanity’s travels. Late night plant research leads to plant lust and eventually I find myself on mail-order websites accidentally adding more plants to an already overcrowded collection. This year I’ve opted to save my money and skip the trip to the tropics, so a couple extra plant order’s shouldn’t be discouraged, right? A plant geek can surely travel through the exotica found in his collection, and forgo dealing with metal detectors and airplane turbulence.  I recently placed this order, and if luck is on my side, they will arrive safely just in time for a fresh growing season. I generally like to research the obscurities I procure and in turn I thought I’d share my findings with you.

The 2011 strange and rare plant order.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Pacific Bulb Society website

Phaedranassa viridiflora – semi hardy, shallow planted, best grown in a greenhouse
Native to Ecuador, rarely seen in cultivation, native populations endangered due to agriculture. Amazing banded green and yellow flowers. Apparently simulating it’s dry season induces flowering. 

Photo borrowed with admiration from The Alpine Society

Rheum nobile – Hardy to -17
Native to the Himalaya growing at over 4000 metres above sea level, this unusual member of the rhubarb family grows strange white leaves that create a greenhouse effect to protect it’s flowers from the cold elements. Marveled for it’s medicinal properties, the local people enjoy it’s stalk for it’s sour flavor.

Photo borrowed with admiration from ChileFlora

Aristolochia chilensis – Semi hardy to occasional -5 , (will not tolerate snow)
One of the few insectivore plants in Chile, grows in poor sandy soils where droughts can sometimes last upwards to 10 months. Silver lines leaves and strange fuzzy pitchers.

Photo borrowed with admiration from ChileFlora

Lardizabala biternata – Suspected to be hardy -6, potentially more
Native to the temperate forests of Chile, in humid moist locations this little known specimen is often praised for it’s unusual dark flowers, and tasty edible fruit.

Photo borrowed with admiration from UC Bontanical Garden Blog

Bomarea spp. – Not reportably hardy
Native to Mexico and south, this tuberous firecracker grows as a groundcover but most often as a climber. From what I’ve researched they come in an amazing array of colors and forms, and are closely related to Alstroemeria.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Agave Pages

Agave utahensis v. eborispina – Hardy to -20, dry conditions
Native to the United States, this is by far one of the spikiest agaves I’ve ever seen.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Bihrmann’s CAUDICIFORMS

Crinum buphanoides – Hardy to zone 7-10
Native to South Africa and Namibia this unusual Crinum species has similar leaves to a Boophane. I love the wavy crinkled leaves, it definitely looks prehistoric to me. Apparently it’s quite forgiving in cultivation, but needs a dry period to flower.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Pacific Bulb Society website

Eustephia ssp.
Native from Puru to Bolivia, another unusual tropical bloom.  Summer growing, winter dormant. Cultivation similar to hybrid amaryllis.

Photo borrowed with admiration from Quest Machine

Tropaeolum tuberosum – Reportedly semi hardy, mulch in winter
An unusual food crop related to the garden nasturtium, producing an edible tuber. Reported to be easily grown in cultivation being resist to insects and disease. Another electric nasturtium, need I say I more.

And that’s that, another late night plant lust.

*Thanks to all the websites that let me use their photos as examples.

Dahlia imperialis, otherwise known as the tree dahlia is an interesting specimen indeed. Native to the Sierra Mountains Mexico this tropical mindblower is certainly a long way from home. From spring until autumn, Dahlia imperialis thrives in our warm but cool Victoria climate. For those of you who are new to this plant, Dahlia imperialis grows up to 30ft tall and flowers later then most dahlias more specifically mid November. Dahlia imperialis is frost tender zones 7-8 thus  it rarely gets to flower in this climate and is grown more for it’s foliage then flowers. Having planted mine in a metal garbage can mid spring, it grew from 1ft to 10ft throughout the season. While I’ve tucked away the majority of tropicals in the back the Dahlia imperialis still stands tall. It’s questionable if it’ll survive through our winter but I’m going to risk it outside. Much like a hardy banana I’m going to wrap it in chicken wire and insulate it with straw. We shall see if this strategy works, I’m also hoping to take a viable cutting before the frost cuts it down. Regardless it’s a worthwhile plant to grow and if you get a chance I highly recommend you give it a shot for the foliage alone. It has the most peculiar green tint attached to purple stems. In the barren wasteland that was once my personal jungle, this dahlia really shines. I love giant plants, it creates a canopy that otherwise might not exists at this time of year.

While these plants are definetly in circulation, they’re hard to come by. Some might go as far as calling them rare, but seeing as though they easily root from cutting I suspect if you look hard enough you should be able to find one. I found mine in a 2G pot at Brentwood Bay Nurseries, it wasn’t exactly cheap, but it wasn’t expensive either. If they’re all out of potted specimens when you visit, seek out their large mother plant for a cutting, I’m sure they’ll help you out if you ask.

The plants are easy to grow and require very little special attention. During the spider mite infestation this summer my dahlia showed light signs of damage but held it’s own during the onslaught. A quick spray of insecticide and it was looking better then ever.

Looking for a hardy plant that reliably flowers and gives a tree dahlia a run for it’s money. Meet Helianthus tuberosus otherwise known as the Jerusalem artichoke. Oddly the Jarusalum artichoke isn’t a artichoke and isn’t from Jerusalem, go figure. This North American native is said to grow up to 10ft tall on wikipedia, but mine has doubled that in height reaching almost 20ft. Planted mid April Helianthus tuberosus flowers late September sporting familiar sunflower blooms. Once planted in your garden it is said you’ll never be without, the plant produces an edible tuber that grows prolifically. I planted two tubers in different locations and one thrived while the other puttered. For true success with this species, plant in deep in fluffy high compost soil. A true late autumn gem.

20ft blooms, It’s difficult to get a worthy photograph.

So it’s no secret that we converted my girlfriend’s bedroom into a winter plant sanctuary in mid October. Due to the fact that the plant collection had become more excessive then intended, winter came and there was simply not enough room in my side of the house for the plants to stay warm.  We set up a couple grow lights on timers, and the rest is history.

Today my girlfriend came over and told me she found mushrooms growing in a couple of the pots in her room. Although I find them interesting I am far from a mushroom expert. If anyone can ID them I’d be curious to know more. Fascinating little specimens indeed!

What’s weirder still both varieties of mushrooms occurred when the soil was almost completely dry (we were gone for Christmas break)
Both types appeared only in my Datura pots, the mushrooms above in the standard yellow flowered brugmansia and the one’s below in a purple/white  flowered datura.

A couple weeks ago I was sprinkling cinnamon on the odd thing to discourage some fungus I saw growing. These mushrooms grew right above a patch I had sprinkled. Coincidence?

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.
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