Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants


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.

I know I shouldn’t be buying myself early Christmas gifts, but cacti on bargain is always a no brainer. While I do my best to avoid megastores, on occasion I have a sick fascination with florecent lights and haphazard bargains. On a mission to get cheap cat food, I graced through the garden section and found some incredible cactus at ridiculously cheap prices. The funny thing about Victoria is that cacti and succulents are a bit of a speciality item, and to see them in such health and vigor for record low prices, how can a plant hoarder resist. Apparently they had just come in, and thus were still in good shape. After staring at them with a glazed look of excitement I ended up leaving with two for myself, and two for Christmas gifts. (Much like my blogger friend Lorree @ Danger Garden I also force plants upon my friend’s in times of gift giving and celebration.)

I’ve been reading A Cactus Odyssey by James D Mauseth / Robert Kiesling / Carlos Ostolaza (ordered from Sacred Succulents on discount) and in turn have been super pumped about cacti this week. While everything else is pretty miserable looking, the cacti stand proud active or dormant. These new cacti were worthy of a full photoshoot, and at the moment remain unidentified. I’m new to identifying globular cacti so any help would be much appreciated. I’ll thank Wally World for marking it with a tag “cactus”, how useful, a three year old could have told me that.

Look at it’s incredible ribs.

Food for thought.
For the size of these cacti they’ve got to be at least 2-5 years old, be it seed or cutting. Wally World sells them for $4.00ea, which tells me the grower is selling them for at least $1.50/$2.00. I would imagine the grower would have to sell at least 250,000 – 500,000 of them to even begin to make a profit. Is one grower supplying the whole of Canada? This doesn’t exactly look local, I’m pretty sure no one on the island is growing these. Mega-marts have a huge buying power so maybe it’s worth shipping them for the other side of the country. I’m perplexed by the discounts as much as I’m pleased with my purchase.

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time you’d probably agree with me when I say I shouldn’t collect anymore plants this season. As it stands I have over 130+ potted plants indoors, 50+ large tropical specimens at the  greenhouse, and a garden that is so over filled it’s bordering on insane. Still when I was invited to view a local cacti collector’s private stash I couldn’t resist myself. Her collection was impressive and a real treat for a sun starved plant geek in November. With the potential of moving leering overhead she wanted to thin out her collection a bit and was willing to pass along some obscurities.  We ended up chatting for a couple hours, touring her various growing areas, and I left with some really great specimens.

Left to right: Sinningia leucotricha, Gasteria NOID ,Hemanthus albiflos, Echinops NOID, Rubutia muscula,
Astrophytum NOID and a Monadenium ritchiei

Sinningia leucotricha is an interesting velvet leafed plant from Brazil that forms a caudex-like woody tuber.  After this photo I replanted it in a nice new terracotta pot and exposed the tuber. It looks great, and I look forward to watching it do it thing further. More info to follow

Quite an interesting Gasteria specimen, it’s leaves textures remind me of snowflake obsidan.  Anyone know it’s species name?

A large flowering sized Haemanthus albiflos.

A small Echinops (white / pink flowers)

Rubutia muscula. What awesome little fuzzy orbs.

Monadenium ritchiei Another euphorbia oddity to the collection.

While I already have a small specimen of this, I couldn’t resist. This is one of largest Disocactus flagelliformis I’ve ever seen. Hoping to take some cuttings and do a small run of these next spring. Simply amazing!

Selenicereus grandiflorus otherwise known as a Queen of the Night Cactus.

What fun! I’ve jigsawed them into the collection and they look great. I’m looking forward to seeing them thrive come spring and summer.

Thank You Linda !

It’s been a gorgeous weekend in Victoria and the weather has been outstanding. Sunny days & blue skies, I had a very nice Saturday spent in the garden, beach, and you guessed it, a CACTUS SALE! Every year the Victoria Cactus & Succulent Society hosts two sales, and so far I’ve haven’t managed to make it to one until yesterday. I might have died and gone to cactus heaven, what a selection they had, and at obtainable prices too. Victoria doesn’t exactly specialize in succulents (WE LIVE IN THE NORTH DUH) so having a sale dedicated to weird and unusual cacti was a real treat. I must have walked around the booth 10 times, I had to make sure I saw everything. Showing up right when they opened, I was surprised there wasn’t a bigger crowd. Bargain cacti unfound anywhere else in Victoria and/or Vancouver Island, shouldn’t I be fighting through the mobs? P.S I hate mobs, so a quiet sale is fine by me. Still I wish more people were interested as to keep the excitement going, a successful sale means more cacti next year.

As time goes on sometimes I think I live in the wrong climate. Not that there is anything wrong with the west coast of Canada, I LOVE IT, but I sure wish growing succulents and tropicals wasn’t such a battle with the weather. I digress.

I found so many cacti treasures, I was glowing all day. It’s strange how good I feel after a good plant hoarding adventure, I don’t even have to go to Madagascar or South Africa, they were brought all the way here via passion on the cheap. I love plant geeks.

I will admit I got a bit carried away, god help me I have no discretion in these moments. If I didn’t come home with as many as I did I would kick myself later, any self respecting plant hoarder would do the same. Right!? While I’d love to go into great detail on each plant, these specimens are all somewhat new to me and we’ll keep this post as a simple introduction.

I found a couple interesting conophytums. Another branch of strange stone like button succulents from South Africa.

Another conophytum

Mitrophyllum grande, another South African Oddity. Fall and Winter growing. Extremely delicate and easy to bruise, I’ll have to place this one somewhere safe.

Astrophytum asteria otherwise known as a Sand Dollar Cactus. This is a North American genus and is actually endangered in the wild. Most cacti found in cultivation are thus seed grown. This one came in a beautiful little pot for an added bonus. Bingo!

Although this photo does this very plant very little justice, this is an offset of a Haemanthus albiflos. Believe it or not I’ve been seeking plants in this genus for some time now and this was a real score. This South African Bulb is easy to grow and reportedly easy to get to flower. Often referred to as a paint brush lily due to it’s strange fuzzy flowers. I can’t wait to see this in action.

Frailea asteroides (What a cool name) is a miniature cactus from South America (Brazil). They stay small, and do well in indirect light. Flowers are only obtained at high temperatures so it’s unlikely I’ll ever see it in bloom. One can dream.

New agave varieties are practically nonexistant in Victoria. Welcome Agave stricta ‘Nana’ to the collection.

More cacti photos to come, the garden is certainly enjoying the autumn heat.

I recently bought this Tiger Jaw Plant (Faucaria tigrina) at Brentwood Bay Nurseries on impulse. I’m a real sucker for succulents and cacti and this winter the window sills will be packed. While haphazardly perusing the succulent area I stumbled upon this freshly budded specimen and had to have it. Within a week it’s flower opened and I snapped these photos today. Interesting!

Apparently the flowers only last a couple days so I was happy to have noticed when I did.

Another amazing succulent from South Africa. This is quickly becoming a place I must visit. The plant’s strange hooked barbs sometimes look like the snarly face of a jungle cat, thus it’s common name Tiger Jaw.

Another oddity added to the collection…

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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