Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Mitrophyllum grande

I love growing strange plants. The weirder the better.

When I first got my job at the nursery I started my garden with a modest 6pack of marigolds and a couple compost ready perennials. As I watched these seedlings flourish a spark flickered in my mind. The intricacy and beauty of nature was revealed to me; a slow unfolding miracle. I couldn’t look away. Years started to fly by, I became much more aware of the seasons and continued to watch things grow. I read books, surfed the web, trolled garden centers and nurseries; my appetite for new plants was insatiable. It was only a matter of time before I stumbled onto the large and impressive group of plants known as succulents. I started with sedums, moved into agaves and from there cacti, living rocks and caudiciforms.

A broad term in more ways than one, the word succulent describes all of these groups.  It refers to the plants ability to store water through special water-storing tissues. Through these special adaptations the plants have developed some pretty interesting ways to survive. This of course adds to their mystery and bizarre aesthetic appeal. Over the years I have become quite fascinated with this group of plants and admire their rarity, strangeness and story. This is what has brought me to becoming the collector I am today.

Let’s take a poke about the collection, and see if we spot anything interesting.

cactus collection
When your collection get’s bigger than your ability to properly display them, it’s time to upgrade. This winter a friend and I designed and built this custom cactus shelf. It’s the difference between hoarding and a collection, it displays the plants in a way each one can be recognized and appreciated. The project as whole cost us less then $200.00, I’m pleased with the effect.

Monstrose
As your collection grows it becomes more and more important to keep up with nomenclature and proper labeling.

Two headed cactus
Last year I acquired a rather generous amount of old-growth cacti from fellow Victoria collector. She had been growing cacti most of her adult life but for reasons undisclosed had to drastically reduce the size of her collection. Over the course of 2012 many the car load of cactus came into my possession and this will be our season together. This mammilaria NOID was tagged being repotted in 2003, it features two columns each with a split double head. It’s unusual to say the least.

echinocereus poselgeri
Another choice specimen I acquired from Linda was this Echinocereus poselgeri (formally known as Wilcoxia tuberosa).
Minute and delicate these cacti are known to have a mighty beautiful summer bloom. Time will tell.

cactus collection
On the left a couple oldgrowth echinopsis I managed to score during last year’s Victoria Garagellennium. On the right a 30 year old Euphorbia trigona I scooped up on craigslist. Seek and you shall find.

Echinopsis
I enjoy collecting cactus antiquities. These echinopis are guessed to be well over 30 years old. What a strange story they tell. The fact that someone has cared for this cactus for it’s entire existence, make it’s extra special as the years compound. That means it’s been watered, not overwatering, repotting and brought indoors and out for 30-50 years successful. That’s a lot of effort and care. Remarkable that I get the opportunity to further it’s trip alongside humanity. I wonder who will take it off my hands when I’m done appreciating it.

Clivia
I got this Clivia at The Victoria Horticulture Society a couple years ago. This is the first time it’s bloomed and they lasted more then 2 weeks. They’ve since faded, but more buds are on their way. I’m slowly growing fond of clivias. They’re pest free and dead easy to take care of. Plus they’ll survive in the shadiest part of your house and aren’t fussy about water either. Let them taste the outdoors in the summer and they’ll more than likely bloom for you in the autumn and early spring.

Euphorbia trigona
For the last little while my tillandsias (air plants) have found a home on this Euphorbia trigona. They seem to lend well to it’s good looks.

tillandsia
If they weren’t so expensive i’d have a lot more of these. Airplants are easy to grow and if you have never tried growing one before I suggest you give them a try. It’s as simple as finding a bright location and giving them an occasional soak. These plants naturally grow in the crooks of trees and can survive low nutrient situations. Soak them biweekly and they’ll thrive.

haworthias
Would anyone be able to I.D these haworthia for me?

haworthia
haworthia
haworthia

Euphorbia & mitrophyllum grande
It’s handy to know that Euphorbia obesa are dioecious, that being there are both male and female individuals needed to set seed. At the last Cactus and Succulent Plant Auction I got a mating pair. In time I  hope to get them into full production.

mitrophyllum grande
Mitrophyllum grande is one of my most favorite mesembs. I’m always scared I’m going to kill it, this one has survived the last two winters and seems healthy enough. They’re quite unusual to watch grow, splitting in the strangest ways.

sinningia leucotricha
A plant that’s hard not to love, Sinningia leucotricha. Not exactly a cactus relative being in the Gesneriaceae family, I suppose it’s it’s large underground tuber that appeals to the succulent geeks. This one is in the the realms of 10-12 years old. Each season around this time it produces new stems with flower buds and discards the old.  Last year it only put out one stem, this year I get two. I’m hoping to pollinate the flowers and get some seed, more people need to grow this plant.

sinningia leucotricha
sinningia leucotricha

Davallia trichomanoides
Davallia trichomanoides (Hare’s foot fern) is another oddball plant. As it spreads it grows taranchula-esk like rhizomes in which new fern fronds emerge. I’ve grown many of these and the trick to success is not to over-pot these little guys. They demand excellent drainage and should be considered more epiphyte then terrestrial.

euphorbia esculenta
Some people have a problem with growing plants under lights, but I think it’s a perfectly fine thing to do. I don’t have enough windows to grow all my plants windowsill adjacent and my greenhouse just isn’t consistently warm and dry enough. The only option, let there be light. Euphorbia esculenta has continued to grow throughout the winter.

sceletium tortuosum
Sceletium tortuosum and Echeveria minima. Soon to bloom.

Sedum hintonii
Sedum hintonii is blooming. This unusual tropical sedum is native to Mexico and is apparently quite rare.
I’m going to gather some seed and take a hand at propagating it.

Sedum hintonii
The only other time I’ve seen it is at the University of California Botanical Gardens. Note my cutting is not from this source.

Pseudolithos Migiurtinus
For those who were wondering my Pseudolithos migiurtinus is still alive.  I’ve heard they don’t like to be too dry, or too wet. My trick thus far has been biweekly water, but no more then a shot glass at a time. It’s healthy thus far with this treatment, but isn’t growing too quickly either.

Crassula mesembryanthemoides
A Crassula mesembryanthemopsis is also in bloom; forming seed heads. This specimen is still young, I can’t wait until it’s bigger. So strange.

stepelia sp
I don’t think I’ve figured out stepelias yet. I know they like a little winter water as they start growing mid January but they also don’t like it too wet. Most of my varieties were grown from cuttings shipped in from the UK. None have flowered yet but I’m hoping this year is the one.

pleiospilos nelii
Baby split rocks, some of the lone survivors of a rather bad infestation of seedling fungus gnat attack. Gardening is never without it’s challenges.

Echium
Long live the echium.

Get your hands dirty and get gardening. Spring is here!

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.

If you are on the Monday-Friday work week, I think you would agree with me when I say Sunday is one of the best days of the week. There’s something calming about  the last day of week. After the hustle and bustle of the work week, a regular Friday celebration and Saturday’s “appointments’, my Sundays are often free for leisure. Today I packed up the car with sandwiches and coffee and hit the road for a nice long drive. We drove up the coast of Vancouver Island and “accidentally” found ourselves doing the complete Pacific Marine Circle Route. I love driving in British Columbia, you’re always only a stone’s throw away from some of the lushest old growth forests in the world. It was a rainy afternoon but we made the best of it, we stopped at a couple beaches and collected beach rocks for the garden. Afterwords we went straight through Port Renfrew, over to Lake Cowichan and back home to Victoria. The forests were lush and covered in moss and throughout the drive we’d hit patches of fog so thick you could barely see in front of you. Driving up through these coastal forests you’re quickly reminded that we live in a temperate rain-forest, the flora is almost tropical in it’s abundance and vigor. Sadly no photos due to a forgotten memory card, you never notice until it too late.

Coming home I found myself toying around with my indoor collection and it seemed as good a time as any to do some documenting. The plant’s are looking remarkably well and it seemed selfish not to share their beauty with my fellow plant geeks. The majority of the succulents and cacti are loving their artificial home, the grow light helps them forget that they’re living in a cement basement. Still I can’t wait till it’s warm enough for them to go outside, they look better under natural daylight.


At a glance.


I acquired this Mitrophyllum grande in September at the Victoria Cactus and Succulent Society sale. Winter growing,  it’s texture is reminiscent of hardened gelatin, it’s a strange specimen indeed.


Agave bracteosa is enjoying the glow of the grow light. I love it’s unusual twisted tips, I’m excited to grow this on to a large specimen size.


I’m still new to growing mesembs and this is the survivor of the two conophytums I acquired earlier in 2011. Much like lithops they require practically no water at all in the winter, over caring for these plants will surely lead to failure. I haven’t watered this one in over a month and I suspect it’ll be a while yet before it gets a drink. Besides overwatering, mesembs also seem sensitive to light changes, and I lost one due to a grow light failure. Keep things consistent.


One of the Pseudolithos migiurtinus I received earlier this month. While it’d be easy to omit my failure it’s larger mate died a week after planting. One afternoon I noticed it looked a bit spotted in color and as I poked it to see how it was doing, my finger went right through it. Rot had set in. I’ve read these can be difficult to cultivate but I had hoped to keep it alive a bit longer then a week. While this might have been a watering mistake I’m going to blame it on shipping stress and leave it at that. So far this one looks healthy enough, let’s hope for the best.


The cuttings I ordered from Paul Shirley Succulents have almost all taken root, this Huernia zebrina is showing strong new growth.


My Monadenium ritchiei doesn’t seem to notice it’s living indoors, it’s currently in the midst of a second wave of new leaves.


I love this cactus! Astrophytum asterias otherwise known as a sand dollar cactus is living artwork.


The Dudleya attenuata I received in late December is recovering from it’s shipping stress and is looking better everyday.  This one is thought to be between 50-100 years old.


A Lophophora williamsii that has been in the family for at least 10 years was looking pretty miserable when I first got my hands on it. After a season outdoors in the greenhouse and a long winter under the grow light, it’s looking quite happy now.  Known to be extremely slow growing, it’s interesting to watch it progress. It’s definitely plumped up since I first got it, and a closer inspection shows some new offsets forming from the rear. I enjoy growing plants with magical properties even though I have no intention in dabbling in such things. It adds to the story and lore, it’s fascinating to grow plants that have such history connected to their cultivation.


Pilea peperomioides otherwise known as a Chinese dollar plant is an unusual addition to one’s indoor collection. While it may have had it’s time in the spotlight I’ve never seen one of these for sale in or around Victoria. The plant itself holds an interesting story about it’s cultivation and is known to have been passed around Europe for it’s ease of propagation. Every once in a while a new offset pokes up which makes it a very easy plant to give away to friends. I let them collect every year until fall then separate them from the mother. This season I have 5 extras if any of you plant nerds would be interested? To read the whole story on Pilea peperomioides click here, it’s a good read.


Did I mention I love Pseudolithos Migiurtinus. “Please don’t die”


I bought 16 ornithogalum longibracteatum seedlings almost a year ago and only now are they really starting to thrive. This one in particular seemed to outshine the rest and has put out a dense tangle of lush foliage. Striving for natural light it threw out a flower stalk that is almost a metre long (seeking the small window in the basement). At the tip a complex inflorescence of delicate white flowers formed.


The flower stalk has been forming since mid November. It’s been flowering for a while now and looks like it still has a long while to go.


Winter blooms keep a gardener alive in the barren wasteland that is winter.


Another specimen I’ve yet to share with you is this unusual Tradescantia noid. It shares similarities to the common house plant,  wondering jew. it’s leaves are uniquely spotted and so far it’s almost always in flower.


It’s flowers are a welcome reminder of a more tropical existence. What an amazing design, the color is calming and I enjoy it’s strange stigmas.


Let’s take a closer look…. Fascinating!


Last but not least, my latest plant hoarding. While driving down the highway homeward bound I couldn’t resist the urge to stop into Dinters just outside of Duncan. Being early in the season there wasn’t a whole lot going on, still they had an interesting assortment of indoors. A few pots in particular grabbed my eye, this yellow barrel cactus, Echinocactus grusonii is nearly the size of a small watermelon. For my readers in the south I’m sure you come across this kind of thing regularly, but let me tell you, you don’t see large cacti for sale up here in Canada. Whatever I ended up paying for it, it seemed a bargain for such an old, large specimen. I placed the keys near it for perspective. This will add an exotic look to the garden next summer.

Thanks for stopping by, enjoy your Monday.

 

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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