Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Parodia Haselbergii

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.

A couple nights ago I found myself sitting in my small greenhouse appreciating my cacti collection. It’s a great place for the cacti to live, they enjoy the extra heat and seem to thrive in this environment. While the rest of my garden gets generously watered the cacti house is on a much more moderate watering regime. Behind a wall of towering scarlet runner beans, the greenhouse is a good place to take a moment out and contemplate one’s life. I’ve always been attracted to close quarters and this is a bit a small sanctuary for me, an obscure sense of privacy is obtained in a city bustling with life. While hopelessly gapping out, I found myself in the golden hour and quickly ran to grab my camera. For all you cacti and succulent fans, here’s a small peak into some of my collection.

I recently found this cacti pot at a flea market for 3 bucks. While the pot has 3 different specimens, none impressed me more then this small spike ball. So far a NOID for me, it looks somewhat like a euphorbia. Either way a nice score. 

A closer look, the needles gather water in the most unusual way.

Echeveria glauca, the first echeveria to really grab my interests, pre gardener.

The very first time I spotted one of these in flower I was smitten. This was long before I knew anything about plants, but I remember it grabbing me. It seemed so unusual, out of a hallucination or willy wonka movie. These succulents are almost anti gravityin their ability to repel water miraculously. They’re covered in a light white dust that mixes with water and creates a strange gel. I’m still unsure why they have this powder but asthetically it enhances the color of these fine plants. With that in mind I suspect it helps the plant in one way or another and shouldn’t be wiped off. Look with your eyes not your hands. A drop of water in the crown of the echeveria makes for a cheap crystal ball.

Ok just one more photo, incredible!

Upon closer inspection Agave bovicornuta has a menacing look. War scars tattoo it’s large succulent leaves, while it’s crown thorns say “No Touch”

A closer look: looks like a chainsaw blade.

Parodia Haselbergii (scarlett ball cactus) is flowering again. I found this one in Feburary and it was in bud then, I’m happy to see another set of blooms in the same year. It’s loving life outside.

A closer look at it’s neon orange flowers. For more information on this plant, see a post earlier this year, Parodia Haselbergii (scarlett ball cactus)

Pleiospilos nelii otherwise known as Split Rock was aquired late spring. Since then it has completed discarded it’s old fleshy body and replaced it with these new ones. It’s essentially the same size but fresh, quite strange. 

It has the strangest spotted patterns, nature is the most intricate artist. I know a pointilist that get’s hand cramps doing this kind of work.

Echeveria runyonii has similar flowers to Echeveria glauca but super sized. Outstanding.

Graptoveria paraguayense ‘Fred Ives’ has been reliably beautiful all year round, aquired from a friend last year.

As far as giant African succulents go, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora is a must have. It’s doubtful I’ll ever see it flower, but regardless it has a worthwhile presence in the garden.

Euphorbia obesa also known as (baseball plant), I’ve wanted one for what seems forever. This specimen followed me home one day on an accidental nursery tour. A choice succulent.

Looking up from my greenhouse I’m pleased to see Disocactus flagelliformis (rat tail cactus) loving life in a characteristally unusual hang spot. 

After visiting the hot south I feel a bit ridiculous collecting cacti and succulents in the way I do. When you visit a tropical cacti garden and see them at truly enormous statures it makes you feel a bit silly for nursing them along in small containers. Of course this is the beauty of being a gardener in the 21st century, one has never had more access to species then right now. If I want to hang a cacti in a maple tree, then that’s my prerogative. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

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.