Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

pseudolithos migiurtinus

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!

Pseudolithos migiurtinus

In the plant kingdom, it doesn’t get much stranger then Pseudolithos migiurtinus. A living fractal obscurity, this warty living stone is native to Somalia and is definitely a long way from home. Growing in grit on hot dry slopes in Africa, pseudolithos aren’t exactly easy to grow in cultivation. Too much water, or not enough and your pseudolithos will turn into expensive mush. I received two in an order from Thailand, this one’s pair quickly rotted after being transplanted. Best to under-pot these in a well draining medium. Mine lives on a heat pad under grow lights, receiving a couple spoonfuls of water a week at best. There are currently 5 species listed under pseudolithos and there could be more but Somelia is a difficult place to practice botany. Read more in an interesting article I found here.


A potential flower bud?


Taken out of context and you might think it’s a picture of some rocks on a beach.

Pseudolithos migiurtinus So Strange.

It seems the Pseudolithos migiurtinus I ordered earlier this month have finally arrived.  I’m really starting to enjoy mail-order plant hunting. Unusual specimens from far out lands, quite often at a bargain you can’t find at home. I like supporting local business, but who’s growing Pseudolithos in town? Not me… Not yet…  After successfully ordering a Miracle fruit tree from Thailand a couple months ago, I thought it’d try it again with these little guys. So far so good, and this one even had free certification.


Getting plants in the mail is the most satisfying gift to yourself.


I’ve been reading about Pseudolithos for quite some time now and I’ve been biding my time to get my hands on one. This auction came up with a set of two for $15.00 US plus shipping. Seemed a bargain to me, and I couldn’t be more pleased.


They arrived in near immaculate condition, being in transit for over 3 weeks, these guys are a long way from home.


While these photos were taken in a bit of an excited rush, you get the gist of why these plants are so cool. Much like a lithops but totally unrelated, these plants look like living rocks. In time they send out the strangest stepalia-esk stinky flowers and look like eggs from mars. Cultural requirements can be a bit difficult to replicate, but I’m hoping for the best. They enjoy regular watering, but like to dry out in between, and lots of light and heat. Improper care will turn them into expensive mush. I’ve read they grow well under lights on a heating pad, so that’s where they ended up. I’ll update you all in a couple weeks once they get “plugged in”.

Ordering plants online is easy, and if you live in the same country as where the grower lives, even easier. One must be careful about ordering  plants on eBay as sometimes vendors pray on your lack of information. I’ll be nice today and not name any names, but there are lots of vendors selling “rare” plants that are actually pretty common. A couple vendors in particular have learned how to market their less then rare specimens into something much bigger and better. As I learn more about the sliding scale of rarity these plants hold it’s laughable to think people are paying what they do. Type in rare plants into eBay and you’ll get quite a list, little did you know they sell the same thing down the street for a fifth of the price. Rookie mistake Mr nobody. Before buying expensive rare plants on eBay, do your research, scour the Internet and learn more about what your buying. A lot of off the beaten path online mailorder nurseries will ship to you for a whole lot less. Make sure you don’t get caught up in the excitement of the auction, keep an eye out for a good deal, and bid late not early. I don’t like to let my intentions known until 30 seconds to closing.

To all my great plant geeks, a link to my latest favorite weird succulent vendor. Visit ccts-crazy‘s online store. But first! Hide your credit card…. :)

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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