Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Sceletium tortuosum

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!

Anyone who reads this blog regularly would know that I’ve been on a bit of a mail-order plant binge. Earlier this week the pair of Pseudolithos migiurtinus I ordered arrived. A couple days later another package arrived containing a Mirabilis jalapa and a new NOID species of plectranthus from Kenya. Amongst the new plants a small packet of tropical impatiens seeds also arrived, I. grandis and I. mengtszeana. I can’t wait! The best gifts are the gifts you give to yourself.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the trade of the Internet, the selection is vast and the customer service is superb. It’s strange to be a part of a global community in which all walks of life can meet together, discuss and trade ideas. A quick sign into paypal and a cactus can be flown in from Thailand. Connecting with specialized hobbyists from all over the world is a real asset, it skips the hopeless store clerks and connects you with the grower and/or collector. While the Internet is somewhat anonymous in nature it provides you with an amazing opportunity to connect directly with who you want to speak with.

While I spent much of the spring through summer visiting nurseries on the island, the internet’s ease of use and unsurpassed variety gives local businesses a run of their money. While it will still be a long while yet before you can order your pansies and petunias online, the search for the rare and the unusual might be best fulfilled in this medium.

The Latest Plant Order Feb 2012:
As per usual I like to do some research about the plants I’m acquiring and I figured I’d share the information with you.


Photo borrowed with admiration from The Vancouver Seed Bank

Sceletium tortuosum
Another South African mesemb that is by no means new in the botanical world. Cultivated in Europe for over 300 years, it forms a low growing succulent mound much like a delosperma. The main notes given for cultivation pertains to over-watering, and if in doubt, don’t. Over-watering creates weak growth and messes with the natural cycle of the plant. Recently this plant has been getting a lot of attention in the medical world for it’s possible anti depressant qualities. Hunters and shamens used to consume it to reduce stress and anxiety and create a feeling of euphoria.


Photo borrowed with admiration from Cactus Blog

Avonia quinaria

It’s becoming more and more apparent that South Africa is the motherland for strange and unusual plants. Avonia, a diminutive genus native to the Namaqualands of South Africa is another caudex forming succulent with lovely strange planty tentacles. Important cultural notes list that it needs a winter rest period and is deciduous so one shouldn’t be stressed when it looses it’s foliage in the winter. Avonia’s set seed on their own and don’t need a mate, so maybe I’ll be able to grow my own next season.


Photo borrowed with admiration from The Pacific Bulb Society

Boophane heamanthoides seedling
I’ve had my eye on acquiring one of these for quite some time now, but they don’t exactly show up everyday. Sacred succulents had some seedlings listed and I figured that might be the best way to give them a try. While it might not flower for a couple years I will get to see the whole developmental process while forgoing the impatient task of watching seeds sprout. The foliage alone is equally as interesting as the blooms, a wavy spur of tropical loveliness. It is said these are an old lived species indeed living well over 100 years old, if my children end up being plant nerds perhaps they’ll end up with this in their collection as a heirloom. The bulbs grow to an incredible size and is said best to grow in a mostly sand based medium in a deep but not necessarily wide pot. From seedling it might take up to 15 years to flower, but I suspect with my usual over caring it will speed along a bit faster. I’m all too excited to give this one a shot.


Photo borrowed with admiration from Cactus Art

Maihuenia poeppigii
A spiky mat forming succulent from Chile & Argentina. I first saw this on the Chiltern Seeds website, then again on Gerhard’s blog  Bamboo and More. What a strange specimen. Noted to be remarkably cold hardy (down to -20 if kept dry) Maihuenia grow at high elevations. If the temperature is sporadic consider treating it with a systemic fungicide to prevent possible rot. Apparently this can be grown much like sempervivums with very little soil whatsoever.


Photo borrowed with admiration from Raziel on mycotopia.net

Delosperma bosseranum
As I first began my journey into plant geektom delospermas always appealed to me. Hardy mesembs that grow in our outdoor gardens, it can’t get any better. This species of delosperma is a bit more unusual then your everyday delo and in time grows a tuberous caudex. Commonly known as the Madagascar Ice Plant it seems this specimen will be best suited for bonsai succulent pots. Plant as you would any other succulent in a well draining medium, be careful not to let dry out for any lengths of time.

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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