Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Sinningia leucotricha

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!

There I said it, summer is over.

The garden is as big as it’s ever going to get, my Castor beans, jerusalem artichokes and Tetrapanax are all breaking personal records. Growing tropical plants in the north is an exercise best saved for the insane (and broken backed). Sitting in the garden, enjoying an evening beverage it’s hard to believe I’m even in Victoria anymore. For a small garden I really have crammed in just about as many oddities as physically possible. I have plants from all continents sans Antarctica. Ranging from Europe to South America, coming from as far as the Himilayan Mountians, to the Canary Islands, Mexican deserts and beyond. In times that I’m not traveling on a plane I can travel through the story of the plants.

For those of you who are new to my plant rantings, let me just say, “Hello, My name is Nat, and I’m a plant hoarder”. Seriously though, some might call it a problem, but I’d like to think of it as a gift. My theory is as long as one’s plant collection is in good order, that being healthy and/or well organized, it’s not hoarding, but a botanical Ark. The purpose of this ark mostly being selfish of course. Who else really appreciates the effort put into a garden more than it’s creator and caretaker himself. It’s a plant lab for research and a playground for mental relaxation.

While I’d love to dream that my plants will live on when I’m gone, I’m afraid they’d mostly be lost without me. Agaves and cacti won’t soon be taking over the streets of Victoria, a guy can dream can’t he. Still hopeless or not I do my part and carry on the tradition in which we as people cultivate the plants that intrigue us. Hopefully passing them on and furthering their proliferation into the homes and lives of people wide and far. Be it to inspire or teach, or simply pass on a cutting that’s difficult to acquire. Call me the crazy plant man, let’s talk plants.


I’m hoping to create a tetrapanax forest in time. 

Truth be told I’ve not been writing as much as I’d like to be, but times have gotten busy. The fall chrysanthemum season kept my schedule full and my back on the verge of collapse. After a long road-trip in search of cacti and succulents, the everyday chore of watering an incredibly thirsty garden, and let’s not forget the nursery work. I was exhausted. Let’s rephrase that I’am exhausted, and for a moment I had contemplated if i had burnt out gardening all together. Certainly not, just a momentary lapse in energy. I’ll keep the coffee brewed, the plants strange and spirits high. Now for the annual migration of tropical plants to the greenhouse. A good rule of thumb for exotic gardeners on the west-coast of B.C is to have your tender plants in by October 31st just to be safe. That means only 30 days to move roughly 300+ plants indoors, I better get to stretching. I need staff, this one man botanical garden is lot of work.

Now before I start the process of the garden deconstruction I still need to do some proper photography. Why else do I grow such climatically fragile plant life if not to admire them at their largest and lushest time of year. Let’s take a look at what’s looking good this October 2012.


As mentioned earlier my castor beans have never looked better. This green Ricinus communis was grown from seed purchased in Germany, many many years ago. To think the budding young botanist at the time had no idea he would take it this far. A certain sentimental shout out goes to the plants that were there at the start, and this one was probably my first successful seed project. Out of a whole pack I only ended up with two and they’ve followed me this far. Now, how to get a 12 foot castor bean to the greenhouse in a VW Golf, I’ll make it work.


A tabletop of succulents, a highlight of some of my favorites which rotates as things come into flower and/or fade. Some notable appearances such as a lush, spiky Pachypodium lamerei, a neon flowered jatropha podagrica and an ever so strange Lophocereus schottii x monstrose.


Jatropha podagrica has bloomed almost all summer.


A large Pleiospilos bolusii has been blooming.


Old Aloinopsis schooneesii grow large underground tubers that can later be exposed for an interesting effect. Mostly a winter grower, A. schooneesii doesn’t mind a little summer water. Still looking forward to some flowers in the dark days. This one is staged rather nicely.


The smallest of the echeveria genus, E. minima is slow growing, stays dwarf in size and takes it’s time to offset. An interesting species to say the least.


I love the ribs on this Stenocactus sp.


Because it’s always a good time to take a photo of my favorite intergeneric oddity, Mangave ‘Bloodspot’.


Echeveria gibbiflora ´Carunculata´


A nice mix of succulents & bromeliads. Take notice of the second year dichondra repens to the left, it’s out of control, and incredible!


Crassula gollum is looking good this year.


Last photo of succulents I promise, my Trichocereus pachanoi seems to have developed a zit.


The cyclamen are out in full force. I can’t get enough of these reliable autumn beauties.  It looks so ethereal, practically unreal.


Cyclamen hederifolium


The twisted leaves of Begonia ‘Escargot’ add to the surrealism.


You’d think I’d be tired of chrysanthemums by now but really, they’re popular for a reason. A great hit of color in a month where blooms are at their fewest.


This westcoast (Blechnum spicant ) deer fern is thriving.  Crested saxifraga pour out of a broken ceramic. The yuccas, an unexpected surprise, former garden residents that refuse to leave. I dug this patch out last autumn, but here they are again. I’d sooner take yucca then pop weed I suppose, I mean, who wouldn’t!


I know people have mixed feelings about ornamental cabbage & kale, but I for one enjoy them. A nice touch of color.


This Sinningia leucotricha has enjoyed it’s time outdoors. For a past post on this one, click here.


Euphorbia leuconeura & autumn colchicums make a lovely unlikely pair.


Zauschneria californica is native to California but hardy 3000kms north in Victoria. I’ll count this one as a win. Easy to grow, blooms late summer until frost.


Speaking of hardy obscurities, Leucosidea sericea is a tree from South Africa reported to be quite hardy. This one gets to live outside this season, as a test.


What is it about the cooling temperatures of late September & October that make the colors of flowers just that much more rich in color.  Desfontainia spinosa often has candy corn colored blooms, at this time of year, bright orange.


At first glance it looks like the blooms of an orchid, but that’s not the case. A lowly toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta surprises you with these mindblowing blooms, late summer until frost. A flower that require you to take a closer look, Tricyrtis are well worth growing for fall interest.


A new vine to me, Manettia bicolor (candy corn vine).


An update on my Begonia luxurians. It’s grown from a 4″ cutting to this in one season. No pests, dare I say spider mite resistant, partial shade with regular water.


While there might not be a Passiflora caerulea flower open everyday, there has been one every month (sometimes as many as 8-10 open at once) since the very start of the growing season. Hardy for me last season, this one is a winner.


Click Here to download a high res image for your computer background

This is the biggest echium pininana I’ve ever seen, literally wider then my car and over 6 ft tall. I saw plenty of echiums on my drive south but none this lush. This one is planted out and will brave the winter storms, probably to it’s demise. Luckily if this one doesn’t work out I’ve got another 30 or so at the greenhouse, I will see one of these bloom. Someday.

Thanks for joining me on this tour.

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.

As promised here’s a photo of the newly repotted Sinningia leucotricha. Something that would only excite a plant nerd, but I love it’s strange woody tuber.

As you may have noticed the tag says it was repotted in 2003, meaning this specimen is at least 7 years old . It’s been producing lots of little growing points probably waiting for a hit of good weather and sunshine. Can’t wait to see it in action next summer.  Counting the days… Really…

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 !

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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