A Not-to-Miss Event

As we enjoy the final days of winter, warmly, we begin thoughts of the arrival of spring and the reemergence of our gardens. With exquisite timing, the annual San Francisco Flower & Garden Show brings the season into focus and offers an unparalleled array of inspiration, information and products to help avid gardeners to launch the year’s gardening activities.

The SF Show began over thirty years ago as a fundraiser for the San Francisco Friends of Recreation and Parks, and soon evolved into a commercial event that features landscape designers, speakers on numerous topics in gardening, and exhibitors of plants and a wide range of garden products.

The Show ranks as one of the nation’s three largest annual events devoted to gardening and landscaping. The others are the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, which was held in mid-February in Seattle, and the Philadelphia Flower Show, which will be held March 5–13. Since 1829, the Philadelphia Horticultural Society has sponsored the Philadelphia Show as a fundraiser.

The world’s most significant competitor to these three garden shows is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, to be held May 24–28, 2016, at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (near London).

This brief survey of major garden shows indicates that the SF Show amounts to a major event for gardeners of the west coast, and a great and accessible resource for gardeners of the Monterey Bay area.

This year’s SF Show will include 125 free seminars by gardening experts who have been selected as effective speakers. The seminar speakers and schedule is available on the SF Show’s website. The seminars are scheduled in five different stages within the San Mateo Event Center, so your attendance requires a little planning.

The Show also includes over 200 exhibitors in the Plant Market and The Marketplace. If you need any new plants or tools or garden art, you are likely to find them at the SF Show. One of the favorite exhibits is the large display by Succulent Gardens, from near Moss Landing. Early word is that this booth will be larger than ever, in response to enthusiastic collectors of succulent plants.

I will bring a couple mail order catalogs of garden plants and supplies for reference in evaluating prices at the SF Show. The prices are reasonable, I believe, but I always appreciate bargains.

The highlight for many visitors will be the Showcase Gardens, which will include nine full-size garden displays of the talents of landscape designers and craftsmen from northern California. The gardens often dazzle visitors by providing elaborate presentations of beautiful plants, stunning settings and unique concepts. These gardens present thematic designs that incorporate many ideas that can be adapted for your own garden. The designers of course will welcome new clients, and most will also be on hand to answers visitors’ question.

A day at the SF Show is really close by, not expensive, and an exceptional opportunity to bring gardening ideas and riches back home. It should be on your calendar.

If You Go

What: San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

When: March 16–20, 2016

Where: San Mateo Event Center

Info: http://sfgardenshow.com/

Drama for the Landscape

 

One of the most spectacular plants from South Africa, in exuberant bloom at this time of the year, is Aloe arborescens. It can be seen throughout the Monterey Bay area, occasionally having spread into impressively large clusters of plants.

The specific name means “tree-like,” because the plant can grow to close to ten feet high. Structurally, the plant consists of several branches, each of which ends in a rosette of leaves edged with small spikes. Each rosette can generate several flower stalks that produce cylindrical inflorescences (racemes). The individual flowers, typically a bright orange-red, are tubular and attractive to hummingbirds. The clusters of flowers resemble the flame of a torch, leading to the plant’s common name: Torch Aloe.

DSCF0022 DSCF0023 DSCF0024 DSCF0025

Several years ago, I planted my first specimen of this succulent plant, a single rosette, in a well-drained bed. It grew rapidly and extended runners (stolons) that produced new plants, ready to take over the bed. Not knowing its full growth potential, but realizing that it was too productive for that small bed, I shovel-pruned it, replanted three rosettes in front of a nearby compost bin, and placed most of the rest in the bin.

The replanted rosettes grew readily into a dramatic presence in my garden, and also shielded the compost bin from view.

A. arborescens is related to A. vera, a smaller, more familiar South African native that is popular for its ornamental, cosmetic and medicinal values: its juices reportedly have rejuvenating, healing, or soothing properties.

The Torch Aloe also reportedly has value in promoting good health. Some people advocate a drink made from the pureed whole raw A. arborescens leaf, unheated raw honey and 1% certified organic alcohol. This drink is claimed to support immunity from a range of diseases and provide general cleansing for the whole body. It is reported to be “bitter, but unctuous and savoury as well, thanks to the honey.”

I have plenty of leaves but have not tried the drink. This is not a testimonial.

A. arborescens is one of about 500 species of the genus Aloe, which includes natives of South Africa, tropical Africa, Madagascar, Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula and some islands in the Indian Ocean. Many grow well in the summer-dry climate of the Monterey Bay area. Most species, unlike A. arborescens, are stemless: the rosettes grow directly on the ground.

A smaller, yellow-flowered variant, called Golden Torch Aloe (A. arborescens lutea), can be found in limited numbers.

Another yellow-flowered form, Yellow Aloe, was discovered in a private garden in Santa Barbara. This plant might be a variant of A. arborescens, a hybrid with another species, or an entirely different species: A. mutabilis, which has red flower buds that mature into yellow.

Aloe arborescens can be an attractive and interesting addition to a landscape that has sufficient space.

Color in the Winter Garden

A good practice is to walk through your garden occasionally to see what is succeeding, and what might need changing. It’s rewarding to visit your plants in the spring, but the winter months (now) are when we look for dormant season instances of attractive color, form or fragrance.

In the Monterey Bay area, the dormant season brings nothing like the severe conditions experienced in some other parts of the United States, but our gardens still rest at this time, and might present only limited interest.

It doesn’t have to be that way! There are many plants that can enhance our gardens while other sleep, when we plan for all season interest.

A first step is to take note of plants that are already in your garden, and looking good right now. They might be providing attractive blooms or interesting foliage, taking the center of attention while others have dropped their leaves or died to the ground.

You could supplement the tour of your own garden with a walk through your neighborhood to see what looks good in nearby gardens. That approach automatically identifies plants that would thrive in the climate and soil conditions of your garden. It can also be a good excuse to meet new people, to ask them about their gardens.

My garden, while not a true all-season display, still has several plants that are attractive during the winter months. For example, succulent plants, which have done well during our drought period, can maintain their appearance during dormancy.

I recently renovated a small bed of Mexican succulents, and the plants are looking good. They will produce blossoms later in the year, but the forms and colors or their foliage works well year-round. The recent addition of a large Talavera bowl, recently added, serves to mark the bed’s Mexican theme.

Talavera pottery, offered by many garden stores, is a style of glazed ceramic pottery that dates to the Italian Renaissance. Authentic Talavera items are from the Mexican city of Puebla and nearby communities, but imitations (which includes my own piece) are widely available. Imitations from other parts of Mexico are properly identified as Maiolica, which refers to the decorative style.

Other plants that are starring during the winter include a Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea), an Australian native, now covered with small violet flowers; an enormous Candelabra Plant (Aloe Arborescens) from South Africa, blooming later than others in the area, and a favorite, a Variegated Winter Daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’), which offers both colorful evergreen foliage and a sweet fragrance that highlights the season.

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

When provided good drainage and afternoon shade, daphnes are reliable performers for years until they suddenly and without apparent cause, give up. An older specimen recently showed arrested development: flower and leaf buds simply didn’t mature for months. After quizzing three knowledgeable friends, without success, I removed the plant (making space for another fuchsia). By this time, I already had three replacement daphnes growing nearby, so I still could enjoy the wafts of fragrance this year.

Prepare now to bring new interest to your garden for next winter with more seasonal bloomers and evergreen foliage, either adding specimens of existing plants that you like or bringing in good performers that you have seen in nearby gardens. Winter gardens can be very pleasing environments.

More

A quick Internet search or a visit to your local library or bookstore could lead to useful lists of winter-blooming plants. For example, one good source of information is Dan Hinkley’s book,  Winter Ornamentals.

Adding Unexpected Plants to Your Garden

This column presents a case study of adding an unexpected and unfamiliar plant to one’s garden.

A friend gave me a plant that had outgrown its container, and no longer had a place in its previous home. My friend didn’t have a name for the plant, but a neighbor’s garden has a related species: the photo shows much longer leaves than my gift plant, and the potential to grow rather large.

Dyckia

I had never grown a plant like this one, so I was immediately interested. Here is a suggested intake process.

First, inspect the plant visually to check that it is healthy and free of disease or pests. This plant had some dieback from normal aging and outgrowing a large container, but otherwise looked healthy. I gladly accepted the gift.

Identification should be the next priority. I had seen this plant in four-inch pots, and knew it as a Dyckia, but learning the genus and species of a new plant can be challenging. This plant doesn’t appear in Sunset’s Western Garden Book, a convenient reference. In such cases, asking other gardeners or garden center staff can be the best strategy.

Then, examine the plant’s size and characteristics. This Dyckia develops several rosettes eight-to-twelve inches in diameter. Each rosette is comprised of many thin leaves up to eight inches long, with very sharp terminal spines and numerous sharp teeth on both sides. (My neighbor’s magnificent Dyckia has leaves up to two feet long!) The plant is attractive, but neither welcoming nor easily handled!

Considering both this plant’s mature size and hazards, I concluded that it should be should be three feet from any walkway, but still close enough to appreciate its intricate leaf structure.

Also, it should not be under a tree, as it would be difficult to groom dropped leaves from the Dykia’s spiny cluster.

Then, learning about the plant’s cultivation needs will guide planting and future care. An Internet search for “Dyckia” brought me these websites: Wikipedia; Bromeliad Society of Houston; Yucco Do Nursery; Annie’s Magic Garden; and Dyckia Brazil.

Dyckias, I learned, are native to Brazil, members of the Bromeliad family, and related to pineapples (Ananas comosus), Puyas, Tellandsias, and Bilbergias. There are some 158 species of Dyckias.

After comparing my specimen’s appearance with others on the Internet, I concluded that it is D. fosteriana, which is a popular species. This plant hybridizes easily in nature and in human hands, so many cultivars are available. Confident identification requires a specialist.

The Dyckia lacks internal water storage tissue, so it’s not a true succulent, but it will go dormant in response to a lack of moisture. It prefers full sun but will manage partial shade, and has exceptional tolerance for freezing weather. It is pest-free, although snails will nibble at tender flower shoots. Generally, the Dyckia is a sturdy and trouble-free plant.

Dyckias reportedly do not like transplanting during the winter, but I proceeded still to separate and pot up six offsets (”pups”) for gifts to others, and to put my new plant in the ground. I’ll learn how well it responds.

My garden lacks a bed for Brazilian plants. I accommodated this unusual new plant by redefining my existing Chilean bed as Chilean/South American.

Avid gardeners should welcome unexpected, unusual and attractive gifts to their gardens. A systematic process can help to place the plant well and to provide the care needed for its success. New plants are gardening adventures!

Twelve Ways to “Plant-Mass”

An important guideline for amassing plants in your garden is to plant when seasonal rains will water the plants as the establish roots and prepare for blooming in the spring. So, a good time to add plants to your garden (or to find a late gift) is right now.

Here are twelve ways to succeed in that enterprise.

  1. Plan to fill an existing space in the garden. Impulsively buying plants that catch your eye in the garden center can result in specimens that are too large or too small for spaces that need filling, or won’t complement plants next to those spaces.
  2. Focus on plants that will add to your landscape style or theme. There are many alternatives to randomness in garden design. An explicit theme or style in your garden provides direction in the hunt for new plants, and adds coherence to the look of the garden.
  3. Choose plants that will thrive in your garden’s environment. Most important is your U.S. Dept. of Agriculture climate zone, but also consider elevation, sun exposure and soil type.

    Crassula argenta

    Jade Plant (Crassula argenta) in a one-gallon nursery can

  4. Select plants of an appropriate size for the spot where they will grow. A common error is to install a plant that will outgrow its location.
  5. Look for plants that are pest resistant. With fuchsias, for example, a good choice would be a variety been bred to resist the Fuchsia Gall Mite (Aculops fuchsiae), a pest that’s difficult to control.
  6. The logical corollary is to examine plants that you might buy to check for any evidence of “livestock.” The symptoms (e.g., chewed leaves, creepy-crawlers or their eggs on the underside of leaves) are usually unmistakable, but if you have any uncertainty, choose a plant that’s symptom-free.
  7. Similarly, look for plants that are disease resistant. Several varieties of roses are both beautiful and resistant to powdery mildew and black spot. Why would you want to struggle with those diseases?
  8. Again, before buying a plant, check for any sign of disease, or anything other than good health. Garden centers screen their plants diligently, to protect customers and their own reputations, but problems can be missed. This is most possible with amateur plant sales.
  9. More and more, gardeners prefer plants that are free of toxic synthetic chemicals. Growers are beginning to label plants that have been grown without the use of neonicotinoids (“neonics”), for example, which appear to be harmful to bees. If the label doesn’t give assurance, ask!
  10. To minimize your plant-buying expense, favor the garden center’s smaller plants. They should be well rooted, rather than freshly transplanted. In your garden, they will grow quickly to reach the size of more expensive plants.
  11. On the other hand, to achieve an immediate effect, favor the larger plants. You will be paying the nursery for caring for the plant for months or even years, but the results may be worth the cost. An added benefit is seeing a well-grown plant’s structure.
  12. Before buying a plant, especially one that fills its container more than others, check for healthy roots. Gently pull the plant from its container to examine roots for healthy color (usually white) and ample space in the container. Plants left too long in a container become root-bound, which can hamper their growth. On the other hand, such plants often could be divided into two or more for the price of one.

 

Adventuresome Gardening

Regular readers of this column know of my interest in plants from the world’s summer-dry climates, also called the Mediterranean Basin regions. Many plants from these exotic regions will thrive in the Monterey Bay area, and provide attractive and exciting alternatives to the garden center’s humdrum horticulture. Cultivating such plants is the enterprise of adventuresome gardeners and seekers of botanical thrills.

There are countless examples of such plants to be discovered among the selections of mail-order nurseries, either in published catalogs or online. To be fair, local garden centers also might have a few offbeat offerings; it’s worth asking the staff to mention any unusual plants.

One candidate for a featured position in the landscape is the Puya, which is one of about fifty-seven genera in the Bromeliad family. Just about all bromeliads are native to the tropical Americas. About half of the species are epiphytes (growing on air and rain), some are lithophytes (growing on rocks), and the rest are terrestrial (growing on earth). The most familiar of the terrestrial bromeliads is the pineapple (Ananas comosus).

Another terrestrial bromeliad is the Puya. This genus includes about 210 species, several of which are native to Chile, where they have the common name chagual.

One of the Chilean Puyas is the Blue (or Turquoise) Puya (P. berteroniana). This plant grows a flower spike about six-to-ten feet tall, and has exceptional landscape value because of its extraordinary 1.5” waxy, metallic blooms of an unearthly emerald-turquoise color, with contrasting bright orange stamens. The blooms hold blue, syrupy nectar that attracts hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators.

Puya berteronianas

The Blue Puya can be found in some public gardens. I viewed several fine specimens, and took this photo, about one year ago, in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, in Canberra.

Locally, the Blue Puya is in bloom now at the UCSC Arboretum. The blooms do not last long, so to see one of nature’s most extraordinary flowers, visit the UCSC Arboretum soon. For information and pictures, visit arboretum.ucsc.edu/ and click on “What’s Blooming.”

The Chilean bed in my garden includes two quite young examples of this genus: a Blue Puya (P. berteroniana) and a Silver Puya (P. coerulea). These are slow-growing plants, now years away from blossoming in my garden. While they are not yet pleasing my eyes, they are already trying my patience (a little) and piquing my imagination.

Annie’s Annuals lists nine Puya species, but current availability includes just three. Similarly, the wholesale nursery San Marcos Growers lists eight Puya species, with just three currently in production. Your local garden center could special-order plants from these nurseries, or another preferred source. Search the Internet by botanical name for information to share with garden visitors.

You certainly can keep your garden’s tried and true selections, but consider adding exotic plants to enrich your landscape.

Exotic Bulbs for Spring Bloom

As we proceed into autumn, the gardener’s thoughts turn to the gratifying display of spring bulbs.

If your garden already includes bulbs that bloom each spring, and you have all you want, relax and let nature do its thing!

If you want more blooms to brighten your spring, however, plant bulbs during the next few weeks.

The general rule is to plant bulbs before the ground freezes, but Monterey Bay area gardeners can only imagine a freeze to schedule bulb planting.

In this temperate climate, bulbs that do not require vernalization (dormant period chilling) are most convenient.

There are many bulbs in this category, including the popular narcissus, plus allium, colchicum, crinum, crocus, gloriosa lily, hyacinth, kaffir lily, muscari, snowflake, spider lily, and watsonia. Most of these are members of the large lily family (Liliaceae), which also includes the tulip.

Several species tulips require little chilling during their dormant period, including Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, T. clusiana (Lady Tulip), T. saxatilis (Candia Tulip) and T. sylvestris (Florentine Tulip). All these produce demure, colorful blooms.

By contrast, hybridized tulips, with larger blooms and taller stalks, require chilling. Some helpful suppliers offer pre-chilled bulbs of hybridized tulips.

Bulbous plants are native to the globe’s five summer-dry climates, particularly the Mediterranean region, South Africa, and California. Adventuresome gardeners can have a great time growing spring bulbs from one or more of these areas.

Triteleia laxa

Triteleia laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’

Such projects require some research. The larger mail-order bulb suppliers offer at least a few bulbous species from faraway places, among the mainstream varieties, but their catalogs have inconsistent information about the country of origin.

Here are sources of bulbous plant information, by country of origin:

  • Pacific Bulb Society’s Wiki, a volunteer-written on-line encyclopedia of flowering bulbs, with photographs.
  • Telos Rare Bulbs, a mail-order nursery in Ferndale (on the California coast, near the state’s northern border), offers a great selection of native plants of California, South America and South Africa.
  • Mediterranean Area: Alpine Garden Society lists specialized books on bulbous plants, including Bulbs of the Eastern Mediterranean, by botanist Oron Peri. The bulbous plant cognoscenti are thrilled with this newly released book.
  • South Africa: The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs (2002), by John C. Manning, Peter Goldblatt, and Dee Snijman.
  • Chile: Few bulbous plants are native to Chile, including Glory-of-the-Sun (Leucocoryne) and the striking—and rare—Blue Chilean Crocus (Tecophileae cyanocrocus). Both are available from Telos Rare Bulbs. For the short list, visit Chileflora (click on Seeds Shop/Life Form: Bulbous Plants) or Sacred Succulents (click on Rare & Beneficial Plants from Chile), a small, family-run business in Sebastopol, California.
  • Australia: Gardeners of the land down under cultivate several bulbous plants that originated in other areas, but apparently few if any that are native to Australia. (If you know of any, let me know.) The region’s popular Chocolate Lily (Dichopogon strictus) is attractive, but it’s tuberous, not bulbous.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 12.20.55 PMThrough a recent search of the Internet. I found a new book by Attila Kapitany, Australian Native Bulbs (2015). This book highlights eight native
species of bulbs, corms, and tubers, and “discusses many more.” It is available on eBay with shipping costs for the interested buyer to discover.

 

 

 

 

Cultivating exotic bulbs can be challenging, intriguing and rewarding, as beautiful and out-of-the-ordinary blooms appear in the spring.

***

Comments and Questions are Welcome

 

Right Time, Right Plants

Tom Karwin

Each spring, many gardeners seek new plants for their gardens. That’s understandable, since that is when gardens spring into new life (sorry about that!).

The spring can be a good time to plant seeds for annuals, but the fall is by far the better time to plant perennials because our rainy season, beginning historically around mid-October, hydrates the plants while they establish roots and prepare for the following spring.

For this reason, we have excellent plant sales during the fall, offered by non-profit garden groups that support your gardening success, and of course want to earn money for their activities.

These sales offer California natives and other plants that thrive in the Monterey Bay area’s summer-dry climate and that align very nicely with your plans to build soil health in your garden.

Two early sales happen Saturday, October 3rd.

  • The Monterey Chapter of the California Native Plant Society will have its annual plant sale from 10:00 to 1:00 at the Hilton Bialek Habitat at Carmel Middle School. Info: http://montereybay.cnps.org/
  • Watsonville Wetlands Watch will host its 3rd annual Pajaro Valley Backyard Habitat Festival and Native Plant Sale from 9:00 to 4:00 at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Recourse Center, at Pajaro Valley High School. Info: http://watsonvillewetlandswatch.org .

Two more sales have been announced for the following Saturday, October 10th.

The Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and the UCSC Arboretum will hold their sales together at the UCSC Arboretum’s Eucalyptus Grove. The entrance to the sale is on High Street, is across from Western Drive, on the edge of the UC Santa Cruz campus.

Both sales are open for members from 10:00 – 12:00, and for the public from 12:00 – 4:00. Memberships for both organizations will be available at the gate on the day of the sale.

Info for the CNPS sale: http://www.cruzcnps.org/

Info for the Arboretum sale: http://arboretum.ucsc.edu/ (click on “Events/Recurring Events”)

The Arboretum’s sale includes selections from dry-summer climate regions in California, South Africa and Australia, offering opportunities for venturesome gardeners to add exotic plants to their landscapes. As one example, Melinda Kranj, Curator of the Australian Collections, has shared her knowledge of an iconic Australian plant in “Banksias Breath New Life for a Fall Garden” (click on “News” on the Arboretum website). She wrote, “The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum is currently growing about 50 species, and many different varieties and cultivars” and will have several Banksias available at the sale.

Banksia victoriae

Banksia victoriae

Incidentally, the generic name of this plant honors English botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who collected the first Banksia specimens in 1770, while on Captain James Cook’s first expedition into the south Pacific.

These plant sales are scheduled at the right time, and they offer plants that are right for our regional climate. As always, the gardener should install new plants in the right place in the landscape. Consider mature size and sun exposure, as well as garden aesthetics.

South African Flora

As California’s drought stretches into the future, the plants of Earth’s five Mediterranean climate zones attract gardeners’ interest and soon earn their appreciation. Many of these plants are fine additions to the landscape, offering beauty, fragrance and benefits for garden fauna as well as easy cultivation (with some exceptions) and environmental friendliness.

In today’s column, with our feet on the ground, we have an overview of the flora of one of these “summer-dry” zones: South Africa.

This relatively small country’s Mediterranean climate zone is the very small and extraordinary Cape Floristic Region. As background, botanists have identified six Floristic Regions (floral kingdoms) of the world. These are regions with distinctive plant life. The Cape Floristic Region, by far the smallest of the six, is noteworthy for very high diversity of plant life, with over 8,000 species, and very high endemism: nearly 70% of the plant species are native to the Region and nowhere else.

Much of the Region’s botanic diversity grows on the fire-prone shrub land called fynbos, which is roughly comparable to California’s chaparral. Both of these two shrub lands have shrubs with hard leaves, closely spaced on their stems.

The fynbos is the home for numerous small shrubs, evergreen and herbaceous plants, and bulbs, many of which are in three plant families.

The Protea family (Proteaceae), which includes 80 genera and 1,600 species, all in the Southern Hemisphere, and mostly in South Africa and Australia. The family name comes from the name of the Greek god Proteus, who could change between many forms. The adjective “protean” (changeable, versatile) has the same root. Plants in this family have a great diversity of flowers and leaves.

The popular South African genera in the Protea family include

  • Proteas (sugarbushes), which come in a range of heights, from three feet to nine feet, with unique compound flower heads (correctly, inflorescences) in pink or sometimes red.9-11-15 Protea
  • Leucospermums (pincushions), most reach four-to-five feet tall, with yellow, orange, pink or red flowers.

9-11-15 Leucospermum

  • Leucadendrons (conebushes), various species grow from three-to-eight feet tall; the striking silver tree (L. argenteum) reaches 25-to-40 feet tall, with “soft, silky, shimmering, silvery-green-gray, lance-shaped foliage.” The cone-shaped flowers typically are surrounded by petal-like bracts, often combining red and yellow colors.

9-11-15 Leucadendron

Australia is home to several genera of the Proteaceae, including banksia, grevillea and hakea.

The Cape heaths (Ericaceae) include some 660 species that are endemic to South Africa, and are often called winter (or spring) heather. Another 40 species, including summer (or autumn) heather are native to other parts of Africa the Mediterranean basin and Europe. Most of the Cape heaths are small shrubs, from eight inches to sixty inches in height, with attractive tubular pink flowers throughout the year.

The Cape reeds (Restionaceae). The genus Restio includes 168 species in South Africa. Various species of Restio grow from one-to-ten feet tall, with tiny flowers grouped in spikelets that comprise inflorescences. Other genera in this family of perennial, evergreen rush-like flowering plants are found throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

To view photographs of South African plants, serve the web for the plant’s botanical name and click on the menu option for images. Better yet: to experience the real presence of these plants, browse to arboretum.ucsc.edu, navigate to Visit/Gardens and Collections/South Africa, and tour the Arboretum’s South African collection in person. You could become inspired to bring South Africa’s botanical bounty into your own garden.

The Ageless Aeonium

Today, we introduce the genus Aeonium, which includes 35 species, most of which are from the Canary Islands, northeast of Africa.

These plants are characterized by the development of rosettes of leaves on basal stems, i.e., stems that rise from the plant’s roots.

The generic name, Aeonium, comes from an ancient Greek word that means “ageless.” In fact, for most species, the rosettes die after producing a flower, although the entire plant lives. A few species are monocarpic, meaning that they produce a single rosette without a stem, and then the entire plant dies.

Popular Cultivars

  1. A. ‘Zwartcop’ (Black Rose), a cultivar of A. arboretum, develops rosettes with very dark reddish-purple, almost black leaves, on stems that can rise to four feet. This plant produces effective displays in the landscape or in a mixed container, especially when contrasted with yellow flowers like those of the plant’s own blossoms.
  2. A. ‘Sunburst’ (Copper Pinwheel), a cultivar of A. davidbramwellii, is a variegated form, with large rosettes with variegated green and white leaves edged in bright, coppery red. The stalks rise up to 18 inches. ‘Sunburst’, like other variegated plants, can provide pleasing contrast in the garden.

Aeonium 'Sunburst' best

  1. 3. A. nobile (Noble Aeonium) produces a single, stemless rosette up to nearly two feet in diameter, making it entirely distinctive among the aeoniums. The leaves are yellowish, with a reddish edge when grown in bright light. This is one of the monocarpic aeoniums: it dies after producing its reddish blossoms.
  2. A. tabuliforme (Saucer Plant, Dinner Plate Plant) is another monocarpic aeonium that provides a single, unique, nearly flat stemless rosette.

Cultivation

Aeoniums will be dormant during the summer months and resume growing in the early autumn.

They are very easy to grow in containers, where they flourish with their shallow roots and occasional watering. Use a normal potting soil, rather than a fast-draining cactus mix. In the Monterey Bay area, they prefer bright morning sun and afternoon shade. Fertilize only when the leaves become yellowish, indicating nitrogen deficiency. Too much fertilizer will promote too-rapid growth and weak stems.

When grown in the garden in this area, aeoniums require little care. As with container plants, avoid very rich soil and fertilizers.

Propagation

All aeonium species and hybrids can be propagated from seeds, but most are propagated easily from stem cuttings. This might be done to produce additional plants or to bring a rangy plant into a more compact form. During the plant’s normal growth period, from autumn to mid-spring, cut a rosette with up to five inches of stem (shorter for smaller, shrub-like forms) and place in a cool shady place for at least three days, to heal over. Then, place the cutting in a normal potting mix, in a small container, and in a shaded, windless location to reduce moisture loss. After the plant has established roots, place in a container or in the garden.

The monocarpic species are not propagated from stem cuttings, but from leaf cuttings, which are more successful with A. tabuliforme than with A. nobilis.

Aeoniums are drought-tolerant plants that are easy to cultivate and interesting additions to the garden.