Add an Aeonium to Your Collection

One of my first really spectacular succulents was an aeonium. I think it was an aeonium sunburst. It grew tall and the rosette was about the size of a dinner plate. I never measured it, but it really was that big. Just a beautiful plant. Then it bloomed. And then it died. I was distraught and decided I would not get another one.

At some point I discovered that aeoniums, like agaves, are a monocarpic plant, which means they die after flowering. I also realized that they are just too pretty a plant to ignore even if they do die after blooming. So now I have four varieties.

My oldest one is this aeonium sunburst. The lower rosette is a branch off the main trunk. I have had this one long enough that I have forgotten how old it is.
I hold my breath when we have a hail storm for fear of damage, and we had some hail this year, but I guess holding my breath worked because this one was not harmed! The others escaped the hail as well.
This voodoo Zwartskop is my second oldest aeonium, dating from 2011.
I think this aeonium kiwi must be one of the branching variety, and I have rooted a few cuttings from it. The branching varieties tend to not die after flowering. I bought this one in 2014. The edges of the leaves turn red as they age and take on a little more sun.
And this is my newest variety, aeonium Mardi Gras, which just gets more colorful as it grows. I ordered this hybrid from the Huntington Gardens offerings listed in my Cactus and Succulent Society of America Journal in 2014.

Aeoniums like heat, but not direct, really hot West Texas sun, so mine live in filtered sunlight. They also prefer a little more water than some succulents, so even though you will want to let them dry between waterings, don’t let them sit dry as long as you might let your cactus stay dry. They are not cold-hardy, so make sure you have a nice bright location for them over the winter.

New plants can be started from cuttings of small rosettes off the branching varieties. Just be sure to let the stem dry and scab over for a day or so before planting them. Or you can wait till the new roots start to appear on the end of the cut stem and plant them then. If a plant gets too tall and leggy and perhaps blowing too much in the wind, cut the main stem fairly close to the rosette, let it scab over or wait for the roots to appear, and then replant it. The original plant may or may not produce new rosettes on the now empty trunk. I think you can sometimes get an undamaged leaf to root, but I have not had much luck with that method.

I have found that the smaller ones might be a little tricky to establish, but once you get the hang of it, they are worth the trouble. They will be pretty for you for several years before the dreaded flowering might begin. So enjoy them while they grow and be prepared for the inevitable.

A New Huernia

I have been looking for more stapeliads and huernias to add to my collection because of their striking flowers with their intricate designs and wonderful colors. I was finally at the right place at the right time the other day and came across this huernia zebrina de marco, also called a lifesaver flower because it looks like, well, a lifesaver.
I have written about stapeliads and huernias before, and at first tried to make this plant a stapeliad, but after some checking and double-checking and finding more than one spelling for it, I am satisfied it is a huernia zebrina de marco.

Stapeliads and huernias are closely related and were once grouped together, but are now placed each in their own genus. Both originate in Africa, mostly in the south and east. I read that the huernia segments are sometimes eaten in times of need, cooked with sorghum. I’m sure there are very scientific reasons they are classified separately, but based on my observations the main differences might be that stapeliad flowers have a hairy covering and that lovely carrion smell, and huernias have no smell and the flowers have a smooth, waxy finish.

I have read that they will rot easily if allowed to stay wet too long, so you might be careful of your watering. They are easy to propagate by twisting off one of the segments, letting it dry overnight and then planting. Coming from Africa, they will not be cold-hardy, so bring them in for the winter.
I have enjoyed watching this one bloom, and it just makes me want to add more huernias and stapeliads to my collection. I hope you can find some for your collection, too.

One Last Look at the Yuccas

In West Texas and the Hill Country, Spring does bring on wildflowers, but it also blesses us with yucca blooms. Bear grass, they call it here, but yucca is what it is. I don’t know the exact variety, and there are many, but it grows wild here, and if left to its own devices, will take a field that is not under cultivation or kept in shape for cattle pasture. And I know it is a problem in that respect, but when they bloom, they do dress up an otherwise barren landscape.

These are in the corner of the field behind us, and I always enjoy seeing them when I walk around my walk path. I didn’t wade through the grass for a closer shot of their blooms, but as you can see they are big enough to make a showing from a distance.
I dug up this yucca years ago in the San Marcos area. At the time, it was just a single small plant, and it has spread out rather than growing taller and has a wider, more pliable leaf than our native bear grass.
The blooms start out long and slender, and then open to look like this.
I bought this Thompson’s yucca in Alpine in 2003. The leaves make a nice round shape as it grows taller each year. The blooms toward the top of the cluster had just begun to open when I took this picture.
The Thompson yucca blooms are whiter than the San Marcos yucca.
This yucca was actually a hitchhiker in a pot of sotol that I planted years ago. The sotol, unfortunately, has passed on, but the yucca has done well.
Its blooms are considerably different to the other yuccas in shape and color, with their ball shape and the hint of pink on them.
Two weeks ago I traveled to the Hill Country and their yuccas were also in bloom. The much larger wild yuccas commonly called Spanish bayonet or Spanish dagger-I’ve heard both names-had already bloomed in the early Spring and were done. I passed these smaller, more widespread yuccas, on the way from Llano to Mason, and they were so outstanding I had no choice but to come to a screeching halt, go back, and trespass into this pasture for some pictures. Not much traffic on that highway, thank goodness, so I didn’t cause a wreck with my spur of the minute decision to pull over and make a U-turn.
These were especially nice and made quite a statement in the pasture.
So, bear grass, weed, or whatever, if you have yuccas, go ahead and enjoy their beauty later in the season when the bluebonnets have gone away.

Moving Up to a Larger Container

Beware the perils of waiting too long to repot when your plant outgrows its container. For the last year or so, I would look at this gasteria Batesiana and think, I really need to repot that, and then do something else instead. This year I decided the time had come. Turns out the time had almost past-I like to have never gotten that plant out of the pot! When I finally did manage to get the plant to let go of the pot, all the dirt was gone, and I held in my hand a ball of roots. Alas, once again, I didn’t think fast enough to take a picture of it before replanting it, so you will just have to take my word for it. The roots had even made marks on the side of the little pot, they were so crowded for space. 
I don’t have a before picture, but you can see how small the original pot was compared to the size of the gasteria I took out of it.
So if you have a plant that overwhelms the pot it is in, take pity on the poor thing and take the time to give it a new home. The ID tag on this one said 2005! It was way overdue a new place to live.
It looks happier already.

Redesigning Wasted Space in the Garden

A spot in the cactus garden was going to waste. Years of falling leaves, dust settling from the road, and time in general had made what used to be a raised bed lined with rocks pretty sad and in need of an update. I wanted a place to put pots of succulents, so rather than breaking out a new spot and adding yet more area to an already large garden, I resolved to rebuild this space.
As usual, I got in too big a hurry and forgot to take a before picture before I had started removing rocks. But, really, it looked about the same, just mulch covering rocks, no design or plants. And as I moved the original ring of rocks, it was amazing how many I rediscovered under the years of debris! I wound up with more rocks than I needed for the update. But, really, you can never have too many rocks to work with.
It didn’t take long before Mari dug herself a bed where I had moved the first batch of rocks. Naturally, she assumed I was moving those hard rocks for her benefit.
So for a while I let her stay comfortable as I made my way around the area and unearthed all the hidden rocks.
Then it was time to start moving in dirt, sand mostly, from a big pile Bill had out in the pasture. I think it took five, maybe six loads to fill in and raise the bed as much as I wanted to.
After a whole afternoon and part of the next day of arranging and rearranging the rocks, I was satisfied with how I had them fitting one against the other. That’s why I like to have more rocks than I will actually use. Inventory helps when looking for just the right size and shape to fit them all together. Notice all the extras laying around that didn’t get used. Well, didn’t get used here. I can always use them somewhere else that needs updating.
This is what it looked like after I was satisfied with the design and had the dirt like I wanted it.
I moved in all the pots.
The final touch was dressing the outside area with new mulch. It looks much better than the sad, forgotten little space it was when I started. The succulents seem happy. This was a much better solution than building a whole new bed, and it updated the whole cactus garden. Now it is just a waiting game to watch them grow and fill their pots.

I fear it will be like the watched pot that never boils. I check them every day, impatient that they don’t seem any bigger than yesterday! But by the end of the summer, they will have filled out and be beautiful and full, plus  I will have some rosettes to trim off and root, making new plants.

What fun.

Another Reason I Like Cactus

As I mentioned on Facebook the other day, the cactus blooming season is upon us. All of the pictures I am about to share with you were taken on the same day, April 29th. I found one lovely surprise after another as I walked through my outdoor cactus garden. And the rainbow cactus, the echinocereus rigidissimus, which are probably the ones I have the most of, and whose blooms come in myriad forms but always have outstanding pink flowers, haven’t even hit their stride yet. It‘s a treasure hunt, discovering one prize after another. Look at what I found during just one day.

Cactus from Wyoming. Most of the Wyoming cactus bloomed earlier, but several surprised me with flowers now.

The bombax tree, which actually had at one time six flowers blooming at once. Large leaves will follow.

The blue bonnets always look pretty with the first echinocereus ridigissimus, rainbow cactus, adding pink to the mix.

Those echinocereus rainbows up close.

This hardy delosperma is one of the first plants to begin blooming.

This smaller hedgehog claret cup came from the area around Lake LBJ at Kingsland and has doubled in size since I brought it home. And by the way, it bothers me not one bit to rescue wild cactus which are destined to be bulldozed in the name of progress for some ticky-tacky residential development. And I have owner permission to dig them up.
I hope you can see the unbelievable number of buds on this small-pad prickly pear which I have yet to identify and alas, can’t remember where it came from. In a few days it will be a mass of yellow flowers and have honey bees working feverishly to collect pollen and nectar from them.
The cholla is heavy with buds, but the red hedgehogs, echinocereus triglochidiatus, steal the show here. Chollas are in the opunita family, which means they are related to prickly pear, even though at first glance they look nothing alike.
And speaking of prickly pear, this one bloomed also.
This big hedgehog came from the Fort Stockton area and is a much bigger plant that the others, which were given to me by someone who didn’t want them. I am not sure where they came from, but they are pretty, too. But I marvel at the size of the stems on the Fort Stockton plants.
This horse crippler, echinocactus texensis, came from the JD Cage ranch east of Muleshoe and is huge for this kind of cactus. The picture doesn’t really show just how large it is; it measures 9 inches across. The little wild daisies came home with it when I dug it up, and I like the way they look dotted around the cactus. I have several different varieties of horse cripplers, each one with different variations in their spines and flowers.
This hardy delosperma turns reddish-purple during the cold months, then greens up and blooms yellow when it warms up. Unlike other delospermas, which are what we usually call ice plants, this one blooms in spring and then is done blooming for the rest of the year.
And I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Cactus are such forgiving plants as far as their growing conditions are concerned, and then they reward the viewer with beauty like this.

I think I’ll go see what is blooming today.