Mexican Snowball

Mexican snowball is strikingly pallid blue.

The silly common name actually suits its plump rosettes of pale bluish succulent leaves. Mexican snowball, Echeveria elegans, forms small colonies that might resemble stashes of snowballs. Individual rosettes are circular, and a bit wider than tall. The widest are four inches or so across. The evergreen leaves are as neatly radial as scales of a pine cone.

Some may know Mexican snowball, and various other species of Echeveria and related Sempervivum, as hen and chicks. Big rosettes can produce so many small pups around their edges that they are reminiscent of mother hens surrounded by their huddled chicks. These pups are quite easy to separate for plugging into pots or elsewhere in the garden.

Mexican snowball is happiest in sunny situations with rather regular watering, but should tolerate a bit of shade and lapses of watering. For small trees in big pots, it can cover the surface of the potting media nicely. Pups plugged into crevices of stone walls might grow into clinging colonies. Tiny pink flowers with yellow tips bloom on wiry stems about now.

Fan Aloe

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Some aloes should have more fans.

most aloes are tough perennials that do not need much water. Unfortunately, they do not have many fans. Maybe that is why fan aloe, Aloe plicatilis, makes it’s own. The plumply succulent leaves are distichously arranged, which is a fancy way of saying that they are either to the left or to the right, flaring out to form foliar fans.

Individual leaves are just as distinctive as their arrangement is. They are not tapered and pointed like those of other aloes. Instead, they are about an inch and a half wide from end to end, with weirdly blunt tips. They get almost a foot long. The soft gray color contrasts nicely with coral flower spikes that bloom at the end of winter.

It grows slowly, but fan aloe is one of the few aloes that eventually grows into a big shrub with several sculptural trunks on a flaring base. In their native habitat in South Africa, old specimens grow as small trees more than ten feet tall. Branches that need to be pruned away can be rooted as cuttings after the cut ends dry out a bit.