It is unfortunate that, like Easter lilies and poinsettias, most kalanches, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, are enjoyed while actively blooming, and then discarded as their blooms fade. It is so easy to simply snip out the deteriorating flowers, and grow the small perennials plants for their appealing succulent foliage until they bloom again. They do not get much more than half a foot tall, so can stay in small pots indefinitely. They seem to prefer the porosity of clay pots. Because they can rot, they should be watered when the surface of the soil seems to be getting dry, and their drainage saucers should not be allowed to hold water too long. Kalanchoes like bright but indirect sunlight. They can be acclimated to direct sun exposure, but might seem to be somewhat stunted. If brought in before frost, they can be happy out on a patio. The clustered small flowers can be white, pink, red or bright or pastel shades of orange or yellow.
Agaves are innately tough and undemanding. The main reason that they are not more popular in home gardens is that they are outfitted with nasty foliar spines. The worst of these spines are the distal tips of the large succulent leaves. Most agaves are also armed with shorter recurved spines on the margins of their leaves. Gardening with such well armed perennials can be dangerous.
A complete lack of foliar spines is what makes Agave attenuata such a deviant. The relatively pliable foliage forms big grayish rosettes that can get as broad and tall as four feet. Groups of these rosettes can slowly cover quite a bit of area. The plump stems below may eventually become exposed as they shed old foliage, but are they usually obscured as newer rosettes develop and grow.
The cultural preferences of Agave attenuata are also somewhat unusual. Unlike other agaves, it wants occasional watering and a slight bit of shade. If too exposed, it can get frosted in winter, or roasted in summer. Agave attenuata is also known as foxtail, lion’s tail or swan’s neck agave because its fluffy yellowish flower stalks curve downward, and maybe up again, to about six feet tall.
Bright pink bloom that can be profuse enough to obscure the succulent foliage below is nothing new for iceplant. Some bloom bright purplish pink. Others are reddish pink. A few are softer pink or white. What is unexpected is iceplant that blooms bright yellow, orange or gold, like Lampranthus aureus does. (Freeway or beach iceplant that blooms soft yellow or pink is not a true iceplant.)
Lampranthus arueus neither spreads as far nor cascades quite as well as other types of iceplant, but if planted a bit closer together, it can cover quite a bit of ground. It gets about a foot deep, or a bit deeper if crowded by other plants. It is very easy to grow from cuttings stuck wherever new plants are wanted. The inch and a half wide flowers are slightly wider than those of other iceplant.
All iceplant are quite undemanding. Although they bloom better and stay greener with occasional watering, they do not need much water. They should only be fertilized if they get wimpy. After the spectacular primary bloom phase early in spring, too much fertilizer might inhibit sporadic bloom later in summer. Unfortunately, the healthiest iceplant may not bloom again after spring bloom.
In this situation, the point is that all those pointed tips of the leaves of this awkwardly floppy century plant, Agave americana, are extremely sharp, extremely rigid and EXTREMELY dangerous. Those shorter teeth on the margins of the leaves are just as sharp and rigid, and are curved inward to maximize injury to anyone trying to get away from an initial jab. With tips that impale, and marginal teeth that slash, this is one very hateful perennial!
Another point is that this big and awkwardly obtrusive century plant is on a patio at a Mexican restaurant. Yes, it is in a public place where people get dangerously close to it. On Friday and Saturday nights, this restaurant can get quite crowded. Some within such crowds are inebriated, so are more likely to stumble about and bump into things that are best avoided. Those concrete slabs to the left are benches where people are often seated.
The third point is that the only remedy for this ridiculously bad situation is to remove the century plant. Chopping the leaves like those that were over the bench on the left only removes a few tips and teeth, but does not make the rest of the foliage significantly safer. Nor does folding the leaves inward, like those that are next to those that were chopped. Such abuse only makes the whole mess uglier. Now it is both dangerous AND ugly.
Now, who thought that putting the most dangerous of all perennials available into this public situation was a good idea?! (Cacti with inward curving spines and other plants that are more dangerous are not even available in nurseries.) Century plants are dangerously nasty even when small and young, so even someone who knows nothing about landscape design should have known better than this!
The dark bronze and variegated varieties of tree houseleek, Aeonium arboreum, are so much more popular than the simple species, that the simple species with plain green foliage is now rather rare. The succulent stems do not stand much more than three feet tall. They get about as broad, and can get even broader as lower stems develop roots and grow into new plants. The succulent rosettes of foliage of well watered plants can be fragile to handle. Mature plants can bloom in spring with unusual conical trusses of yellowish or chartreuse flowers.
This is not as simple as it looks. It is something of a guessing game for me. I am rather certain that #1 and #2 are identified correctly. I am not so certain about #3 and #5. The name of #4 is merely a guess. #6 is the only one that I know the name of for certain, although the name that I know it as is now outdated.
The lack of a species name for the two species of Sedum #1 and #2 seems like a cop out to me. I might have discussed it in one of my Wednesday rants, or will do so soon enough. All species should be described as a ‘species’, not merely as a genus with a cultivar name tossed in as if it adequately designates the identity. I sometimes write about how the nomenclature of plants is like that of cars. Both plants and cars are distinguished by genus AND species, with some specie divided into separate cultivars and varieties. (Cultivars are merely ‘cultivated varieties’.) Depriving a plant of a species name is like describing a car as a Buick ‘Convertible’, or a Chrysler ‘Sedan’. There is a big difference between a convertible Electra and a convertible Skylark, although both are Buicks. There is also a big difference between an Imperial sedan and a LeBaron sedan, although both are Chryslers. I may not have identified the two Sedum with their correct names, but even their correct names are not very correct anyway.
Echeveria glauca #3 seems too simple. Shouldn’t it have a cultivar name too? I really do not know. I really do not even know what species it is.
The same goes for Graptopetalum paraguayense #4. Really, I do not even know what genus it is. This is merely a guess. How embarrassing.
Aloe brevifolia #5 has a different issue with its name. It seems that all aloes are known simply as Aloe vera, even though not many of us would recognize Aloe vera if we actually saw it. This makes it easier to identify unknown aloes, but complicates the identification of familiar aloes.
Then there is the easily identifiable Bulbine caulescens #6. Seriously, I recognize it, but somehow, the name got changed. The first name is how I know it. The second name is the newer correct name.
1. Sedum ‘Angelina’
2. Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’
3. Echeveria glauca
4. Graptopetalum paraguayense
5. Aloe brevifolia
6. Bulbine caulescens or Bulbine frutescens
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:
If one of these six different agaves happens to be the blue agave from which tequila is made, I would not know. I only know that all six are various specie or cultivars of the Agave genus. The sixth picture is that of the common century plant, Agave americana, which is not used for tequila. I have no idea what the other five are. The fifth looks like it could possibly be a picture of Agave victoriae, but if I remember correctly, I was specifically told that it is not.
All six of these agaves were procured by my colleague. The first specimen is still potted at the shops where we work. The second specimen was relocated into a new landscape early last spring. The other four are within minimal proximity of each other, in a more established part of the landscape. There happens to be two agave pups in the Infirmary Nursery. At least one is from the agave in the second picture. I believe that the second pup is the same as well, but it seems to be developing teeth.
The wickedly sharp teeth and spines of most specie of agave are the main reason that agaves are not more practical in home gardens or small landscapes. It is not practical to try to snip the terminal spines off, because more develop with every new leaf. If they get enough space out of the way, agaves are bold and remarkably striking big perennials that are very resilient to arid climates.
There are no captions this week, because I do not know what to say about agaves that I know nothing about.
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:
Immediately after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, nothing was open for business downtown on North Santa Cruz Avenue south of Bean Avenue. As buildings were inspected for safety and cleaned up, sections of cyclone fence that had kept everyone out were slowly and systematically moved out so that businesses on the east side could open for business. The same slow process was repeated on the west side, moving south from the corner at Bean Avenue, but did not get very far. The old Los Gatos Cinema, as well as the several other building between it and the seemingly destroyed old La Canada Building on the southern corner of the block, were too badly damaged for the fence to be removed.
Right there next door to the Cinema where the fence stopped moving, Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe happened to be one of the fortunate businesses that was able to open for business again, and serve breakfast and lunch to those so diligently reconstructing downtown. It had always been there, longer than anyone can remember. Older people knew it as the ‘Sweet Shoppe’, a soda fountain that was very popular with those who cruised North Santa Cruz Avenue. It was the last of the first business that that moved into the old Cannery Building when it was converted to retail stores. Gilley converted it to more of a coffee shoppe and named it after himself in the 1970s. While everything in Los Gatos changed around it, Gilley’s remained about the same. Everyone knows Gilley’s.
I had not gone there more than a few times prior to the Loma Prieta Earthquake. I was away at school for the second half of the 1980s, and just did not go downtown much while in high school or earlier. I stopped by on the way to work early one autumn morning in 1990 because it was the only restaurant that was open in the recovering downtown neighborhood It instantly became my place to go for breakfast, and sometimes for lunch. It was nothing fancy, but it was what I wanted.
For the past twenty eight years, Gilley’s was where many of my work days started. I used their tables to sketch out irrigation systems and small sections of landscapes. I met clients there rather than at my home office. Back when I was able to write about local gardening events in my gardening column, I conducted interviews there. Readers sometimes brought me pieces of plants for identification, or for diagnoses of a disease. When Gilley’s sold and was prettied up a slight bit in the early 1990s, I procured small potted bromeliads, and later, cut flowers for the tables. Before permanent succulent were installed into the big pots flanking the door, I cycled flowering annuals for a little bit of color out front. A whole lot of horticulture went on at Gilley’s.
Sadly, nothing is permanent. Los Gatos is always changing, just like it has always done. By the time you read this, after 3:00 on September 30, 2018, Gilley’s will have closed for the last time.
They sure took their time getting this far along. The bluish green succulent foliage of showy stonecrop, Hylotelephium spectabile, (formerly Sedum spectabile) first appeared at ground level in early spring, and has been growing into rounded mounds so slowly that it now stands less than three feet high and wide. Smaller types are half as big. Blooms are only now beginning to turn color.
Broad and flat-topped floral trusses of minute flowers are almost always some sort of pink. Sometimes, they are almost terracotta red. Sometimes, they are somewhat peachy. They might even be blushed with a bit of lavender. ‘Stardust’ blooms white. The biggest blooms can be as wide as five inches. If not pruned away as they fade, the blooms (according to some) dry nicely by winter.
New growth starts to appear from the ground almost as soon as old stems die in late winter. Established clumps can be divided in spring every few years. Even small plants can spare a few small pups that will grow into new plants. Stems might get taller in partial shade, but might also need to be staked as they bloom. Bees really flock to the flowers because not much else blooms so late.
Almost everyone thinks of cacti as tough plants that live out in the hottest and driest parts of the deserts, where few other plants can survive. They are the sorts of plants that we threaten to plant out in the most inhospitable or neglected parts of the garden. We never actually do so, just because we do not appreciate cacti any more than weeds. They are fine over in the neighbor’s garden.
Whether we like them or not, cacti really deserve more respect than that. Even if they do not fit our style of landscape, they are striking and distinctive features within the landscapes that they are adapted to. Except for a few euphorbs that look sort of like cacti, there are no substitutes for their form and, of course, their texture! The uniquely specialized physiology of cacti is extraordinary.
Cacti really are built for the desert. In a climate where heat and arid air desiccates foliage, cacti do without. Photosynthesis is done in the green skin of the distended stems. Furrows in the stems of some cacti increase surface area for photosynthesis, but still expose far less surface area to the weather than individual leaves would. The succulent flesh of the distended stems stores water.
The foliage is not totally lacking. It is merely modified into sharp spines or irritating glochids with which cacti protect their succulent flesh from animals. Spines of the old man cactus are elongated into coarse hair that diffuses the intensity of the sunlight that might otherwise scorch the green skin below. Bigger thorns that extend beyond the spines within each tuft are actually modified stems.
Cacti certainly put significant effort into surviving desert climates; but surprisingly, most cacti do not even live in deserts, and many live in tropical rainforests of South and Central America! Some have weirdly pendulous stem structure, and some are epiphytic, so they hang from limbs of larger trees. In regions where most insect and animal activity is at night, cacti bloom nocturnally, with big luminescent and fragrant flowers that appeal to moths, bats and their associates.