Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Succulent Craving

You won't find many succulents in my collection. Outdoors in the garden I have a handful of sedums, mostly native to the Pacific Northwest, but I've found that as the summer drought progresses, many water-storing plants start to look quite, well, succulent, to the thirsty deer. Add that to my existing preferences for woody plants, foliage both lush and fine, and the clay soil and lots of shade where I grew up gardening, and it doesn't make for a very welcome environment for succulent plants. It's not that I don't like succulents. Quite the opposite, with their myriad forms, textures, and colors. Rather I never found it practical to make the modifications to my parents (really my) garden that would allow me to grow a wider range of succulents, and the deer certainly didn't help. If I lived in a climate that was more suited to growing a wider range of succulents, my garden would be full of them! Sometimes, however, I do find succulents that I simply can't get off my mind, though, like Chiastophyllum oppositifolium, seen here at Bovees Nursery with their impressive patch of Adiantum venustum in the background.


This small-scale ground cover just fits too well with my gardening style not to be on my wishlist. A shade and moisture-loving succulent, I can grow it with my rhododendrons! The foliage is nice enough, though nothing to write home about. The flowers are the main attraction, pendulous, tiny yellow urns tangling in chains from stalks that rise above the foliage. Plants like these are some of my favorites. They spend their off-times in quiet charm, not detracting from the rest of the garden with some unfortunate feature like an awkward growth habit, and letting the current players shine. Then when it's their turn, they do something unexpected and wonderful. Because of the threat of deer, I haven't yet added this shady succulent to my collection, though I've been thinking a container on a shaded deck might be the ideal way to grow it until I have a protected area to start a patch in the ground.

Indoors, I am rather fickle with succulents, again because they just aren't able to reach their full potential indoors during a dark northern winter. I have had a few aloes, crassulas, and other plants off and on over the years, but I almost always become dissatisfied with their growth, being either too slow (meaning they don't change enough and therefore don't hold my attention) or they become etiolated, stretching out in the meager winter light. The latter is my own shortcoming. Most people have trouble remembering to water their container plants. I used to have trouble holding back water from succulents in winter as much as I should, making them grow more than they should. Whenever I start to feel crowded by my house plant collection (yes, even I recognize when I've run out of space) succulents invariably are some of the first to go. They aren't happy and neither am I. If I lived in a warmer climate where they could stay outside, they'd probably have stuck around. Sansevieras are usually safe, as they can be a bit expensive once you start collecting beyond the regular S. trifasciata and they are mostly good performers in lower light. Maybe I'll make a post about my sanseviera wishlist one of these days (once I actually make one), but this time I have a couple other plants to share.

A few weeks ago, I saw a plant at Milaeger's Nursery coated in dense, coppery fuzz, the older leaves fading towards silver. The single specimen that they had for sale was covered in mealybugs, so I passed it up at the time, but I continued to see it in my mind. After some thorough internet sleuthing, I found a name for my mystery plant, Kalanchoe orgyalis, with the appropriate common name of copper spoons.

Image courtesy of San Marcos Growers website.
It reminds me of some of the tropical rhododendrons I've seen with heavy coatings of copper scales, on steroids, but with easier cultural requirements. I have a weakness for plants with metallic coloring, gold, copper, silver, pewter, steel. Ok, I have a lot of weaknesses when it comes to plants. You can find more pictures of copper spoons via this Google image search. Cultural information is available on the San Marcos Growers website (link above), and at Plant Lust. This is a surprisingly tricky plant to find from mail-order nurseries, but I have managed to track down a couple sources and plan to order one of these beauties in the spring if I can't find it at a local nursery again.

While I was trying to figure out the identity of Kalanchoe orgyalis, I stumbled across another Kalanchoe that I had seen before and lusted after, Kalanchoe rhombopilosa (sorry, no common name), and decided to officially add it to my wishlist.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Leaves like big silver scales with black markings coat the stems of this plant. Here's another Google image search for you to see more mesmerizing pictures of this amazing plant. Unfortunately, this plant apparently suffers from the same condition as many succulents, where the leaves fall off easily and make new plants. I don't mind the new plants, but leaves that break off easily can become a nuisance and leave the plant looking bare, which is why I've never grown burro's tail (Sedum morganianum) and many other succulents. On the other hand, this kalanchoe is much more spectacular in appearance than burro's tail. Once I get them, it will be interesting to see if they survive the next culling. I can see the Kalanchoe rhombopilosa surviving as a filler/weed in pots with larger plants, possibly even with the copper spoons, though I'm not sure what that combo would look like.

I'm also amassing a list of hardy and tropical palms that I want to grow, which has reached 31 total, only 6 of which are hardy to zone 8 (though there are more in that category to add). Naturally I don't expect to succeed with, or even order, all of them. I'll whittle the list down over the course of the winter until I have a final list of must-haves ready to order. Some of the hardy species are tried and true in the Pacific Northwest, whereas I've seen mixed reports for others. It will be an experiment to see which of the tropical species succeed as houseplants in my cool-ish home. I don't let it go below 60F, but I try to avoid the high 70s and even low 80s that some of these jungle palms would prefer. It may not be practical to try to grow these plants indoors, but how will I know if any of these drool-worthy specimens are worthy houseplants if I don't experiment? The ones that prove adaptable will be the practical ones. For a look at some of the palms on my wishlist, take a gander at these Google image searches: 

Chamaedorea metallica (something a little more familiar, perhaps)
Calyptrocalyx pachystachys (the mottled-leaf form

So those are some of the things I'm looking at to while away the winter doldrums (technically very late fall doldrums still). Some gardeners are lucky enough that they can order and grow things year-round, others fantasize about what they will order come spring, like I am. Either way, we all make wishlists. What's on yours?

10 comments:

  1. Making wishlists and collecting can be a very slippery slope to tread Evan, be careful now :))

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    1. Haha! Oh, I'm well and truly beyond the point of recovering from that slide, trust me!

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  2. That Kalanchoe orgyalis is a fav, I've had a couple over the years (one a gift from Sprig to Twig) but they've left me now. Perhaps it's time to try again.

    My wishlist as recently seen the addition of this beauty from Far Reaches: http://plantlust.com/plants/cautleya-spicata-robusta/

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    1. I think it might be! It's so pretty! I've looked at that Cautleya on Far Reaches, too. Good choice! ;)

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  3. A succulent that likes shade? I think I'm adding that Chiastophyllum oppositifolium to my wish list right now. My northeast corner is very shady and at the moment full of spring ephemerals, so it gets quite bare and uninteresting in the summer, when it also gets little water. Sounds like a perfect spot for that shady succulent.

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    1. Keep in mind that Chiastophyllum, although a succulent, isn't as drought tolerant as your typical sun-loving succulents. I think it does like a little summer water, but it might be worth trying!

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  4. For someone who's not a succulent enthusiast, you found some very interesting specimens. The only one I'm acquainted with is the Kalanchoe orygyalis, which I added to my own ever-increasing succulent collection in late summer. A surprising number of succulents tolerate some degree of shade - I just picked up a beautiful new agave, A. gentryi 'Jaws,' which at least some sources contend will grow in partial shade.

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    1. I like to think that, not being a succulent enthusiast, I tend to go only for the really good ones.Remember what likes a little shade in your garden probably wants even more than full sun up north.

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  5. I fell for Kalanchloe orgyalis long ago and it has offered up many cuttings to go forth and prosper (see Danger Garden's comment). Most succulents seem really easy to propagate, so once we get through passing them around, we will all have at least one of each.

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    1. You're right, most succulents are very easy to propagate. I'll have to remember to hit you up for a cutting of your Kalanchoe orgyalis if I ever make it back to the PNW.

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