What Caught My Eye in the Desert Dome

In my last post I gave you a broad tour of the Desert Dome at the Mitchell Park Conservatory. In this post, I'm focusing in on a selection of plants that caught my attention more than others. 

Some of the plants were decorated with ornaments for the holidays. I thought the decorated jade plant was a bit crass... (And thus ensued a whole train of thought involving progressively more terrible puns about Crassula ovata.)

Actually I liked the combination of blue and white. Who says you need a conifer to have Christmas?

More winter merriment ensuing on this Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis). Would you look at the trunks on that Chamaerops? Can I have one like that?!

This aloe looks a little more like a traditional Christmas tree or, perhaps more accurately, a modern interpretation of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. Actually, I'd say this is an improvement over that poor specimen. Plus you could keep enjoying it after the holidays!

Remember the Encephalartos horridus growing at the base of the Furcraea selloa var. marginata? Here's a close-up shot of the two together. I love the contrast of the blue cycad against the green and yellow Furcraea. Both of these plants are definitely two of my favorites in the dome, but the cycad wins by a hair because of that silvery blue color and more compact size. It could potentially be grown in a container if one was not fortunate enough to live in a climate where it can grow outdoors permanently. The Furcraea would be a little more cumbersome.

One of many plants in the conservatory either lacking labels or having only a small metal circle with a number embossed into it, I believe this is Aloe deltoideodonta. I just love the wide, elegantly curving shape of the leaves. It's the same reason I love Agave attenuata, graceful curves.

Another favorite of mine in the conservatory is Alluaudia ascendens, of which there are several specimens in the Madagascar section. I like to describe certain plants as "tentacular". This is one of them. The long shoots cloaked in branches remind me of furry tentacles reaching up from the ground.

Another native of Madagascar, Pachypodium geayi has longer leaves of a more grey color than the more commonly seen Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei). My mind is apparently still on tentacles. Looking at this Pachypodium makes me think of some wicked sea anemone that's evolved a body armored with spines to protect its arms when they retract. There's definitely a reason succulent "seascapes" were once the latest hot design.

Cycads are definitely a collection I need to develop. I've spent enough time drooling over them lately on the internet. Here's Encephalartos ferox, from South Africa.

I wanted to show you a closer view of the big euphorbia near the dragon tree. See how some of the branches spiral? It's probably the result of branches bending down to the side and growing back up, over and over, but it makes a cool effect. Unfortunately I couldn't find quite the right perspective in closer views, so I chose this mid-range shot to let you find your own twists and turns. Certain sections reminded me of M. C. Escher's Relativity.

Not labelled, but I think this is Sansevieria trifasciata 'Golden Flame', a highly variable variegated selection of mother-in-law's tongue. I've been tempted before by pictures, but seeing this specimen in person made it rise in priority on my wishlist.

From a distance, I swore this was a remarkably upright and symmetrical opuntia. The joke was on me. When I zoomed in to take this picture, I noticed the identical black marks around the perimeter of each pad, the even semi-glossy finish, and the sheer impossibility of an opuntia growing this upright and this symmetrically. It is, however, an impressively realistic facsimile of a prickly pear cactus that I could see adapted as a screening wall, or a single layer of pads on a garden gate, in the gardens of certain individuals.

It's not really a special picture and the plant may not even look that interesting, but I had to admire this mass of Puya that had grown to obscure its label. I absolutely adore terrestrial bromeliads and would have filled my parents' garden with them if the climate allowed.

I wouldn't want to tangle with one of these Echinocereus grusonii, or golden barrel cactus, but they certainly do impress me whenever I see a grouping like this.

These flowers belong to Fouquieria fasciculata, a native of Mexico. Most people who have an interest in desert plants, or claim the American southwest as home, are probably familiar with the beautiful red flowers of its relative, Fouquieria splendens, also called ocotillo. The white flowers of Fouquieria fasciculata are not as flashy as ocotillo, but this species has another feature that makes it one of my top favorites in the entire desert dome.

Look at that caudex! I love the pattern of green and tan on the branches and caudex of this species. Features like this last all year, whereas flowers are relatively brief. I could stare at those patterns happily for some time, but I need to finish this blog post. Stop distracting me, Fouquieria!

 Another terrestrial bromeliad, Hechtia argentia, from central Mexico. Darn, Mexico has a lot of cool plants. This bromeliad is so intimidatingly spiny that I'd do my best to make sure it grew in a spot where nothing ever fell into it, or else invest in a good pair of forceps or extra-long tweezers.

It's not all prickles, though. See the little tufts of white on the leading edge of each spine? Even this barbed bromeliad has a soft and fuzzy side. You just have to look a little harder to find it, like with some people.

No label, but I believe this is Furcraea foetida 'Variegata'. Not nearly as large or imposing as the Furcraea selloa var. marginata on the other side of the dome, but the variegation is simply stunning! Can I have one?

A pair of old men (Cephalocereus senilis, aka: old man cactus) heckling the Dasylirion wheeleri. Hey, Dasy, it's not easy being blue-green, is it? Extra points if you read that in the voices of the Hecklers from The Muppets, followed by their characteristic laugh. What, you're expecting A-grade material? I'm a horticulturist, not a comedian.

Aloe arborescens made a beautiful display of radiating leaves lined with spines. Another slightly tentacular plant, the glaucous leaves are a lovely complement to the fiery orange flowers, which were backlit by the sun.

Green-tipped flowers of Aloe arborescens made a pretty picture glowing from the sun behind them.

And there's a smattering of close-ups from the Desert Dome at the Mitchell Park Conservatory. The Domes may turn out to be my go-to escape from the Midwest winter, though tomorrow I get a brief reprieve to visit my family in Washington.


  1. What? You're tripping back to the PNW? That's wonderful.

    Loved these close-ups and the fact these plants exist in a place where many may never get the chance to see them growing outdoors. Oh and you had me giggling at "in the gardens of certain individuals"...

    1. I thought you might pick up on that... lol

  2. So many nice areas and good to hear you'll be back to PNW for a bit, where some of these plants can grow outside :)

    1. It was nice to visit the family for a few days. It was even dry for a couple days while I was there!

  3. That's a gorgeous final shot of the Aloe flower! Thanks for these great closeups. That spinning Euphorbia was very Escher-like, it almost made me dizzy.

    1. Thanks, Alison! I enjoyed following the twists of that Euphorbia for a few moments before the rest of the plants pulled me away.

  4. Hooray for a trip back home. It's supposed to warm up and get rainy again just for you! You featured some grand plants here and each one was exciting in some way. That Fouquieria caudex is delicious, the twisty euphorbia, fabulous and your image and advice about growing Encephalartos horridus in a pot had me searching the internet for sources! Gorgeous! Happy new year, my friend!

    1. Happy new year, Peter! It was actually sunny the day I flew in. I got a good view of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson in Oregon and then we swung around to land so I got another great view of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier.

  5. Beautiful pictures and commentary. Glad to see those harsh winters can't keep a plant devotee down.

  6. I need to look for that Hechtia (even if I can't immediately think where I'd put it). Enjoy your trip home Evan and happy new year!

    1. That Hechtia is pretty cool. I'm sure you'll find a spot in one of those new beds.

  7. Hi again Evan. I wanted to let you know that I nominated your blog for a Liebster award. If you choose to accept, you can find more information, including a list of questions to respond to in a post of your own, here: http://krispgarden.blogspot.com/2015/01/liebster-award.html

    Best wishes!

  8. I used to love going to The Dooms (aka "The Boobs") . Haven't been in ages, but looks like they haven't changed much.


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