Rebutia muscula
Copiapoa hypogaea var. barquitensis

One of the halls in San Diego’s Balboa Park almost always seems to have a plant show dedicated to one group of plant or another. This past weekend it was the turn for cactus and succulents, courtesy the San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society.

This show featured an expected sampling of cactus, but a surprisingly low number of plants with colorful, splashy foliage like you’d find on some sedums or echevarias. Maybe some of them don’t transport so easily, and many others get too big to take to a show. Or maybe there’s a certain snobbery against easy-to-like plants that are probably a little overexposed in garden centers and home stores around town.

I'm not sure how to react to this entry, a carved up specimen of the common San Diego County coastal prickly pear, Opuntia littoralis. Most botanical gardens will have vandalized cactus and succulents, with initials carved into plants that will carry the scars for the rest of their lives. And here's another act of creative vandalism. It's fun, but I'm a little too uptight to enjoy it without feeling some guilt or dis-ease. But in the end it’s probably a better deal for the plant than to chop up the leaf for a big serving of nopales.

Notocactus leninghausii
Mammillaria carmenae
Sulcorebutia rauschii

Rebutia fulviseta--sorry for the awful focus on this one...

Euphorbia poissonii
Euphorbia unispina
And yet another euphorbia, this one E. misera, native right here in coastal San Diego County.
Oops...I didn't get the name of this wonderful wonder. Sorry. Maybe one of you knows? EDIT JUNE 12: Hoover suggested that this might be CalĀ­ibanus hookeri, and it looks like that is indeed the plant. Thanks, Hoover!
This decades-old specimen is Adenia glauca.

Whatever the reason for the dearth of “pretty plants,” weird was in, and I found myself gravitating to the side of the exhibition hall with plants that took up the idea of succulent growth habits and ran with it in ways you don’t see in cactus or rosette-forming succulents. Pretty many of them are not, but there’s a major cool factor with these.

Out of these I really grooved on the caudiciform species, plants that develop grossly enlarged stem bases, stems or roots to store water for the plant to use during the dry months of the year.

It was easy to snap up a big pile of photos at the show with my cellphone camera, but the quality of almost all of them was been pretty pathetic. Low indoor light = Slow exposures = Blurry photos. And controlling focus is really really touchy to nearly impossible.

I’m not about to give up my real cameras, but gosh these little devices are handy, like the convenient Hostess Twinkies of the photographic world. Amazing how much we’re willing to give up for the sake of convenience. Still, every now and then the photographic Hostess Twinkie goddess smiled on me and gave me sharp images that were focuses almost where I’d have focused with my camera.

Anyway, you might have guessed that where there’s a plant show, there’s usually a plant sale. But that’ll be the topic of a future post…

9 thoughts on “succulence”

  1. I find myself gravitating towards weird plants, and wanting to show off my goofy looking plants as much as my pretty ones, so I can see why the plants in the show would trend this way. The colored and showy succulents seem like they are often about breeding programs by humans, whereas these succulents all seem to be about breeding by deserts. Those caudiciforms are often.

  2. James, have you ever been to Death Valley in Spring? It can be an amazing experience. Neat photos of the beautiful plant weirdos.

    I like succulents very much and hauled all my collection up here to Zone 7 when we moved. Some were happy and some turned blacked and melted over the sides of their pots the next winter.

    Good focus is a sometimes exasperating problem…when I used film and made prints, I used to wish there was “focus spray” Not what? the “sharpen feature on PS? I don’t know…I mostly use the scatter-gun method…take lots.

  3. Is the burl with a grassy hair style Calibanus hookeri?

    I wish I could have gone. The Inter-City in August we usually manage to get to, but SD is a long drive.

  4. I can’t look away from that Opuntia. It makes me crazy but I can’t stop.

    I like the looks of that E. unispina. The euphorbia genus is remarkable in the breadth of its plants’ forms.

  5. just when I think I have seen them all. I find beauty in the very oddness of most of these. The Sulcorebutia reminds me of tide pool anemones when the water ebbs.

  6. Not bad at all for a cell phone camera, James. If you didn’t say so, I wouldn’t have known. Many cacti and succulents are fabulously gnarly (some of the specimens from the Desert Garden at the Huntington come to mind). But one of my fav weird desert plants has got to be the Boojum Tree (Fouqueiria columnaris) from Baja that’s related to our native Ocotillo. Not a succulent, but definitely bizarre-looking. I bought a 6″ specimen from the UCR fall plant sale last November and planted it in a shallow ceramic pot in sand mixed with pea gravel. So far, it’s taken well to being more or less bonsai’d.

  7. Ryan, I’m surprised there aren’t more people breeding these oddballs. There’s more to life than just flowers or colorful foliage.

    Sue, I’ve been there every season except summer. I’ve seen some really spectacular shots of the place in bloom but I’ve missed those times. I think I was there mainly for the wacky geology and didn’t pay enough attention to the plants. I did employ an awful lot of Photoshop to get a few of these images to look presentable–color correction and way more sharpening than I usually like to use. For all it does, “focus spray” isn’t one of the available Photoshop plugins.

    Hoover, I looked up CalĀ­ibanus hookeri and it sure looks like the plant. Thanks for the ID! I hope the make the big LA show this time around.

    Maggie, that’s a plant that can look back! An idea for the next scary movie franchise?

    Ricki, weird, huh? “Anemone” is exactly what occurs to me too when I look at that plant. My guess is that it probably grows far away from any coastlines.

    Denise, thanks! There was a lot of plant to try to capture. I was totally impressed. This was one plant show that probably saw a lot of entries coming in on handtrucks and dollies.

    Arleen, boojums are way high on my list as well. There were several small ones for sale in the plant sale next door. I think enough people considered them to be succulent enough to make it to this sale. One day I hope to make it deep enough into Baja to see them where they originate. Photographer Richard Misrach did some ethereal night photos of them in the mid-1970s that are worth looking up.

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