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[ Giant Quiver Tree (Aloidendron pillansii) | Posted on March 19, 2018 ]

Rare giant tree aloe with yellow flowers from a harsh, dry winter rainfall climate. Trunk has a rough, irregular texture. May reach over 30 feet tall after many decades. Provide strong light to young plants during winter. Plant in full sun with excellent drainage. This plant is intolerant of excess summer water and probably best suited to dry winter rainfall (Mediterranean) climates like southern California.

This aloe is closely related to, and formerly a subspecies of A. dichotomum. It is far less likely to be encountered in cultivation. The two plants can be distinguished based on form (pillansii branches much less) and flowers (pillansii inflorescences are spreading or pendulous, produced lower in the rosette). There are also subtle differences in leaf shape and color.

From the Richtersveld in northwestern South Africa and southern Namibia. Recently moved with a few related tree aloes to the genus Aloidendron based on DNA studies.

[ Maiden's Quiver Tree (Aloidendron ramosissimum) | Posted on March 18, 2018 ]

Large, slow-growing shrub or small tree with bright yellow flowers from a dry winter rainfall climate. An ideal low-maintenance plant for dry winter-rainfall (Mediterranean) climates like southern California. Intolerant of excess summer water. Do not overwater, especially in summer. Plant in full sun with excellent drainage. Provide strong light to young plants during winter.

As the name would suggest, this species branches early and often, growing broad through a proliferation of thin stems that shoot off starting just above ground level. Old plants can be quite striking. This aloe can be grown with some difficulty from cuttings started in the fall.

Found in the Richtersveld of northwestern South Africa, just into Namibia. Closely related to, and formerly a subspecies of A. dichotomum, a much larger tree with a distinct trunk from the same general area. Recently moved with that species and a few other tree aloes to the genus Aloidendron based on DNA studies.

[ Quiver Tree (Aloidendron dichotomum) | Posted on March 17, 2018 ]

Large, fat, slow-growing tree aloe from a very harsh and dry winter rainfall area in northwestern South Africa, extending into Namibia. Trunk has a rough, irregular texture. This tree may reach close to 30 feet tall after many decades. It branches regularly and dichotomously (by division of the rosettes at the crown) once the stem has reached a certain height, giving rise to a dense, rounded canopy. Flowers are bright yellow, ventricose (with a little belly), and appear on upright inflorescences at the tops of the rosettes with exserted stamens and style. They are pollinated by weavers, sunbirds, white-eyes, and starlings in habitat, where the branches are often host to weaver nests.

Best suited to dry winter-rainfall (Mediterranean) climates like southern California. Refractory to summer water. Do not overwater during summer. Limited summer rainfall may be tolerated by landscape plants with excellent drainage; potted plants may do best with minimum summer water. Landscape plants develop the best form when grown in full sun without any supplemental water, once they are established. Provide excellent drainage in containers and in the ground.

Related to two other tree aloes from the same area, A. ramossisimum and A. pillansii, which are generally similar but can be resolved by differences in form and flowers. A. ramosissimum (which has at times been considered synonymous with dichotomum) is a shorter, bushier plant to about 10 feet with many branches starting close to the base. The very rare A. pillansii may be slightly taller than dichotomum but it branches much less, and its inflorescences are horizontal or pendulous, produced from leaf axils lower in the rosette.

This aloe was recently moved along with a few other tree aloes to a separate genus (Aloidendron) because they were determined by molecular studies to be closely related to each other, and distinct from Aloe. It will be found in publications more than a few years old as Aloe dichotoma. It appeared on the Namibian 50 cent coin. It is one of the parents (with A. barberae) of "Hercules", a faster and much less touchy hybrid which favors the dichotomum parent when grown on the dry side. Threatened by climate change.

[ Butter Tree (Tylecodon paniculatus) | Posted on March 15, 2018 ]

Chunky, branching caudiciform shrub with summer-deciduous green leaves and bell-like flowers. One of the more common Tylecodons in cultivation. Provide strong light and regular water during the growing period when the plant is in leaf (fall though spring). Do not overwater during dormancy (occasional summer water is fine). This succulent is from dry western, winter-rainfall areas of South Africa and Namibia and is an excellent low-maintenance choice for dry Mediterranean climates like coastal Southern California.

Fastest growth is observed in the ground. This plant will not reach anywhere near its full potential size of about 6 feet in a container. Growth will be especially slow when kept constrained in small pots. However, this Tylecodon looks great as a bonsai, after being grown to size elsewhere and then staged for presentation.

Best form in full sun. Requires excellent drainage. May benefit from pruning to induce branching and encourage broader growth. May be self fertile. Seeds are very small and young seedlings require protection for some time after germination. Propagate from cuttings in the fall.

Poisonous to livestock. Handle with care.

[ Aloe (Aloe mawii) | Posted on March 14, 2018 ]

Tree aloe from southeastern Africa with dramatic red or orange flowers in winter. The leaves also may be quite colorful, ranging from grayish or bluish green in protected locations to orangey brown or copper red for some plants in full sun. Leaves are usually somewhat channeled and recurved, these features exaggerated by drought stress. May reach up to 6 feet tall with a substantial stem, or be stemless, or have a decumbent stem. May branch at the base or higher up.

The inflorescence is oblique (running sideways). The flowers are ventricose (with a little belly) and secund (oriented in one direction on the flower stalk, up), topped with colorful exserted stamens (purple filaments and orange anthers) when they open. Aloe mawii flowers are similar to those of the stemless Aloe ortholopha from Zimbabwe (whose inflorescences may branch more) and the sprawling Aloe powysiorum from Kenya (larger floral bracts, and flowers a paler red).

From Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania. Stemless plants are found in Mozambique. Uncommon in cultivation. Thrives in full sun.

[ Short Leaved Aloe (Aloe brevifolia) | Posted on March 12, 2018 ]

Small clumping aloe from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa with glaucous blue/green leaves and unbranched reddish flowers. The leaves usually have a line of spines along their underside. The shape of the rosette will depend on the variety, the exposure, and the care. The rosette may close in on itself in full sun or drought stress, especially in dense clumps. It may be erect or spreading (sometimes less glaucous) in protected locations like a greenhouse setting.

Two varieties in addition to brevifolia are recognized based on origin and leaf or flower features. Varieties postgenita and depressa have bigger leaves. This plant is from an area with considerable rainfall year round, more in winter. In the garden it is quite drought tolerant, and it enjoys day-long sun in our mild coastal climate.

Aloe brevifolia is excellent as a groundcover when started with generous spacing to allow for prolific offsetting over time. Flowers appear in late spring. The raceme is not densely flowered.

Aloe brevifolia is one of the presumed parents of Aloe x nobilis, which is a similar-looking green plant with densely flowered racemes.

[ Century Plant (Agave asperrima) | Posted on March 4, 2018 ]

Medium to large, slow-growing agave which thrives in full hot sun and tolerates extended drought. One of the most common agaves of the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico. Grows in the driest areas, often on limestone or caliche. Related to the common Agave americana. Used to make mescal.

Distinguished by a rough sandpapery texture on the surface of the leaves. Variable in leaf shape. Leaves are blue/gray/green and channeled. Rosettes are open with relatively few leaves.

One of the parents (with nickelsiae) of Sharkskin and related natural hybrids, which retain the rough leaf texture.

Formerly known as Agave scabra, which was originally described separately from Agave asperrima, when those two species were considered distinct. The name asperrima took precedence because scabra was already taken by a totally distinct Manfreda. Agave asperrima is not and has never been the plant formerly known as Manfreda scabra, recently reabsorbed into Agave. The Agave scabra described by Gentry (the subject of this entry) is different from the Agave scabra currently recognized as a former member of Manfreda.

[ Aloe (Aloe krapohliana var. dumoulinii) | Posted on February 28, 2018 ]

This dwarf form of Aloe krapohliana is from coastal Namaqualand in arid northwestern South Africa (a winter rainfall climate). It is an ornamental container plant with reliable, pretty red flowers but it tends to get lost in the landscape. Provide strong light and excellent drainage. Do not overwater.

[ Black-spined Aloe (Aloe melanacantha) | Posted on February 27, 2018 ]

Small green aloe with incurved leaves that have striking black spines along their margins and undersides. May be solitary or offsetting. From arid northwestern South Africa, a winter rainfall area. Red flowers opening to pale yellow appear on unbranched inflorescences in late fall/early winter. Leaves have a distinctly rough texture. Rosettes will close up on themselves and turn brown with drought stress.

Provide strong light and excellent drainage. Well suited to dry Mediterranean (winter rainfall) climates.

Aloe melanacantha can be distinguished from the closely related Aloe erinacea found to its north in Namibia based on size (bigger), color (green not gray), and leaf texture (rough). Aloe erinacea has formerly been treated as a variety of melanacantha.

[ Aloe (Aloe krapohliana) | Posted on February 26, 2018 ]

Small aloe with rounded, incurved leaves from arid northwestern South Africa. Color is gray/green/blue turning brown with sun or stress. Flowers are red, greenish at the mouth, and appear in the fall or winter. Leaves have fine marginal spines and may have transverse banding. The distinctive dwarf form (var. dumoulinii) from coastal Namaqualand is very ornamental and makes a long-lived container plant.

Slow growing and prone to rot if overwatered. Provide strong light and excellent drainage. May be best suited to dry Mediterranean (winter rainfall) climates, especially the dwarf form. Consider overhead protection in wetter climates.

[ Feather Cactus (Mammillaria plumosa) | Posted on February 26, 2018 ]

Low, furry, clumping Mammillaria from dry northeastern Mexico with white or pinkish flowers. A dry growing plant; provide excellent drainage and do not overwater. Avoid deep pots. Provide strong light; most pronounced plumage in full sun. Water the soil, not the plant, so that water does not accumulate under the feathery spines and cause complications. Easy to propagate by division. A great looking, low-care plant for exposed locations and a reliable (if sometimes a bit shy) bloomer.

[ Ladyfinger Cactus (Mammillaria elongata) | Posted on February 25, 2018 ]

Distinctive low, clumping cactus from central Mexico with cylindrical stems. Relatively common in cultivation. Various named and unnamed cultivars are available, but the most common forms locally have creamy yellow to orange-brown spines and whitish flowers. A version with red spines and flowers also exists. Large mature clumps can be quite striking.

The two subspecies (echinaria and elongata) occur together in habitat and can be distinguished based on the presence of 2-3 dark central spines (echinaria), the width of the stems, and the topography they prefer.

Easy to start from cuttings. Provide excellent drainage and strong light. Avoid deep pots. These plants thrive in day-long sun here and in habitat.

[ Partridge Breast Aloe (Gonialoe variegata) | Posted on February 23, 2018 ]

Small, tough, drought-resistant aloe from South Africa and Namibia with distinctive patterned green leaves that are V-shaped in cross section. Spineless. Flowers are red, rarely yellow. May be solitary or clumping.

This plant, among others, is known in South Africa as "kanniedood" (cannot die). Yet another example of a succulent that lives forever (in name anyway) to go along with Sempervivum and the siemprevivas (liveforevers), which also include a number of Sempervivum-like plants. For a long-lived garden aloe, provide excellent drainage and do not overwater.

Drought resistant. Widespread in habitat and variable in leaf shape, but not flowers.

Has absorbed the former Aloe ausana, a plant with long underground stolons from a particular winter rainfall area of Namibia. Aloe variegata was recently moved to the new genus Gonialoe ("angle aloe", presumably referring to the leaf shape), along with the former Aloe dinteri and Aloe sladeniana, smaller plants from Namibia which are uncommon in cultivation. These aloes have leaves that are V-shaped in cross section, flowers with outer tepals fused more than halfway, and relatively large fruits. The description of this new genus placed it closest to Tulista (ex-Haworthia spp.) and Aristaloe (ex-Aloe aristata).

[ Buddha Belly Plant (Jatropha podagrica) | Posted on February 22, 2018 ]

Ornamental pachycaul with a swollen base, deciduous leaves, and bright orange or red flowers. Native to Central America. Looks good when leafy, looks good when leafless (especially when grown to favor the bottle form), looks great in bloom. Relatively common in cultivation. Monoecious and self fertile.

The form of this plant can be quite different depending on where and how it's grown. In the ground, it loses its "fat" look and grows much taller (to about 6 feet). In containers, especially given limited space, it will be a stouter, shorter plant. You can also prune it to favor this form. Strong light and excellent drainage are important. Leaves may grow bigger in partially shaded locations.

In tropical climates this plant may flower and grow year round. In subtropical climates it may lose most or all of its leaves in the fall or winter. Do not overwater at this time. When the plant is in leaf and temperatures are warm, water regularly.

[ Lemon Ball (Parodia leninghausii) | Posted on February 19, 2018 ]

Yellow-spined cylindrical cactus (only a ball in its youth) from subtropical Brazil, with green stems and yellow flowers. May be solitary or branching, to about 2 feet tall and 3-4 inches wide. About 30-35 ribs; areoles closely spaced; spines relatively fine and flexible. One of the most common Parodias in cultivation.

[ Ball Cactus (Parodia magnifica) | Posted on February 17, 2018 ]

Relatively common glaucous blue-green cactus from subtropical Brazil with stems to about 6 inches wide and at least as tall. Yellow flowers, usually in profusion. May be solitary but often branches to form multi-headed clumps over time. Provide ample space in containers and in the ground to allow branching plants room to grow wide.

[ Old Man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus) | Posted on February 17, 2018 ]

One of the larger and more common Oreocereus species (also the type). This South American genus comes from higher elevations in the Andes. Like a few of the others, this species is covered by long, thick, white hair and armed with stout spines. This white hair may help it harvest humidity from the air when fog is present. Purplish pink flowers give rise to greenish globose fruit which detaches and releases black seeds from the base. May be self fertile.

Usually branches at the base. Stems grow to a few inches in diameter and a few feet in height over time.

Develops brighter, thicker, and fuller hair in full sun. The hair acts as a sunscreen, making the plant very tolerant of extreme exposure in mild climates.

[ Sausage Plant (Euphorbia makallensis) | Posted on February 12, 2018 ]

Mound-forming succulent Euphorbia with four-sided stems, short paired spines, and small yellow cyathia. Very similar to and easily confused with Euphorbia resinifera, a much more common plant in cultivation. Impressive in old age. From Ethiopia. Do not overwater.

[ Aloe (Aloe erinacea) | Posted on January 26, 2018 ]

Extra spiny aloe (like a hedgehog) with gray/green leaves that may grow as a solitary rosette to about 8-9 inches wide or in a tight clump. Very distinctive appearance. Slow growing. From Namibia, north of the Orange River, an area with very low rainfall, mostly in winter.

Excellent plant for extreme exposure situations. Well suited to dry Mediterranean (winter rainfall) climates. Drought tolerant. Provide excellent drainage.

Related to the similar looking A. melanacantha, from south of the Orange River in the winter rainfall part of South Africa. Aloe erinacea is a smaller plant, with paler, grayer leaves. The surface texture of its leaves is less rough, and the leaf sap is a brighter lemon yellow. The flowers are smaller. Both plants make bicolored flowers (red opening to yellow or pink/orange) in winter.

[ Cat's Tail Aloe (Aloe castanea) | Posted on January 25, 2018 ]

Tree aloe from South Africa which may grow upright to 8-12 feet tall or as a shrubby collection of heads. Usually branching near the base or above.

The inflorescence develops during winter as an unbranched, densely flowered spike with short, reddish brown, bell-like flowers. The inflorescence typically but not always has a characteristic oblique bend. Multiple heads in bloom can be quite striking. The flowers open from the bottom up with a wave of orange exserted stamens and great quantities of sticky nectar. They make excellent subjects for close up photography, especially when that nectar reflects or transmits the light.

One of a few aloes with similar flowers. Can be resolved from A. vryheidensis (South Africa) based on the shape of the rosette. Similar to A. tauri (Zimbabwe) which grows a much shorter stem, also to A. spicata (South Africa) which can grow an intermediate length stem and typically has smaller rosettes.

Like some of these other aloes, its leaves may turn intense orange and red colors in response to stress, especially drought stress. This colorful foliage can provide striking seasonal interest in the garden.

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