Dudleyas: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties

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Dudleyas, one of the signature native succulents of the Californias, are popular regionally because they are so practical in the dry-summer climate. They may be less well known outside the area, in part because of their preference for dry summers and mild, wet winters. But they can thrive anywhere if you can provide strong light, mild temperatures, excellent drainage, and regular water when the soil is dry.

These rosette succulents are mostly native to California and Baja California, though they also extend into Oregon and Arizona. Most species are found along the coast or on offshore islands, where they experience regular fog, high humidity, winter rainfall, and summer drought. The few whose range extends inland tolerate greater temperature extremes.

They vary in size from miniature (the Hasseanthus group, with no above ground stem) to medium size (D. brittonii, which can grow to a couple of feet wide). The leaves may or may not have a white powdery dusting. Flowers, which are useful for identification, may be open (flat), closed (tubular) or intermediate, and they attract hummingbirds.

In mild coastal climates, Dudleyas enjoy plenty of exposure, up to day-long sun, especially the powder-dusted species. They are generally salt-tolerant and well-suited for oceanside gardens. Where summer heat is an issue, they will require some protection, but strong light is important for health and proper form. Dudleyas prefer excellent drainage and enjoy regular water during their period of active growth (fall through spring). But do not mistake summer dormancy for thirst -- it is quite the opposite.

Dudleyas are excellent container plants and will grow to quite different sizes depending on the size of the container, being dwarfed in small containers and exuberant in larger ones. In mild areas they are very practical landscape plants which require little or no summer irrigation. They are ideally suited to Mediterranean (dry-summer) climates. They do not do well with much summer rain, so provide overhead protection at that time of year if necessary. Dudleyas are not recommended as indoor plants unless you can provide hours of sun each day during the winter months.

Container Dudleyas require vigilance for the presence of insect pests. Immature inflorescences often attract aphids. The farinaceous species are particularly vulnerable to attack by mealy bugs, because the bugs are camouflaged against the white background. Insect damage to the core may be so severe that the growth point disappears, but much of the time the plant will respond by branching.

Seeds are small, almost dust-like, but seedlings can be quick (1-2 years) to grow full sized rosettes. Hybrids are occasionally seen where two species bloom together. The species which branch can be easily propagated from cuttings in the fall or winter. The species which do not branch can be forced by coring.

No Dudleyas outside the Hasseanthus group can be propagated from leaves. Hasseanthus is said to bloom at 5 months of age with good greenhouse care, and lose its leaves in the spring. The other plants in the genus may bloom within their first year from seed, provided nursery care.

Dudleya can be divided into three subgenera: Hasseanthus (a small group of plants with no above-ground stem), Stylophyllum (plants with open flowers), and Dudleya (plants with tubular or cup-shaped flowers). The greatest number of species are in the latter subgenus. Hasseanthus is quite rare in cultivation.

Dudleya is related to other New World Crassulaceae including Echeveria, which is separate geographically (found on mainland Mexico and parts south, not on the peninsula of Baja California). It may be difficult to distinguish the two genera without floral features. Echeveria flowers are always tubular, while Dudleya flowers may be tubular, flat, or cup-shaped.

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