Though it seems almost sacrilegious to remove the hypnotic scarlet from the flowers, I think this is a particularly pleasing B&W by the lovely R. I used to think of monochrome as earplugs for the eyes- visual impoverishment- and I still think it's abused by the unscrupulous... but I'm coming round.
* MORE SUCCULENTS & ALOES HERE *
Happy 2014! It's always auspicious to start a new calendar year with something living and blooming so I hope this takes the edge off your hangover. Will post some more serialization soon, just finishing off painting the bedroom. Black. Ah ha ha ha ha!
Their flowers range from startling silvery white to lipstick pink and safety yellow all the way down to murky blood-drenched purple. Anyone new to the cactus game could do worse than to start with this group, given their ease of cultivation (none required, really) and gratifying floriferousness.
I've not managed to kill any yet, so you should be alright.
Another beautiful montane aloe from Madagascar. There is considerable confusion between this species and Aloe altimatsiatrae, which, according to AtDGuide, possesses 'longer leaves, taller inflorescence and more distinctly yellow flowers with outer tepals free to the base instead of only halfway.' if that helps anyone. It probably does if you're lucky enough to be in possession of both species; sadly, I am not. The image of altimatsiatre in AtDGuide does seem to show a larger, laxer plant with more extensive flowers and about twice the number of buds, so I'm happy that the individual above is fievetii.
In the wild this variety occurs only on Fianarantsoa's granite rocks at around 1200m altitude alongside aloe capitata, placing it squarely in that charmed clade of 'goldilocks' (not too hot, not too cold) aloes that will survive and indeed seem to require cooler conditions for optimal health, with desert growers reporting limited success and often gradual decline. Being directly beside the sea and experiencing a temperature range of about 35(extreme max) to say, 15˚C in summer, and 15 down to 0˚C in winter with decent humidity all year, our situation is probably right up fievetii's alley. The leaves become tinged with bronze in summer.
It remains outdoors all year round under a polycarbonate roof, unheated and sheltered only from the rain and hail. When this specimen has put on more heads than I can deal with I'll plant some in the aloe garden out front, since it grows freely from cuttings. When I think about it, this is one of my most trouble-free and easygoing species.
* More Aloes Here *
Finally coming out. We've just switched from a Nikon D70 to a D300 and an actual grown-up lens.
Wondering which model to go for? More about that soon.
* More Plants Here *
My plant, showing the texture apparent even in a young caudex.
For those of us who enjoy a bit of vegetal strange, the genus Dioscorea really ticks the boxes in both its habits and appearance. Dioscorea elephantipes, (syn. Testudinaria elephantipes) is variously known as the Elephant's Foot, the Elephant Yam, Hottentot Bread etc both because of its distinctive tortoise-like corky, fissured caudex and the fact that a starchy heart dwells beneath them, supposedly consumed by Bushmen in times of hardship. The caudex or lump stores water and carbs on behalf of the plant and allows it to survive the extreme conditions that occur in its natural habitat, namely the Clanwilliam district of the Western Cape, extending over into the Eastern Cape; not an area renowned for environmental largesse. In situ it experiences torrential thunderstorms, baking daytime temps and frosty winters, no place for a delicate flower of any description and I can testify that elephantipes is one tough nut, even in the hands of a dufus like myself.
Like many desert plants they have a dormancy period when visible growth ceases with the intent of riding out the worst of whatever conditions it experiences. In the case of elephantipes, that would be a waterless and 40˚C summer, a reversal of the dormancy many other succulents or xerophytes exhibit and it can be a bit of a shock when the rather frilly and extensive vine sprouting from a growth point near the top of the caudex declines, shrivels and drops dead at what seems like the peak season for other fatties. Do not be alarmed; this simply means that your yam is happy and everything is going well. Down here in its native hemisphere my vine starts to turn yellow, lose its leaves and go into dormancy at the end of November, the start of the hottest weather. When it was sent down to me a few years back from the (subtropical) north of New Zealand, it sulked for a year, missing an entire growing season; this is apparently normal for a plant shifted to a new climatic situation, so if it happens to you, just put the dormant caudex in half shade, water it very lightly now and then and be patient. One day you'll come out and find a glossy brown vine bud poking out of the corky grey canyons and this will branch in no time to the kind of structure in the first photo. Not achieving dormancy is said to reduce the plant's otherwise considerable lifespan, which may be as much as a century.
The caudex doesn't enjoy being cooked in full, hot sunlight so ensure it's either shaded by its vine or adjacent plants. Bury it by at least a third in its potting mix so that the roots, which emerge quite laterally from the base of the plant, can engage the soil properly. I personally mound a bit of pumice around and beneath all caudex just to be on the safe side since I tend to overwater. They do best in the ground where they can access moisture and expand to their starchy little heart's content, in time becoming enormous, up to a (slightly apocryphal, IMO) metre high. The flowers are small, fluffy looking, greenish-yellow and produced in winter and you'll need both male and female plants to produce seed. Large potted Dioscorea become too heavy to lift so keep that in mind if you need to shift yours; we seldom dip below 0˚C, so mine stays outdoors all year round and seems perfectly happy.
I highly recommend elephantipes as an enduringly appealing and easycare succulent that rewards the grower amply for the scant attention it requires. There are other, equally spectacular members of the Dioscorea family in cultivation and they are also worth a look if a nice fat caudex is your thing.
I went outside today and discovered that mine had met with an 'accident' (side-eye in a certain direction) and had its vine snapped off at the base =( I hope it puts out another before the next dormant period. Doh. And I should add that I welcome comments on all the flora posts (love to hear other people's experiences) and in fact will just go off now and open comments on previous ones.
I was astonished by the beauty of this species when I unpacked it a year or so ago, having known little to nothing about it aside from the few (crap) photos I had seen. This plant originates in Angola, according to Aloes the Definitive Guide, in the Cuanza Norte district, Pungo Andongo, which I can find little about, aside from the fact that it seems to enjoy an altitude of about 900m and contains the incredibly strange Black Rocks formation.
Aloe Andongensis is a variable complex with a subspecies called repens; AtDGuide reports that the latter lives at 1-1500 m on granite hills, has prostrate stems, glaucous-looking leaves and a wider, laxer spread. So my plant is the species proper and not the repens variety: it scarcely merits that epithet anyway, being bolt upright.
Angola is generally moderate-tropical with a hot wet season and a cooler dry. Surprising then that Andongensis is doing so well in a place where some southern species purportedly much more equipped to deal with low temps have failed. The altitude suggested by the little I can ascertain about its native province must put it in the same class as the montane Madagascan aloes which thrive here, so I've once again struck it lucky.
Aloe Andongensis is an extremely ornate, almost jewelled plant that takes on a pronounced golden hue in warmer weather and bright sunlight (these pics were taken in autumn when the phenomenon is not so marked). At the peak of summer it almost seems to glow against a dark background and this colour combination is pretty unique amongst aloes, setting it aside from anything else in my collection, anyway. Its waxy emerald leaves are edged with small stud-like yellow teeth and are spotted pale gold, apparently reaching an ultimate height of about 80cm and forming stalky clumps on which the stems are largely bare. Mine is currently about 50cm high, having almost doubled its size in a single growing season.
Even without curatorial attention it has a bonsai-like demeanour with stratified rosettes and plump, plasticky leaves. It would certainly look beautiful massed in a planting and I intend to do this seeing that there is, in fact, a cactus palace on the cards after all, in spite of my protestations to the contrary. Mine has yet to flower but the images I have seen show something like the semi-capitate, bicolour orange/green heads of Aloe Mitriformis, which is definitely something to look forward to. I moved it to the pot you see here from something half the size upon arrival and it has responded to the extra root room in short order. The recipe is very porous; half large-grade pumice, half cacti mix. I watered about once a week in summer and finished up late autumn; it's had nothing over winter, being dormant, under cover in half-shade but still exposed to low ambient tempts (down to about 2ºC) which doesn't seemed to have bothered it in the least. No shriveling, discolouration, black spotting or necrotic tips. So possibly a species to try for those of you who linger, like moi, on the edge of climatic viability. I will add flower pics to this post when my plant obliges.
Aloe descoingsii is, I believe, the smallest living aloe and a real challenge to photograph successfully. There is something about its squat, stacked form and incredibly cryptic texture and colouration that seems to defeat attempts to picture it in any accurate or constructive way.
Our plant, pictured here, is just 4cm across the largest rosette and is beginning to pup. It flowered over summer, putting out a spectacular fly-rod truss almost 25cm long, weighted down at the end with beautiful, lantern-like blooms in waxy apricot and saffron.
Aloe Descoingsii hails from Madagascar, that land of all things vegetatively fabulous, gowing, according to 'Aloes the Definitive Guide' in humus-filled cavities on the face of limestone cliffs at an altitude of 350m. There is a subspecies, Augustina, from up the road a bit in the same province, Toliara.
I've had mine for a little over a year and it's presented no cultvational problems (so far), perhaps because it lives inside here. I suspect it's a little more tropically-inclined than many of my other Madagascan aloes, which evolved at higher altitudes, so I cosset it a wee bit. Half day shade, water maybe three times a month over summer and not at all over winter, very open soil mix with plenty of pumice. I've begun a blood and bone meal feeding regime, a liberal dressing once a year in spring, which seems to be yielding great results especially in regards to flowering. For a small pot like this I would scatter about half a teaspoon of dry meal, being careful not to deposit it on the plant or around it's basal area, watering it in well.
© céili o'keefe.
A charming little spotted aloe from Toliara province in south west Madagascar, found in the wild growing on rocky sandstone at around 1000m, according to 'Aloes the Definitive Guide'.
It is rather lizardy in appearance, having a slightly roughened skin; the spots are raised and able to be detected by the fingers on the surface of the leaf. To about 20cm across. In cultivation I have found it relatively uncomplicated, although it seems to prefer a modest amount of direct sunlight in our high-UV conditions, and will stay the lovely celadon green seen here in the midst of the rosette if given shade, rather than going fawn as the sunned specimens are wont to do.
Perhaps not a total beginner's plant; it is a species that will let you know quite swiftly if there is something untoward about its conditions, getting serious brown shriveling of the leaves if under or overwatered, and seeming to prefer a very open soil mixture with plenty of large pumice pieces to aerate the roots.
I keep it on the dry side and on the windowsill so I can enjoy its complicated textures and pretty colouration. Some plants will apparently sucker but mine has remained solitary, flowering regularly once a year; this is the first year the inflorescence has branched. The spike has a curious and quite uncanny mobility, swaying like a slo-mo cobra as it grows and completing a north to south change in orientation within the course of single day here, for no apparent reason. The flowers themselves are particularly delicate and drop copious amounts of nectar on anything lying beneath so keep that in mind; I have to shift my Echeveria 'Giant Mexico' out of the way to prevent the drops marring the farinaceous leaves, and I've found (the hard way) that some aloe nectar will strip the finish off certain items of furniture if allowed to harden.
It would make some lovely hybrids. To my eye it seems obviously related to Aloe Laeta as well as Imalotensis etc, sharing its shagreeny texture and tiny saw teeth, but what do I know?
Having 'gotten into' succulent plants some ten or so years ago, the inevitable snowballing of a brief enthusiasm into massive, verging-on pathological preoccupation is now in full flight. I would say for myself that I'm not quite at the stage where I'm remortgaging the house in order to construct some enormous centrally heated winter palace-type arrangement for our plants, as others have done before me, but I will admit to pandering to one hundred or so species of aloes and cacti. Many more have either passed through my hands on their way to a more suitable home, or into a giant composty tomb in the sky, so I feel justified in considering that the training wheels have come off to some extent. The mere fact of admitting that survival is more about your ambient conditions than any supernatural ability on your part is half the battle.
I will be posting about these incredible beings from time to time, as I know I am by no means alone in my insanity and there is often a dearth of people to consult in one's immediate vicinity; having learned a lot from many online sources I feel it behoves to give back a wee bit. It's also our good fortune to have obtained a copy of Aloes the Definitive Guide (Carter, Lavranos, Newton, Walker; Kew) and thus we have an impeccable contemporary source to quote from into the bargain.
Anyhoo, let us begin with one of the many species coming into flower with the cooler weather.
Aloe Gilbertii is a large (to 150cm) shrubby number branching from the base in a more or less upright manner, producing huge, tiered flower stems exceeding a metre high in come cases. I'd say mine is approaching that though it is still a young plant. Leaves are quite deeply recurved with a smooth matte texture, the odd pale spot (sometimes) and I'd call them a medium lizard green with the suggestion of glaucous bloom, especially in a sheltered specimen. Flowers are red and green, almost like a gasteria's whilst in development, ripening to bright crimson.
Hailing from acacia scrub and highland hillsides in Ethiopia at up to 1400m in altitude, I have found it unfussy, at least here, where conditions are probably quite similar to its native clime; I grow it outside
in terracotta using 1/2 proprietary cacti mix + 1/2 large grade pumice with a small yearly dressing of dry blood and bone.Weekly water in summer, monthly heading into winter, then a winter dry rest of around 3 months.
I bring all but my hardiest aloes under cover during wet weather in winter; we don't really get down to fatal temps here, seldom nearing 0C, but cold plus wet is broad-spectrum killer to be avoided if at all possible. I suspect Gilbertii would be perfectly fine if planted out kindly but don't intent to risk it until I have a back up underway. All in all, a very promising plant relatively new to cultivation with some lovely features. Try it if you can find it: I believe suckers and tissue culture pups are becoming available from specialty nurseries.
I'd like to pay tribute to my lovely collaborator Bowery, the eye behind this shot. He's the technical genius and it really takes two of us to operate a camera to best advantage; he is the geek nazi and I am the composition diva. I'm also a cactus freak with a large collection of aloes and cacti proper and he is constantly sloping amongst them clicking away and muttering profanities as he is spiked or somehow abraded. I will be posting pictures of the plants from my collection and discussing their cultivation etc; down here we are at the edge of what is possible outdoors regarding many species and I hope my experiences and failures will help inform what is a large and diverse succulent-fancying community, particularly novices like moi.
This echinocereus species is moderately common in cultivation and I find it hardy, unfussy and rewarding, though at the moment my own long-suffering 'chino is besieged by mealy bugs after a long, warm summer and autumn. And being placed next to a mealy typhoid mary in the shape of a ferocactus who will remain nameless. I just manually squish mealy bugs to the best of my ability and hope for the best, but as my collection grows I foresee them becoming a serious pest. If anyone has nontoxic suggestions for dealing with them, I'm all ears.