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Photos, musings, and flashes of brilliance from the staff at The Ruth Bancroft Garden
The Ice Plant Family, Aizoaceae, has more species of succulents than any family except the Cactus Family. A large percentage of these come from South Africa, including Corpuscularia lehmannii, pictured here. It is a carpet-type prostrate speader with white flowers, and has a long blooming period in the summer and fall.
-Brian

The Ice Plant Family, Aizoaceae, has more species of succulents than any family except the Cactus Family. A large percentage of these come from South Africa, including Corpuscularia lehmannii, pictured here. It is a carpet-type prostrate speader with white flowers, and has a long blooming period in the summer and fall.

-Brian

Opuntia lucotricha, from central Mexico, is one of the trunk-forming species. One of the nice things about Opuntias is that they provide color in the garden twice a year - first when they flower and then again when their fruit ripens. O. lucotricha has yellow flowers is the spring, and pale yellow fruit in the fall. “Leucotricha” means white hairs, and this refers to the persistent old spines on the trunk which give it a fuzzy look.

-Brian

Mestoklema is an interesting genus in the Ice Plant Family (Aizoaceae) with greatly enlarged roots which can be exposed to show them off (one of the few groups in the ice plant family which can be seen in displays of caudiciforms at plant shows). The plant shown is Mestoklema tuberosum, with small orange flowers, succulent leaves, and attractive peeling bark on its swollen reddish roots. From South Africa.

-Brian

Opuntia robusta is a large species from central Mexico, notable for its large round bluish pads and its fat purple or reddish-purple fruit. Pictured here are 2 different forms, one with longer spines and darker purple fruit, and the other with short spines and redder fruit. We feature this species on our fruit-tasting tour (this year, it will be on Oct. 18), because the fruit is very juicy and tasty - once the pesky spines have been removed.

-Brian

Mammillaria is one of the largest genera in the cactus family, with the majority of the species coming from Mexico. One of the nice things about this genus is that different species flower at different times of the year, so that one or another of them is in flower over most of the year. This one came without a name, but we think it is Mammillaria polythele, from east-central Mexico.
-Brian

Mammillaria is one of the largest genera in the cactus family, with the majority of the species coming from Mexico. One of the nice things about this genus is that different species flower at different times of the year, so that one or another of them is in flower over most of the year. This one came without a name, but we think it is Mammillaria polythele, from east-central Mexico.

-Brian

Sometimes damage to an inflorescence on an agave can cause it to make bulbils, even if the species is not one which normally makes them. In this case, the flower stalk of Agave xylonacantha was broken off when it was only part-way up, so that only a modest number of flower clusters were produced. Bulbils began to form after the flowers, as if the plant was turning to an alternate means of perpetuating itself when the amount of flowers was drastically reduced by the breakage. The flowers came in 2013, so these bulbils have been forming for over a year. They are already showing the wild teeth that are characteristic of the species.
-Brian

Sometimes damage to an inflorescence on an agave can cause it to make bulbils, even if the species is not one which normally makes them. In this case, the flower stalk of Agave xylonacantha was broken off when it was only part-way up, so that only a modest number of flower clusters were produced. Bulbils began to form after the flowers, as if the plant was turning to an alternate means of perpetuating itself when the amount of flowers was drastically reduced by the breakage. The flowers came in 2013, so these bulbils have been forming for over a year. They are already showing the wild teeth that are characteristic of the species.

-Brian

Echeveria affinis is a wonderful species from northwestern Mexico with very dark leaves and vivid red flowers. It is usually sold under the cultivar name ‘Black Knight’. Some sources list ‘Black Knight’ as a hybrid of E. affinis, but it appears to be the true species judging by its leaves and its flowers. It is unfortunate that our hard water at the Ruth Bancroft Garden leaves spots on the leaves, but this is a fact of life here.

-Brian

Euphorbia horrida, from South Africa, is quite variable. While some forms have dark red flowers, the plant pictured has green flowers (actually cyathia, the term for the specialized structures which hold the tiny flowers). E. horrida is one of the euphorbias whose old flower stalks harden to become spines, and it is interesting to note that other kinds of euphorbias have spines of an entirely different type.
-Brian

Euphorbia horrida, from South Africa, is quite variable. While some forms have dark red flowers, the plant pictured has green flowers (actually cyathia, the term for the specialized structures which hold the tiny flowers). E. horrida is one of the euphorbias whose old flower stalks harden to become spines, and it is interesting to note that other kinds of euphorbias have spines of an entirely different type.

-Brian

The group of aloes sometimes called the rambling aloes has now been re-classified as a separate genus, Aloiampelos. With this new nomenclature, the plant pictured is now Aloiampelos tenuior var. rubriflora. It is similar to its relative Aloiampelos (Aloe) ciliaris, except that the leaves are smaller and narrower, and the flowers are also much smaller. From South Africa.
-Brian

The group of aloes sometimes called the rambling aloes has now been re-classified as a separate genus, Aloiampelos. With this new nomenclature, the plant pictured is now Aloiampelos tenuior var. rubriflora. It is similar to its relative Aloiampelos (Aloe) ciliaris, except that the leaves are smaller and narrower, and the flowers are also much smaller. From South Africa.

-Brian

Until recently, Nolina was placed in the family Nolinaceae, along with Beaucarnea (Pony-tail Palm), Dasylirion (Sotol) and Calibanus. The new arrangement sweeps up a whole bunch of former families into a greatly enlarged Asparagaceae, including the Agavaceae and the Nolinaceae, so that these former families are now classed as subfamilies. With this system, Nolina is in the subfamily Nolinoideae within the Asparagaceae, but the new subfamily is exactly the same as the old Nolina family. All species in the Nolinoideae/Nolinaceae have separate male and female plants, though it normally is not possible to tell which is which until they flower. The plant pictured is a female specimen of Nolina matapensis, native to northwestern Mexico. It is at the stage where the seed capsules are developing, and the flower plume is still quite full; if it were a male plant, there would be no capsules present, and the inflorescence would look sparse and threadbare by now. N. matapensis is one of the large species which form trunks in time, but the long leaves and the thatch of the old leaves keep the trunk hidden from view until the plant is quite old (the plant pictured is now about 10 feet tall - not counting the flower stalk - and was planted in 1976 as a 3-year-old seedling).
-Brian

Until recently, Nolina was placed in the family Nolinaceae, along with Beaucarnea (Pony-tail Palm), Dasylirion (Sotol) and Calibanus. The new arrangement sweeps up a whole bunch of former families into a greatly enlarged Asparagaceae, including the Agavaceae and the Nolinaceae, so that these former families are now classed as subfamilies. With this system, Nolina is in the subfamily Nolinoideae within the Asparagaceae, but the new subfamily is exactly the same as the old Nolina family. All species in the Nolinoideae/Nolinaceae have separate male and female plants, though it normally is not possible to tell which is which until they flower. The plant pictured is a female specimen of Nolina matapensis, native to northwestern Mexico. It is at the stage where the seed capsules are developing, and the flower plume is still quite full; if it were a male plant, there would be no capsules present, and the inflorescence would look sparse and threadbare by now. N. matapensis is one of the large species which form trunks in time, but the long leaves and the thatch of the old leaves keep the trunk hidden from view until the plant is quite old (the plant pictured is now about 10 feet tall - not counting the flower stalk - and was planted in 1976 as a 3-year-old seedling).

-Brian