Healthier, Happier Succulents!

March 27, 2018

By Martin Quigley 

Thanks to Linda McNally (pictured below) and her skilled team of volunteers and student workers, our succulent and cactus collection is growing healthier and more spectacular than ever before. There has been constant improvement both in the nursery and greenhouses, at the Horticulture Offices patio and in the hillside gardens at Norrie’s and on the dam.

Many specimens have spent years in pots and are clearly delighted to have their roots in the ground and a chance to grow to their full potential. Other succulents have been divided and rooted and are offered for sale at Norrie’s, individually or in a variety of dish gardens.

Linda McNally

The cool weather has brought out the reds and purples in many species’ leaves and stems. Others, particularly the cacti, have swelling buds and have started to bloom. Cactus flowers have brilliant, sometimes almost fluorescent colors. Individual blooms don’t last very long—some for a couple of weeks, and others, such as the Cereus, for only one night and day. But they all put on a brilliant show to attract their pollinators. We plant nerds wait all year for our cacti to bloom, however briefly!

Our Agaves and Aloes, both old and new, are responding to the late rains by putting on new growth and sending up flower spikes, some of which will last for weeks or even months. It’s definitely worth a visit to see these sculptural beauties at all stages. We will be selling offshoots from some of our collections. Keep in mind that Cactus and Agave families are native to the New World only, while Aloes are from the Old World, many of them from South Africa. Euphorbia is cosmopolitan (occurring globally), though most of our specimens are from Africa. And, join our excitement as we continue to plant out more unusual and fascinating succulents!

succulentEven more good news about our wonderful succulent collections. Hundreds of Echeveria, Cactus, Euphorbia, Gasteria, and other species from around the world are housed in the nursery area, safely locked in the “Echeveria House.” These are astonishing, unique, and rare plants—and people want to see them! However, since most of these wonders are small and in pots, theft is always an issue. Most botanic gardens have displays that separate the public from such plants with wire mesh, glass panels, or very wide aisles. Others have greenhouses that are open only occasionally, and only for docent-led groups. Thanks to the generosity of the Monterey Bay Cactus and Succulent Society and of the Ray Collett Trust, we will soon have our own safe and attractive way to display these plants to our visitors. The Collett Trust has financed the construction of a wide concrete platform running the entire length of the Echeveria House, on its south outer side. Next will be the installation of polycarbonate panels, vertically mounted at viewing height, so that the entire house will be visible from the exterior, and with the most special collections closest to the visitor. The MBCSS is donating the materials for this viewing panel, and construction will be in-house, with student and volunteer labor.

Linda McNally and her crew of volunteers have cleaned, re-potted, and re-labeled all the plants, which are now thriving. Having these specimens in public view will be another milestone in the Arboretum’s quest to refresh our botanical displays and preserve our botanic legacy for the future.