Over the last 6 months, I’ve really had to up my game around my general plant knowledge. Working in a garden center, I can be asked a question about anything in the store (or even not in the store). While it’s OK if I don’t know, it’s easier if I do.
A tactic I’ve used to increase my knowledge is to ‘deep dive’ into a category of plant. For the last few weeks, I’ve been diving into succulents. Last week, my little deep dive took me 30 pages into the Succulents and Cacti section on TradeMe. I didn’t purchase anything, but I did learn a lot.
My little collection
I’ve got a little succulent collection. Some were here when we arrived at the property. Some I’ve had for years. Others, we’ve been gifted along the way. Or, I saw them at work and decided to give them a new home.
For most of my life I’ve thought of succulents as just a general category. I haven’t thought about the species of plant within that category. But that’s changing. The fact is, it’s a category of plant you could spend half your life learning about, without running out of things to learn.
So I thought I’d run through some of my favourites in the collection today. Because I’m me, many of them have second uses. Some are food, some are medicine. The plants I collected historically almost always have these features. It’s only more recently I’m learning to love plants for their beauty, as well as their utility.
This is one of my oldest succulents. It’s also the most ‘useful’, which is why I’ve had it so long. Aloe should grow in every home as far as I’m concerned. It’s proven and well-renowned as a healer of burns – including household burns and sunburn.
It’s also dead-easy to grow. Use a succulent mix, pumice, or sand. Keep it somewhere warm and dry, with a bit of shade in the afternoons. Throw a glass of water on it every couple of weeks in summer. Keep it out of frost in winter.
Aloe comes in a range of types, but I have one which doesn’t have a lot of spikes. I’m not 100% which type it is, but it soothes the burn, and that’s what counts.
Haworthia truncata (Horse’s teeth)
This one was given to me by the same work colleague who gave me my Xeronema callistemon. It’s been sitting with my succulents for a few months now and has recently begun flowering little dainty white-and-yellow flowers.
It’s a very small succulent – I don’t know if it’s ever going to get much larger than it is today. But it’s pretty.
Plectranthus tomentosa (Vicks plant)
This is a very cool succulent that I picked up from Subtropica a few years ago. I’ve got one large mother plant and lots and lots of rooted cuttings.
For those familiar with a little plant latin, you may already know from the name that the leaves on Vicks plant are hairy. They also smell exactly like Vicks Vaporub. Reportedly, you can mix the leaves with Vaseline and make your own Vicks rub. I’ve not tried that, but I’m keen to find a way to do it that doesn’t involve petroleum-based products.
In spring and summer, the Vicks plant puts out electric blue flowers which are quite delightful.
Opuntia (Prickly pear)
A little over a year ago, I listened to this episode of The Plants We Eat Podcast on prickly pear. Almost immediately, I purchased some pads from TradeMe. Then I got sent an extra one by a Twitter follower.
They didn’t do much until spring 2020. Then, they suddenly exploded. Pads as large as the originals were springing up overnight. Now, I have 4 healthy and happy prickly pear plants. No sign of fruit yet, but maybe that will come when I find the perfect spot for them.
Echinopsis pachanoi (San Pedro cactus)
I went ahead and purchased this one after reading a blog by Abby Jury about them. I’d known about them for longer, but had avoided owning one because they’re a little sketchy and easily stolen.
San Pedro cactus can be processed into a hallucinogenic. I don’t judge the hobbies of others, but I’m not really one for enjoying hallucinogens myself. Plus I’ve heard the process also involves a lot of vomiting, so I’m not very interested in that.
However, these cacti grow really fast, prolifically, and have beautiful, sweet-scented flowers. I purchased one pup from TradeMe, and then Richard and I were given a chunk about a meter long by a neighbour. We have 3 right now, and I’m thinking about turning that into several more next year.
This plant is a mystery to me. Again, I was given this. The person who gave it to me thinks it’s a Gasteria. I’m inclined more towards Rabiea or Sinocrassula.
The plant itself got some frost damage over winter before it arrived in my greenhouse. I love the colours and randomness of it. But I have no freaking idea what it is! Can you help? Do you know? Please leave a comment with your thoughts!
One thing I’ve been pondering is the idea of a succulent swap. Where pups, props, and cuttings could be sent to fellow enthusiasts. It wouldn’t be too difficult for me to send a small box of succulents somewhere around the country, and getting a box in return would be pretty neat.
Does this already exist? Should I do it? I’d probably organise it either via Twitter or Instagram, so if it’s something you’re interested in, leave a comment with your username/s and it might be something I do later this year.
Have you got something you think I should have? Do I have something you want? If you’d like to prop-swap with me in the meantime, leave a comment and I’ll email you privately.