When the Succulents come out to play

Despite their often gruff appearance,
succulents have a tender, flowery heart

Succulents are split-personality plants, scornful and hostile one day, inviting and flirtatious the next. Cacti, a member of the succulent family, in particular sport razor thorns that warn strangers not to come near, but then, maybe the next day, or month or year, will set seductive flowers that whisper, “Come closer and look at me, baby.”

This most common succulent is
a “mother in law’s tongue” or “snake
plant.” Most common until this
morning, when it sprouted
a beautiful plume of flowers. 

Ever since we moved to the ranch about seven years ago, we’ve collected a motley and growing group of succulents, some of which we keep in pots, others outside in the ground. At first, our attraction to succulents was a response to the semi-arid terrain around us which stifles all but the hardiest vegetation. We get a fair amount of annual precipitation, between twenty and twenty-five inches, but it comes in one three- to four-month drench.

The rest of the year, when there’s practically no rain, and even a few nights below freezing, it’s a game of survival. There’s no time for showing off, and succulents turn inward, living off the rain they’ve stored in their fleshy leaves or wherever. Many succulents, even some bowling ball-size barrel cacti, don’t make it.

Right now, after a couple of decent rains, the survivors are coming alive and celebrating by popping flowers, but you need to pay attention because many of these enchanting displays are but one-night affairs.

Yesterday afternoon a potted cactus sitting by the dining room door sent off an amazing white flower, that this morning awakened modestly folded up.

It might reopen tonight or be gone forever. I’ve even read of succulents whose flowers open up only at night, when they mount their own private show under the moonlight.

This elusive flower, atop a nasty-looking cactus,
opened last night, folded this morning but now
it’s open again. Who knows. 

Before you conclude I’m a seasoned succulent-ologist, let me make it clear that my cactus collection is a most unscientific and garbled affair. I don’t know the names of ninety percent of my succulents. The botanical names are too weird to remember, even when I manage to pin them down.

For example, the Euphorbia gang, like the sparrow family, seems to have a hundred different members, sometimes very similar to one another, other times not at all alike.
Too much for an old brain. If anyone reads this and wants to submit corrections to my botanical Latin, please go for it. I won’t be offended.

Félix and I call this a “brain cactus.” That’s all we
know, other than it’s beautiful. 

I troll the local nurseries looking for any succulent I like and don’t have. I’ve found some samples while traveling in Michoacán, Guerrero or Mexico City. Succulents and cacti are tough to find because they are slow-growing and the profit margins are thin, and apparently not many people are interested in them.

That’s too bad. Succulents are hardy plants, require little water or attention and can sit on a window sill minding their own business when the weather is miserable outside.

They’ll keep their distance but one day, when you least expect it, present you with the most beautiful bouquet.

I believe this guy belongs to the
“mammilaria” family. Right now it’s
setting tiny purple flowers.

This cactus, about the size of a baseball, looks like a miniature barrel cactus. It’s about to set flowers, probably bright purple, that will cover its head. 

The cascading number is a common
“donkey’s tail” or ‘Sedum
Morganianum”, probably after someone
last-named Morgan.  I don’t know
the names of the other ones. 

3 thoughts on “When the Succulents come out to play

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