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Succulents, Fibonacci and Spiral Phyllotaxis

Many cacti and succulents form geometric spirals similar to those of sunflowers, pine cones and nautilus shells. Spiral leaf arrangements funnel rain to roots, and keep upper leaves from shading lower ones.

The arrangement of a plant’s leaves along the stem is phyllotaxis (from ancient Greek, phýllon “leaf” and táxis “arrangement”). Mathematically, spiral phyllotaxis follows a Fibonacci sequence, such as 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. Each subsequent number is the sum of the two preceding ones.

There’s a hypnotic beauty about spiral phyllotaxis, not to mention it’s a great word to impress friends with. As is the puzzling-to-pronounce Fibonacci (fee-bo-NACH-ee), who was a 12th-century Italian mathematician.

Perhaps the best known succulent to do this is aptly name spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla). Unfortunately it’s devilishly tricky to grow, making it the Holy Grail of succulents. (If you can grow a spiral aloe, you can grow anything.)

Aloe polyphylla, also known as Spiral Aloe

I’m fond of spherical cacti because of how their spines spiral—in fact, I almost prefer the plants out of bloom. These are mammillarias. I show a cool way to display them in another article, Create a Cactus Curio Box. And I describe the growing popularity of these photogenic plants in Is Cactus the New Black?

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Sempervivum arachnoideum, cactus spiral

Sempervivum arachnoideum, cactus spiral

Sempervivums (hens-and-chicks) also spiral beautifully. Squint at this photo and you’ll see how similar it is to the center of a sunflower.

Sempervivum arachnoideum, cactus spiral

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Medusa euphorbias, known for their craggy, snakelike stems, each has a spiral at its center. No two are the same, and seldom do you find one that’s perfect.

Medusa euphorbia

Have you noticed spiral phyllotaxis in your own garden? Do look for it. You may be surprised at how it jumps out at you, once you’re aware of it. For example, this common succulent (Graptopetalum paraguayense) exhibits spiraling, albeit more subtly than the examples above.

You may even see it on nonorganic items, like book bags. 

Related Info

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If you enjoy gardening,you’ve no doubt experienced how it can be a form of meditation and a treat for all the senses. But have you considered how simply looking at certain plants induces a feeling of serenity? You can discover this simply by enhancing a sitting area with succulents that incorporate geometric patterns and spirals…[Continue reading]
 
Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) showed few cacti—mainly golden barrels. A decade later, the completely revised second edition devotes 15 pages to numerous varieties of spiny succulents in gardens large and small. [Continue reading]


 

Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

Learn more about Debra Lee Baldwin, garden photojournalist, author and succulent expert

 


 

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden
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Debra’s Own Garden

My goal with my own garden is to create a three-dimensional art form that serves as a backdrop for videos, photo shoots and casual get-togethers. Whether in books, photos, videos or presentations—or with plants, rocks, and sweat—I’m invariably about entertaining and sharing in equal measure. It’s one way I define joy.

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden

Yours truly in the lower garden with “Big Blue.” Photo by Craftsy.


Debra's Garden

My steep, terraced half-acre garden as viewed from my house. 

Succulent rock garden

IMHO, a garden can never have too many rocks. This sloping bed is home to dwarf aloes and haworthias growing in a pumice-rich mix. 

Succulent lily pond by Debra Lee Baldwin
My dry pond has thin, nearly spineless cactus pads I ordered from Florida (!). The “water lilies” are graptoveria rosettes. 


Succulent tapestry garden

One of two succulent tapestries by designer Laura Eubanks.

Related articles:

My succulent meditation garden

Spring in my succulent garden

Succulent garden design essentials

How to grow succulents

I’ve filmed numerous YouTube videos in my garden. The most popular shows how to replant an overgrown bed:Debra shows how to trim and replant succulents

If you REALLY want to come see my garden, I do occasionally give private tours for visiting VIPs. Email me. 

My garden is also featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

 

 


 

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Holiday Decorating with Succulents

This time of year, the succulent elves bundle up, go into the garden, and transform it into a holiday wonderland. Should I reward them with cocoa, or considering their size, chocolate chips?

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When you’re not much bigger than a caterpillar, you take your life in your hands when you decorate an agave. But look at the results!

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Yikes. Santa must have spilled the contents of his sleigh. I understand why the elves left the presents where they landed, don’t you?

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Aw. Look how they refilled his sleigh. IMG_5149bSo many agaves, so little time…

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Ho, ho, ho.

Debra Lee Baldwin on Craftsy
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Stunning Succulent Arrangements Class

 

Stunning Succulent Arrangements

I’m very pleased to announce my in-depth online classStunning Succulent Arrangements. It’s available through Craftsy, a Denver-based company that offers a fresh, high-quality approach to online learning. Craftsy began in 2011, and their success has been phenomenal, doubtless due to their dedication to quality. Craftsy spends upward of $15,000 to develop and film each class. To create Stunning Succulent Arrangements, a five-person Craftsy crew came to my home and garden and turned them into a film studio.

Good news: Use this link to take 50% off the regular enrollment price of $40!Debra Lee Baldwin Craftsy Review

“The chance to take an affordable course from an expert doesn’t come along often. But if you’re interested in learning more about creating beautiful succulent arrangements, you’re in luck: You can learn from Debra Lee Baldwin, the queen of succulents.” — Garden Design magazine

WHAT YOU GET

  • 7 Streaming HD video lessons with anytime, anywhere access
  • Class materials
  • Hours of close-up instruction
  • Answers to student questions from instructor, Debra Lee Baldwin
  • Closed captioning available (web only)

CLASS OVERVIEW

Renowned succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin shares the secrets to caring for these low-maintenance plants and explains why they lend themselves well to container arrangements. First, create a color wheel container composition and stress your plants to reveal beautiful hues. Then, make a gorgeous floral-style arrangement and add dimension and interest to your piece. Do you only have shade to give your succulents? Choose plants that thrive in low-light areas and learn how to care for their unique needs. Next, create a terrarium arrangement that’s straight from the pages of your favorite magazine! Debra shows you how to care for succulents in no-drain containers and add colored sand and pebbles for a special touch. Moving on, learn how to create a show-stopping succulent bouquet and never settle for ho-hum table decor again with this gorgeous centerpiece. Plus, attach succulents onto a wreath for beautiful door decor— the perfect way to greet guests!

LESSON BREAKDOWN

1. Succulent Starter Information 29:37
Meet your instructor, Debra Lee Baldwin, as you immerse yourself in the wonderful world of succulents. Debra explains how succulent plants grow and propagate, and demonstrates how to trim sections off without harming the plant. Next, she shares basic design ideas for potting beautiful single-plant containers.
2. Color Wheel 22:20
Discover the range of color and value that succulents offer as you create a beautiful color wheel container arrangement with Debra’s expert guidance. You’ll learn how plants can be stressed (depriving them of optimal growing conditions) in order to bring out different hues such as pink or yellow that you wish to add to your designs. Next, consider different arrangements that group plants according to color and value.
3. Floral-Style Arrangement 12:27
Create beautiful arrangements that resemble flower bouquets, using various plant shapes and heights to create dimension. Debra shares traditional and unusual container ideas as she demonstrates techniques for planting gorgeous floral-style arrangements.
4. Low-Light Composition 22:02
Succulents often thrive on access to lots of sunlight, but Debra has helpful tips for selecting plants that thrive in low-light areas such as patios or inside the home. Explore plant-care techniques as you become more familiar with the variety of plant textures that you can choose from, ranging from beautiful flowering plants to succulents with variegated leaves and much more.
5. Terrariums 33:08
Transform ordinary arrangements into magical microcosms as Debra shows you how to plant succulents in glass terrariums. Discover how to care for plants in containers that don’t drain water. Then add flair with colored sand and glass pebbles for additional interest. For a fun surprise, you can also add figurines and thematic elements to create a delightful miniature scene in your terrarium.
6. Bouquet 28:34
Try a new design idea as you create stunning, unique floral bouquets. Debra shares tips from professional florists that entail wrapping your plant stems in flexible wire and floral tape. Next, arrange your bouquet in a beautiful vase or jar to show off the rose-like blooms and sculptural petals. The final product provides a perfect gift or centerpiece for a special event.
7. Wreaths 26:28
Succulents don’t have to be confined to pots, planters or yards; they can make surprising additions to wreaths as well! Debra shares her method for creating beautiful mossy wreaths that are dotted with a variety of plant cuttings, buds and more. You’ll finish the class with dozens of new ideas for arrangements that can be used all around your yard and home, in addition to knowing how to keep your succulents healthy and thriving!
Use this link to take 50% off the regular enrollment price of $40!

 


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Got a Pot? Elevate it!

“Everything looks better elevated,” says San Diego succulent designer Diana Clark, who has wood stands custom-made to enhance her potted compositions. Diana, who calls her business “The Perfect Plant” because she pairs vessels found at antique stores or estate sales with a “perfect” succulent, created the plant-pot pairings shown here. As you look at them, ask yourself: Does the stand matter? Would the composition look just as good without it? And if you agree that the stand makes a difference, do you think you might you might try it?

It’s surprising how easy it is to find stands that will work for pots, at thrift stores. Learn more about Diana’s Asian-inspired design aesthetic in this YouTube video I created. And if you’re in the San Diego area, do come to a show-and-sale she’s having in Point Loma November 7-9. I’ll be there Saturday morning, Nov. 8, signing books, and would love to meet you!

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For more great succulent plant-pot design ideas, see my bestselling book, Succulent Container Gardens. 


Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

Connect with Debra on Google+

 


 

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Don Newcomer’s Favorite Cactus

Recently at his nursery in Fallbrook, CA, succulent expert Don Newcomer showed me a rare columnar, spineless cactus from Mexico.

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It can be chubby and lumpy, tall and skinny, or columnar and spiral-forming. Here’s the spiral form:

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Don told me that these monstrose forms of Lophocereus schottii date to The Cactus Ranchito in Tarzana, a suburb of Los Angeles. Owners Ed and Betty Gay, who introduced Don to succulents at age 14, were instrumental in salvaging unusual cacti that otherwise might have been destroyed by livestock in the plants’ native habitat. This photo of the couple is from the archives of the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society.

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Thirty years ago, after Ed passed away, Don bought the nursery’s inventory from Betty. He opened Serra Gardens in Malibu, where clients included Barbra Streisand, who bought cactus to surround her property to keep paparazzi at bay. Seven years ago, Don and wife Beth moved their home and nursery to Fallbrook, a rural community north of San Diego, where it occupies three acres.

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Listen to Don tell about the monstrose forms of Lophocereus schottii in this 4-minute video I made for YouTube. His sense of humor is delightful.

Don Newcomer’s Favorite CactusPachycereus schotii has spines. The monstrose form has club-shaped trunks with spineless protruberences. There are three monstrose varieties: fat (obesa), spiral (spiralis) and skinny or totem pole (mieckleyanus). 

Do visit Serra Gardens if you get a chance—it’s a great destination nursery, with many more rare and unusual cacti and succulents than this. They also sell mail-order at www.cacti.com.

 
 


Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

Connect with