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?


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


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. 

Say, I just noticed an example of spiral phyllotaxis on the cover of Succulents Simplified!


Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

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



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Spring in My Succulent Garden: Flowers Wow with Bold, Hot Hues

My spring garden’s most vivid blooms are those of succulent ice plants. Aloes, bulbine and numerous arid-climate companions are bright and beautiful from March through mid-May. Increasing temps tend to put the kibosh on delicate spring flowers. If you live near the coast of CA, you’ll enjoy a longer spring, but you may not get the sun and heat that makes many flowers blaze.

Spring is the season of flowers, so get outside and enjoy them. Soon enough, in summer, those hot colors will fade and your garden will go back to being mainly shapes and textures—which of course succulents do best. What many people  don’t realize is that flowers are ephemeral—they flash and fade, and then you’re left with foliage. (I like to say that sentence in my talks. Try it. The alliteration is luscious.)

Above: A normally uninteresting corner of my garden is stunning in spring because of all the flowers. Red ones at center are Sparaxis tricolor, a bulb from South Africa. Easy-grow shrub daisies (Euryops pectinatus) echo the yellow margins of Agave americana ‘Marginata’—which though nearly engulfed, still makes a bold statement.

California poppies pop in spring. These bright orange annuals reseed every year. Behind them is Drosanthemum floribundum (rosea ice plant). Adding contrasting form is spineless opuntia. Almost incidentally, fruit on citrus trees repeat the poppies, and elevate their color to eye level.

Scilla peruviana, returns every March. It produces large, purple-blue snowflake flowers and then disappears for nine months. It was planted by the previous owner and I don’t do a thing to keep it going. But like all bulbs, it leaves behind droopy, messy foliage which you need to leave because it feeds the bulb for the next g0-round.

And as for ice plant, don’t plant just one variety. Combine several—not curbside, though, lest they cause an accident.

Related articles:

Succulent garden design essentials

How to grow succulents

Debra’s own garden 

My succulent meditation garden

YouTube video: Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Flowering Plants in My Spring Garden: Inland Southern CA, Zone 9b

Spring (peak): mid-March to early April

Annual: California poppies


Babiana stricta (baboon flower)

Scilla peruviana

         Sparaxis tricolor


Aeonium arboreum

         Aloe maculata

         Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’

Gasteria sp.

Ice Plants:

Delosperma congestum ‘Gold Nugget’

Drosanthemum floribundum

                  Drosanthemum speciosum

         Sedum ‘Firestorm’

Perennial shrubs:

Euryops pectinatus

Gazanias (African daisies)

Pelargoniums (geraniums)

Rose, climbing: ‘Altissimo’



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Seven Ways to Make Money with Succulents

Whenever I’m asked how to find certain succulents or services that are in short supply, I wonder why so few offer them. After all, there’s clearly money to be made! If you or others who might make these happen are merely unaware, hang on, I’m about to remedy that.  Btw, I’m happy to help get the word out about anyone who offers the services I’ve listed here.

Note: Most involve in-ground succulent gardening and therefore are limited to southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south. Those that are mail-order will probably require a greenhouse. 

#1: Succulent garden maintenance. Unlike mow-and-blow yards, succulent gardens need maintaining seasonally (three or four times a year). How to make $$$: It’s the same as a gardening service, but with many more clients, much less often. Because it’s an in-demand specialization needed infrequently, charge at least 2x the hourly rate of lawn-mowing, hedge-trimming services. All you need: A thorough, hand’s-on understanding of all sorts of in-ground succulents and their care and cultivation, plus a truck, physical strength and tools. Note: You might combine this with #2 and #3.

#2: Free succulents, trimming and installation. People with large succulent gardens have loads of trimmings and pups. Because it seems a shame to haul them to the dump, they’re happy to give them away. How to make $$$: Arrange to pick up cuttings from overflowing gardens and deliver them to sparse ones. Charge for hauling, trimming and digging, and/or preparing the soil and planting. All you need: a small truck, physical strength, and garden tools.

#3: Succulent firebreak specialist. Because the plants don’t catch fire but rather cook and collapse, wide swaths of succulents have been shown to halt the progression of wildfire. (Not to mention being beautiful and supremely sensible.) How to make $$$: Charge the going rate for garden design and installation. If you’re already a landscape designer, or are already doing #1 and #2, offer this to your clients. All you need: Common succulents obtained as cuttings (jade, aloes, agaves, elephant’s food, firesticks) or customers willing to pay for quantities of nursery plants; a truck and tools.

#4: Spineless opuntia supplier.  I can’t say enough good things about this smooth-leaved succulent, which at present is in short supply. It makes a good backdrop, offers pleasing repetitions of form (those oval pads), gets by on rainfall alone (if there is any, sigh), thrives in poor soils, is a good firebreak (pads are as thick as oven mitts), can serve as a hedge or security fence (although not at all treacherous, trespassers assume it is), is edible (nopales), and is high in nutrients (including cancer-fighting antioxidants). How to make $$$: Cultivate the plants and combine them with suggestion #3. All you need: A source of the pads (Google Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’), growing grounds, and time for the plants to mature (three years).

Note: It seems easy enough to plant spineless opuntia as a firebreak, and after its spring growth spurt, slice off and sell the fresh new pads. But how to become a vendor? In order to have customers come to your home, you need to be zoned for it. You might arrange to deliver the pads to clients, or set up a booth at garden events and farmer’s markets. Or, if you own acreage zoned for commercial crops (traditionally, citrus or avocado orchards), contract with a company that’ll handle harvesting and sales. (Granted, I’m not aware of any, but it’s early days yet. Maybe start one?)

Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’

#5: Cactus boutique owner. As succulent aficionados gain sophistication, they appreciate simpler, geometric shapes as well as spines that glow beautifully when backlit. Small cacti are highly collectible. How to make $$$: Cultivate and sell specimens (especially spherical ones) online and at farmer’s markets and garden shows; come up with cool new design concepts; host workshops. All you need: A good eye, creativity, a wholesale source within driving distance, a lathe house or greenhouse and shipping materials. Note: Read more about this trend in my post, “Is Cactus the New Black?” 

#6: Echeveria grower-specialist. This is the yin to the yang of cacti. These rosette succulents are popular because they resemble fleshy flowers, and interest will boom as even more jaw-dropping varieties become available. How to make $$$: Grow your own fancy ruffled varieties (by beheading; it’s easy) and sell them online, to florists and nurseries, and at farmer’s markets and garden shows. Speak at clubs and offer workshops in echeveria care, cultivation, propagation and design. Aim to become known as “the echeveria expert.” All you need: An initial investment in starter plants, a lathe house or greenhouse, time for offsets to reach maturity, soil, pots, tools, and shipping materials.

#7: Skilled rockscaping. Boulders, decomposed granite and crushed rock need no irrigation or maintenance, look great forever (especially when artfully arranged), don’t catch fire, and create a practical, beautiful environment for plants. How to make $$$: While working on your degree in ornamental horticulture, get a job with a major rock supplier (in the San Diego area: KRC, RCP or SW Boulder). Apprentice yourself to a landscape contractor. After several years, launch your own business. All you need: Time, energy, physical strength, design ability, and the ability to prepare a site and transport and position rocks of all sizes.

P.S. If the above info helps someone find their calling, I’d love to know! ~ Debra




“Succulents Saved the Day,” Says Homeowner after Wildfire

Dr. Camille Newton of Bonsall, CA, texted me immediately after the Lilac Fire to say that eight homes on her street had been destroyed, yet hers was unharmed. “Succulents saved the day,” she said. 

Such reports aren’t unprecedented. Suzy Schaefer’s succulent garden in Rancho Santa Fe “saved our home,” she told me (and national media) after the Witch Creek Fire. I knew of others as well. Even so, I was skeptical. True, succulents tend to cook rather than burn and don’t transmit flames. But wildfire is so intense it melts metal and glass. What chance does any plant have?

Moreover, wildfires are wind-driven. A barricade of fleshy plants might halt a brush fire, but what about flying, flaming embers? And isn’t it possible that what appears to be salvation-by-succulents is merely the capricious way wildfire skips houses?

Even so, Dr. Newton, a geriatrician who often deals with life-and-death situations, is no sensationalist. She was calm, matter-of-fact, and had photos for proof.

Doubtless you know that I’m a big champion of succulents, but what you may not know is I’m also a journalist. I’m aware of how emotion and wishful thinking can cloud a reporter’s judgment. Yet what I saw when I went to Camille’s truly amazed me.

House next door to Camille's

Above: News photo of the house next door to Camille’s during last week’s Lilac Fire in Bonsall, CA. Below: Same property after the fire. 

Next door, where a home had been reduced to ash and charred appliances, the only green left in the yard was an Agave vilmoriniana with singed leaves. Along the driveway were a former fence of cylindrical wooden posts that had burned down into the ground, and black sticks—former ornamental shrubs—flattened by fire and wind.

So, what IS it about succulents that makes them…dare I say it…fireproof?

Clearly more research is needed, and YOU can help: If you know of a wildfire-burned home that had succulents planted so densely (like Camille’s) that they should have served as a firebreak, yet they didn’t, please tell me. Tens of thousands of hopeful California homeowners (myself among them) need to know: Are Camille’s and Suzy’s experiences merely luck, or did succulents really save their homes?

What I can say with certainty is that planting a swath of moisture-rich, fleshy-leaved plants is smart if you live in a mild, arid region plagued by drought and wildfire. Readily available agaves, aeoniums, elephant’s food, aloes, jade, and ironically-named ‘Sticks on Fire’ propagate easily from pups and cuttings, are low-water and low-maintenance, and when combined, create a gorgeous garden. If it also serves as a firebreak, well—as I told a KFMB-TV reporter—that’s certainly icing on the cake.

"Saved by Succulents" TV segment

Above: Camille and I talked about firescaping on CBS. 

Five days after the Lilac Fire ripped through her neighborhood, I visited Camille and documented her story with my camera and camcorder. Of all the videos I’ve made (my YouTube channel now has 200+ with over 3,000,000 views) this one is, IMHO, by far the most important.

Succulents as Firebreak video

There’s plenty more that homeowners need to know in order to create a firewise landscape. Topics I’ll address in future newsletters, YouTube videos, and articles include: How to create a succulent garden like Camille’s that’s broad and dense enough to serve as a firebreak. How to obtain my Top Six Firewise Succulents and start them from cuttings. Also, why Camille’s succulents are especially lush and vibrant. (I suspect it’s her free-and-abundant soil amendment, composted horse manure, atop a substrate of decomposed granite.)

I urge you to watch my two videos in which Camille shares her story and garden. Also in my video, Do Succulents Burn? I test jade plant, aeoniums, paddle cactus and more by tossing them in a gas fire pit. Even if you don’t live with the threat of wildfire or where succulents can grow outdoors year-round, I promise you’ll be entertained, fascinated…and, like me, amazed.

Ten years earlier, in Oct. 2007, the succulent garden on the cover of Designing with Succulents (first edition) also “saved” a Rancho Santa Fe home. As in Camille’s situation, neighboring houses burned to the ground. [Read more]

The garden on the cover of the first edition of Designing with Succulents helped protect the home in 2007. [Read more] 

Go to my Top Six Firewise Succulents page 

Go to my Firewise Landscaping Page

View my 6-minute video: Do Succulents Burn? Compare the combustibility of jade, aloe, aeonium, firesticks, elephant’s food and paddle cactus to branches cut from bamboo and oak trees. 

Note: The horrific CA wildfires of 2017 are a vivid reminder of when my husband and I and our two dogs were evacuated in 2007. During three awful days, we didn’t know if we’d have a home to return to. Using succulents as firebreak plants can help protect properties in wildfire-prone areas, but in no way do I want to imply that succulents are THE answer, nor (God forbid) do I want to try to capitalize on others’ suffering by suggesting you buy my book. My sympathy and prayers are with past and present victims. ~ Debra Lee Baldwin

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DIY Succulent Centerpiece in Five Easy Steps


To create the composition shown here, the designer chose a white-painted wooden urn 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall, with a basin 3 inches deep. Plants include ‘Sunburst’ aeonium, Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’, burro tail sedum, assorted blue echeverias, lithops (living stones), and Seneco radicans (fish hooks).

Instructions follow. Be sure to see more lovely centerpieces in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. And visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for designing with succulents!  



  1. Cut a circle from heavy mil plastic (such as a trash bag) and use it to line the basin. Fill with potting mix and press down on the soil with your palms to compact it. Form a mound several inches high in the middle that slopes to just below the rim.



2. In the center, plant an upright cluster of the largest rosettes.


3. Tuck smaller plants or cuttings around the center grouping, facing outward at a slight angle.


4. When the arrangement is nearly finished but still has some gaps, use a chopstick to push roots of remaining plants into the soil, and to tuck and conceal the edge of the plastic below the rim.


  1. Gently brush spilled soil off the leaves, then water the completed arrangement lightly to settle the roots.

Design by Fresh Chic, a division of CW Design & Landscaping For more Fresh Chic designs, see my article, Tips from a Top Container Garden Designer

Also find lovely centerpieces in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. And be sure to visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for using and designing with succulents! ~ Debra Lee Baldwin 

Behind the Scenes with “Designing with Succulents”

Brian Kemble and Debra Lee Baldwin     Photo: Kyle Short

I’m about to give you a behind-the-scenes look at my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.) by sharing Brian Kemble’s comments on its manuscript, prior to publication. He was of one of the proofreaders who went over my plant descriptions.

Brian, a world-renowned horticulturist, shares my obsession with accuracy. However, I lack his decades of studying and growing thousands of cacti and succulents, and his memory for arcane and detailed plant information. Not that succulent cultivation and nomenclature are exact sciences, in fact, they’re rife with gray areas. Discussions can be lively—even heated—when geeks (I use the term respectfully) get together and discuss little-known succulents found only in, say, Zimbabwe or the Great Karoo.

Although Brian revels in that sort of stuff, he’s remarkably engaging when instructing the gardening public. He “gets” that not everyone is interested in obscure genera unsuitable for residential landscapes. At yearly Succulent Extravaganzas at Succulent Gardens nursery 200 miles south of San Francisco, Brian starts the festivities at 8 a.m. with a tour of the display gardens. Despite the nursery’s rural location, he draws dozens of rapt listeners. Most are homeowners who are into gardening—as are the readers of my books.

You might wonder if Brian is eccentric, being so devoted to plants. Does he relate to people, too? Oh, yes. He’s active in the San Francisco Cactus & Succulent Society, travels the world with fellow enthusiasts to observe plants in habitat, lectures widely to C&SS groups, and interacts with visitors at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA, where he has served as curator for decades.

Yet there’s a certain reserve to Brian. He’s mild mannered, soft spoken, and polite. He’s not one to leap into the limelight, yet he’s good on camera. When speaking on his favorite topics—cacti and succulents, dry-climate gardening, and landscape design—he does so with a quiet intensity that’s perfectly delivered, interesting and engaging. Plus he has a delightfully dry sense of humor.

You’ll notice these things about his comments too, some of which made me laugh. Granted, much of what follows has to do with nomenclature and what one expert has to say versus another. Yet Brian sifts through all the lofty blather and draws conclusions that are reasonable, helpful, and—to an author whose reputation is at stake—a huge relief.

He’s also exquisitely diplomatic. Brian never states that what I wrote was wrong or stupid, although at times it was. I committed some “howlers”— editors’ slang for errors that, should they find their way into print, would cause erudite readers to howl with dismay (or, possibly, laughter).

Not only do Brian’s comments merit a wider audience, they illustrate the effort that went into the book. Credit also goes to the excellent staff at Timber Press, the largest publisher of gardening books in the US, who focused on style consistency, logical flow, readability, photo selection, design and layout, and copyediting.

If, as you read through Brian’s suggestions, you find one that’s a snooze, skim past it to a nugget or howler. It pleases me to imagine you discovering them as I did, and perhaps vicariously experiencing my mingled dismay, relief and gratitude.

I’ve included a few pages from the published book so you can see the final results as well. Enjoy! ~ Debra Lee Baldwin

Excerpts from horticulturist Brian Kemble’s proofreading comments on the manuscript of Designing with Succulents (2nd edition), by Debra Lee Baldwin ~

Page 37 — Furcraea macdougalii should be macdougallii (note that Fouquieria macdougalii has one L, but the furcraea has two).

Page 99 — I am glad to see you mentioned aeoniums in the caption. Lots of succulents do well in sea-side conditions, but some such as aeoniums and dudleyas seem MADE for this – you should mention dudleyas, too!

Page 101 — The cactus looks like Cleistocactus icosagonus (or Borzicactus icosagonus in Hunt’s newest taxonomy) rather than Disocactus martianus.

For plants to suggest underwater creatures, many gardens use dyckias (like the aptly-named Dyckia ‘Brittle Star’) for a sea star effect. You list medusoid euphorbias under the “sea urchin” category, but isn’t it sea anemones that you mean? Sea urchins have a spiky look, and your listings of E. horrida and polygona are indeed appropriate for this.

Page 114 — In the Thinking Outside the Pot section, I feel a little uneasy about “succulents are not dependent on their roots to survive.” Yes, they can go a long time living off their stored reserves, but sooner or later they need to send out some roots!

Page 122 — In the list of succulents for miniature landscapes, you didn’t mention two of my favorite Crassula species for this purpose: C. tetragona and C. ericoides (I see you do mention the former on the last page). The many dwarf othonnas and tylecodons are also good for this, suggesting larger pachycaul plants like pachypodiums. And a Mestoklema makes a great miniature banyan tree – but one could go on and on with this; the idea is really to just throw out some ideas, letting the reader take the ball and run with it.

Page 133 — In the photo, the plant on left is C. strausii, but the one on the right isn’t (spines too yellow).

Page 148 — To the list of succulents that can be propagated from leaves, you could add gasterias.

Page 176 — The correct name for the agave is A. parryi var. truncata, not A. parryi ‘Truncata’. One might quibble with whether var. truncata is really a good variety or not, but that is the way it is described in Gentry.

Page 177 — According to the Mexican botanists who published Agave pintilla, the name A. nickelsiae has priority over A. ferdinandi-regis because it was published earlier. However, A. ferdinandi-regis is such a well-known name that one can’t ignore it. I would handle this by calling the plant Agave nickelsiae (syn. Agave ferdinandi-regis).

Page 182 — Re aloes, the text says “Native to southern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar…” This could be amended to “Native to southern and eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar…” since there are so many widely grown aloes from East Africa, like juvenna, cameronii, camperi, elgonica, etc.

Page 184 — Aloe nobilis is a hybrid and not a species, so it should be rendered Aloe ×nobilis to denote its hybrid origin. Since Aloe maculata has been the accepted name for A. saponaria for quite a few years, I would use it in the caption, with (syn. Aloe saponaria) following, or “also called Aloe saponaria,” as you have done with Aloe vera/barbadensis.

Page 188 — Having just called Aloe dorotheae “arguably the loveliest aloe”, it seems funny a couple of pages later to be crowning Aloe polyphylla as “arguably the most beautiful of all succulents.” Wouldn’t it be better not to repeat the word “arguably” and simply say something like, “Aloe polyphylla, spiral aloe, is one of the most striking of all succulents”?

Page 189 — For the Aloe speciosa photo caption, saying “flowers banded with cream, pink, and rose-red buds” leaves out the rust-orange of the stamens, which seems to me too prominent to ignore.

Page 194 — The text says, “When designing with cacti, keep in mind their three main shapes: columnar forms that have “cereus” in their Latin names (ceroids), those with jointed stems such as Opuntia (paddle cacti and cholla), and globular ones such as mammillarias (pincushions and barrels).” First off, although many of the ceroid cacti do indeed have “cereus” as part of their Latin name, others do not (like Carnegiea or Neobuxbaumia or Backebergia or Browningia or Eulychnia), so perhaps you could say “columnar forms that often have “cereus” as part of their Latin names.” And while the three forms you mention are very important categories when thinking of cacti in the landscape, there are also types of cacti that do not fit in any of the three, like epiphytic cacti or scramblers such as Peniocereus. Here is a stab at a re-wording: When designing with cacti, keep in mind the three distinct forms taken by most of the kinds used in landscaping: the columnar ones that often have “cereus” as part of their Latin names; those with jointed stems such as Opuntia (paddle cacti and chollas); and globular types from large to small (barrels to pincushions).

[Item deleted—DLB] Caption of the Bob Barth astrophytum photo: The fuzz on the Astrophytum areoles (not aureoles) is referred to as “wool.” How to phrase the caption? Here’s an attempt: “…but the plants have furry areoles, the points on a cactus from which flowers, spines or offsets emerge.”

Page 195 — Though many ferocacti become cylindrical as they age, others do not (including the F. latispinus illustrated). And although some kinds form clumps, others remain solitary (like F. acanthodes in the Mojave Desert, F. wislizenii in the Sonoran Desert, etc.). Suggested re-wording: “These ribbed and stout-spined cacti from Mexico and the Southwest are spherical when young, but many become cylindrical with age. Some are solitary, while others eventually form clumps.”

Page 197 — For the Opuntia paragraph, you are on firm ground to say it is the most widespread genus of cactus, but “numerous” is a little trickier. There may be more individual plants of Opuntia than any other genus, but in terms of the number of species they are outdone by mammillarias (The New Cactus Lexicon recognizes 163 species of Mammillaria vs. 74 of Opuntia). Of course, the number of Opuntia species is in much dispute, and the same goes for Mammillaria. Perhaps it is best to avoid pinning yourself down on the number of species: “Opuntia or prickly pear is the most wide-ranging genus in the whole cactus family, occurring from Argentina all the way up to Canada.” Nobody could dispute that.

With regard to chollas, though they used to be classified under Opuntia, they have for some time been treated as a separate genus, Cylinropuntia. Suggested fix: “Those on my keep-away-from list include O. microdasys, due to abundant glochids, and also anything in the related genus Cylindropuntia, known as chollas, since these have vicious spines and cylindrical joints that detach all too easily. Chollas were formerly included in Opuntia.”

Page 197 — The problem of what to call the Santa Rita prickly pear is a vexing one. Benson called it O. violacea var. santa-rita; Anderson and Hunt both provisionally accepted it as a species in its own right (Opuntia santa-rita), and Ferguson in his book Prickly Pears classifies it under O. chlorotica, as O. chlorotica var. santa-rita. I think the easiest thing might be to call it Opuntia santa-rita (often sold as O. violacea var. santa-rita).

There is no such species as Opuntia macrocarpus. There has been debate about what species Opuntia ellisiana is a spineless form of, but most people I know have accepted David Furguson’s conclusion that it is Opuntia cacanapa. Furguson uses the designation O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ – and here we go with Latinized cultivar names! In any case, that is the name in usage, so that’s what I would call it.

Page 199 — The cactus in the photo is certainly not Stenocereus thurberi; looks like Stenocereus marginatus.

Don’t you think it’s a little harsh to say Trichocereus hybrids when not flowering are “no more interesting than utility boxes”?

Page 200 — Do people call the epiphytic cacti “tropical cacti?” I usually hear them called epiphytic cacti or sometimes “jungle cacti,” but am not accustomed to hearing them called tropical cacti. But they are from the tropics…

Page 201 — “Epiphyllum, with long segmented leaves” should be “with long leaf-like segmented stems.” And for “Rhipsalis, which have jointed strands of leaves…” wouldn’t it be better to say, “which have cylindrical or flattened jointed stems”? Just like with opuntia pads, people often mistake flattened cactus stems for leaves, but let’s not encourage this!

The text says, “Grow cotyledons in semishade…” While some species of Cotyledon prefer semishade, haven’t you found that C. orbiculata does well in full sun? It grows fine in full sun in Walnut Creek.

Page 203 — While jadelike crassulas (like C. ovata or C. arborescens) certainly look quite different from stacking ones (like perforata or deceptor or ‘Tom Thumb’), there are plenty of species that don’t fit into either camp (like C. pubescens ssp. radicans or C. multicava, both of which are pictured). Perhaps you could get around this by saying something like, “Crassula is a large and diverse genus containing plants with widely differing forms. Some have definite trunks and look like miniature trees, like the jade tree. Others have stacked leaves which look like they have been threaded along ever-lengthening stems. These two types may seem like they don’t even belong in the same genus, but the key determinant is the flowers, which are tiny, star-shaped, and clustering for both types.” This preserves the contrast you are pointing out, without making it seem like all species of Crassula can be shoe-horned into these two categories.

Crassula ovata — Leaves the size of half-dollars sounds too big; I don’t have one handy to measure, but aren’t they usually more like the size of a quarter? Also, do you think you should put C. argentea in parentheses as a synonym? Plenty of people still call it that.

Page 205 — Crassula perforata — I would say that C. perforata and C. rupestris are both quite common when it comes to stacked-leaf crassulas, and they are very easy to confuse. I think your text is fine as is, but you could include C. rupestris by saying: “Most common of the stacked crassulas are Crassula perforata and Crassula rupestris, two similar species with triangular leaves…” This way the rest of the paragraph can remain unchanged. For the record, though, C. perforata has flowers that tend to be on the cream or yellowish side, while C. rupestris is usually pink or pinkish, which leaves the white-flowered ones in the hard-to-determine category.

Page 206 — Dudleya — The text says D. brittonii rosettes “resemble those of echeverias, but the leaves are flatter and broader, and the tips more pointed.” But there are Echeveria species with leaves flatter and broader than D. brittonii, and plenty with pointed leaves. But it’s hard to know how to concisely state what distinguishes the appearance of dudleyas from echeverias. A greater likelihood of being covered with thick white powder? But then there are dudleyas with none at all. The dead leaves being much more firmly attached to the stems? Maybe so, but you have to wrestle with the plant to find this out. I suppose you could just say something like “their chalky rosettes resemble those of echeverias, and even their flowers look similar, but though the two groups are in the same family, they are not close enough to hybridize.” This mentions the similarity and their degree of relatedness, but without trying to come up with a formula for telling the two apart.Page 211 – Euphorbia — It says: “Flowers of euphorbias are tiny relative to the plants and come in shades of cream, yellow, and rusty red.” This is not untrue, but it fails to point out that yellow is far and away the most common flower color, and neglects to mention ones that are pure white (esculenta) or green (some medusoids and some forms of horrida) or dark purple (‘Snowflake’). Without going on and on, perhaps you could say “Flowers of euphorbias are tiny relative to the plants and are most often yellow, though some come in other colors like white or purple or rusty red.”

Page 212 — Medusoid euphorbias – “…their prostrate, snakelike leaves resemble locks of hair…” Well, first of all we are talking branches here (or arms, as they are sometimes called), not leaves, and the resemblance is not to locks of hair, but to snakes, which is what Medusa had in place of hair. This is a great photo – almost hypnotic – of the spiral center, so let’s have a caption that doesn’t make me cringe! Perhaps: Medusoid euphorbias, so named because the cylindrical arms that emerge from their central heads are reminiscent of Medusa’s head of snakes, have numerous bumpy green stems that radiate from the core of the plant in a Fibonacci spiral. The tiny yellow, white or red flowers arise at the tips of the arms.” I have avoided saying “in spring,” because we have medusoids in flower all the way through October, though spring is indeed the peak season.

Euphorbia ‘Snowflake’ — There has been much debate about whether ‘Snowflake’ is a form of E. horrida or of E. polygona, but the most knowledgeable people I know (like Gerhard Marx) think that it belongs in horrida; thus Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’. Since many people also have it labeled the other way, you could put E. polygona ‘Snowflake’ in parentheses.

Page 216 — Graptopetalum — Perhaps it is splitting hairs, but describing the color of G. paraguayense, I would add lavender: “plants turn gray-blue when grown in shade and take on tinges of lavender, pink and yellow in full sun.”

Page 218 — Haworthia — It is not really accurate to say that “the plants are winter growers that go dormant in the hottest summer months.” Some species are from the winter-rainfall zone in the western part of South Africa, but the majority are from either the overlap zone where rain comes in summer as well as winter, or else from summer-rainfall areas. They tend to slow down or stop growing both in the hottest part of the summer and in the coldest part of the winter, so they do a lot of their growing in the spring and the fall (unless you live in San Francisco, where the “hottest part of the summer” is an oxymoron!).

Page 218 — Hesperaloe — You say the common name for Hesperaloe parviflora is red yucca “because of the color of its flowers.” This explains the “red” in the common name, but leaves out the “yucca” part. Possible re-write: “The common name of red yucca is applied to the most popular species, Hesperaloe parviflora, because its reddish flowers are reminiscent of an aloe, while its leaves with curling threads call to mind its relatives the yuccas.” Note that I am trying to sneak in the idea that its resemblance to an aloe is only superficial, while it really is related to yuccas.

Page 219 — Ice plants — Is there to be no mention of the mimicry-type plants in the ice plant family, like Lithops, etc.? Some of them have such evocative names, like “living stones”, “baby toes”, “split rock”, and “tiger jaws”. But perhaps they are a little too much collectors’ plants and not landscape plants.

[Entry deleted — DLB] Aptenia cordifolia —  I am accustomed to hearing this plant called candy apple, and I think that name is for the true species, while ‘Red Apple’ is a hybrid with another plant and is a brighter red. (Sunset Garden Book identifies the other parent as Platythyra haeckeliana – but who has ever heard of that?).

Page 220 — Kalanchoe — You are correct that the plants once included in Bryophyllum are now considered a subset of Kalanchoe (by most people; there are still those who prefer to keep them separate). I would vote for doing it just the way you have, with Kalanchoe as the primary name and Bryophyllum as a synonym in parentheses.

Page 231 — As to whether Sedum adolphi and S. nussbaumerianum are the same species or not, there is disagreement. Both come from central Veracruz and are no doubt each other’s closest relatives if indeed they are distinct. Miguel Chazaro, who has done much investigation of the plants in Veracruz, thinks they should be considered synonymous. But the plants we have in cultivation are different, with S. adolphi having shorter leaves which are more closely packed together, and more yellow in color, while the plants of nussbaumerianum have longer and pointier leaves which are a little more spaced out along the stem and turn orange rather than yellow (often with a distinct orange margin). For this reason, I prefer to keep them separate, even if it turns out that the two are merely different forms of one species.

Page 238 – Yucca — It says “Plant yuccas in full sun…” but yuccas are very adaptable and can be grown in partial shade or even quite shady conditions (or as house plants), though they may not flower if given too much shade. Regarding the trimming off of old leaves, there are some whose persistent old leaves give an attractive “grass-skirt” look, and might be considered an asset rather than a liability, like Y. rigida, Y. thompsoniana and Y. rostrata. Note that although Y. rostrata may indeed be single-headed, it often divides and becomes multi-headed (though it does not do so as much as the related Y. thompsoniana). To convey this, you might say “…which over time forms a trunk topped by one or more shimmering pincushions of blue-gray leaves.” (Your imaginitive descriptive phrases like “shimmering pincushion” for Y. rostrata and “whipped cream” for yucca flowers are one of the strengths of the book, since they are both evocative and a little humorous, and relate the plants described to familiar things).

Page 274 — It says, “Daylily hybrids come in a multitude of flower colors, including burgundy, pink, and red.” Of course, this means that it comes in these colors in addition to the usual yellows and oranges, but perhaps it would be better to state this, in case there is someone out there in the world who doesn’t know the usual colors of daylilies.

Page 283 — In the rosemary entry, you suggest using it with Senecio mandraliscae to repeat the blue color, and then you came up with a great photo which shows exactly this, but oddly the senecio is left out of the caption, as is the agave which dominates the picture.

Page 285 — For the entry on Tradescantia pallida, it might be worth mentioning that freezing weather will cause it to die back, but it will bounce back vigorously from the roots as long as the ground doesn’t freeze. Then people who plant it won’t pull it out thinking it had died when the above-ground portion turns to mush in winter (as it does every year at Ruth Bancroft Garden).

Watch a 3-min. video taken at the 2017 Succulent Extravaganza, in which I talk about the new book and Brian. 

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How to Propagate Succulents

Aaron Ryan takes a cutting from a stacked crassula

Ever wondered how to propagate a certain succulent? For example, lithops (living stones)…is it possible to take cuttings from those thick, molar-shaped leaves? How about ruffled echeverias…can a solitary rosette be made to offset? And stacked crassulas…what do you do when stems are tightly lined with leaves? 

Most succulents can be propagated vegetatively—via stem cuttings, pulling apart offsets, or rooting leaves. To the novice, of course, such tasks are mystifying. How deep, for example, does one plant a leaf? 

Even more challenging are succulents that make propagators pull out a power drill, coffee grinder, or tub of roofing gravel—all tools routinely used by nurseryman-grower Aaron Ryan of Petaluma, CA. 

Aaron is down-to-earth in more ways than one. At past Succulent Extravaganzas at Succulent Gardens Nursery, he graciously showed standing-room-only audiences a half dozen ways to propagate a variety of succulents. 

Somehow watching Aaron grind seed pods, guillotine a frilly echeveria, or snip a stacked crassula is soothing. You know those babies are gonna make it. You also know that with Aaron’s methods, you’ll soon have plenty of new plants to play with. 

Impressed by his teaching skills, I’ve made several videos that feature Aaron. They’re short (4 to 6 min.), fun to watch, and easy to follow. You’ll find them on my YouTube channelplaylist “Succulent Propagation.” Or click below.

To be notified when I release a new video, subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

FIND “How to Propagate Succulents” IN MY BOOKS ~

Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 148-154

Succulent Container Gardens, pp. 232-235

Succulents Simplified, pp. 58-61


Summer Care for Your Succulents

Don’t let midsummer heat, sun and dryness damage your succulents! 

If you live in an arid climate and grow succulents in the open garden (as I do), I recommend you ~

— Watch and enjoy my latest video: Succulents, Sun and Summer. On an 89-degree day I give a tour of my garden, noting what’s in bloom, lookin’ good (or dreadful), and checking the health of succulents small and large.

— Move sun-sensitive potted succulents into the shade: haworthias, gasterias, euphorbias, faucarias, sansevierias, echeverias, and anything light-colored or variegated.

— Give aloes and crassulas enough sun to turn bright colors but not so much that leaf tips shrivel or burn.

— Shade horizontal stems of trailing aloes, senecios, othonna and the like. Sunburn hinders stems’ ability to transmit moisture from roots to leaves.

— Create temporary shade structures from old window screens.

— Or use leafy branches trimmed from trees (insert in the ground next to a plant you want to protect, on the side that gets the most sun).

— Evaluate garden areas in need of shade, and plant trees when the weather cools in the fall. And for that (drum roll) I have another new video: Twelve Low-Water Trees for Succulent Landscapes.

Echeveria and Crassula falcata
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The Succulents of Birdsong

Frank and Susan Oddo of San Diego are hand’s-on gardeners who continually are on the lookout for unusual plants that’ll thrive in a low-water landscape. Not surprisingly, they’ve incorporated many succulents on their multi-acre property. With its layers of foliage and tall trees, the garden serves as a wild bird sanctuary that attracts dozens of species, including visitors that drop in (literally) during seasonal migrations. Below are outtakes from the article I wrote about Frank and Susan’s garden (which they call “Birdsong”) that’s in the summer, 2016 issue of Country Gardens magazine. Enjoy!

Aloes in bloom

Aloes bloom along the lane near the entrance to the garden.


Succulents for San Diego

A silk floss tree provides bright shade for the succulent garden beneath it.


Agave and yucca garden

Agave angustifolia ‘Variegata’ growing at the base of yucca trees echoes their lancelike leaves and silhouette.


Blue columnar cactus

Blue baseball bat cactus (Pilosocereus pachycladus) is an amazing blue with golden spines. At its base are similarly sky blue pebbles


Agaves and bromeliads

A cluster of Agave attenuata thrive in the dappled light of Frank’s bromeliad garden.


Kalanchoe luciae and burro tail in a car-part pot

Frank, who collects cars, likes to repurpose old car parts, gears and more as succulent containers. This one is planted with Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’ and trailing burro tail sedum. A yucca explodes behind it.


Agaves glow in the sun

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ has red margins that light up when backlit, plus it stays small and doesn’t offset.


Echeveria and Crassula falcata

Red flowers of Crassula falcata (green form) are striking in contrast with a teal-and-pink ruffled echeveria.


Echeverias bloom in a pot near a koi pond

This photo of a pot near the koi pond inspired one of the line drawings in my coloring book, Sensational Succulents—sans the fish.

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden

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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