Euphorbia mammillaris variegated at Botanic Wonders nursery (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Visit Botanic Wonders & See Al Klein’s Succulent Rarities

You think you like succulents? Al Klein of Botanic Wonders nursery calls them "an addiction."

Al is a comet on the cactus and succulent scene. It seems he’s everywhere, doing speaking engagements, selling on the show circuit, greeting nursery visitors, and sharing a lifetime of info and enthusiasm.

Al’s story bubbles out of him as he takes us through his greenhouses. He’s loved rare plants since he was a kid. Moving from the East to California with his parents in the '70s opened a new world to him.

Dioscorea elephantipes at Botanic Wonders nursery (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Dioscorea elephantipes

At a house plant store, he saw Dioscorea elephantipes, which he describes as “a tortoise with a vine coming out the top.” That was it. He was hooked.

This was before the Internet, so Al's research led him to libraries and Cactus & Succulent Society of America journals. After earning a degree in horticulture from Cal Poly, he went on to pursue a career in retail.  But he never lost his passion for plants and the natural world.

Cyphostemma 'Fat Bastard' at Botanic Wonders nursery (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Cyphostemma 'Fat Bastard', prized for its bulbous surface roots, is a hybrid of C. juttae and C. hardyi

Al sparkles with knowledge about succulents and the joy they bring. Although he grows nearly every kind, he’s especially into caudiciforms, succulent bonsai, fat-trunked trees, seed-starting, and anything out of the ordinary---what he calls the “weird ones.”

In the euphorbia greenhouse, he says with a grin, “I love these plants. I could put a cot and sleep here, and I’d be the happiest person around.”

Botanic Wonders is on four acres in Vista, CA. The nursery sells online, is open to the public by appointment (760) 519-9987, and supplies wholesale and retail nurseries throughout San Diego County.

The labeled gallery below shows many of the extraordinary succulents I saw at Botanic Wonders. But the best part? Hanging out with Al.

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Aloe vaombe in bloom mid-February (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

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Cactus vs Euphorbia (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Euphorbia or Cactus? How to Tell

How can you tell a spiny euphorbia from a cactus? Observe key characteristics: the type of spines, flowers and leaves (or lack thereof). As I compiled my site’s new Euphorbia page, I happily acquired the ability to tell at a glance which is which. Sure, you can scratch a plant, and if it drips milky sap, it’s

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