Mesemb expert Steven Hammer (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Psychology of Succulents with Grower-Hybridizer Steven Hammer

In my latest video, mesemb expert Steven Hammer delves into the psychology of succulents. "The entire succulent preoccupation is a transposition of another form of desire," he says. "This insight is not unique to me, and is certainly not original. I just say it more often than some people do."

I love the way his mind works. Wait 'til you hear him compare Japanese haworthia collectors' preferences to the perception of beauty in Jane Austen's England.

Brown-leaved and veined haworthia (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

 Would a brown-leaved, veined haworthia appeal to Japanese collectors? 

Steven is an erudite delight. His clever metaphors and tongue-in-cheek comments make listeners and readers do a double-take. In the video he says, poker-faced, that prominent leaf veins might be perceived by some collectors as "too intimate."

Red-veined mesemb (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

I don't know about you, but this red-veined mesemb makes me blush.

In Part One of this series featuring the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society, Oakes Austin, also of the Sphaeroid Institute, says that what he likes most about conophytums and lithops are "their bodies." Now in Part Four, Steven clarifies his associate's intriguing observation.

What Does it for You?

The categories of succulent appeal that Steven mentions---color, shape and pattern---may be oversimplified, but so are the plants he specializes in.

Books by Steven Hammer

Consider: Lithops, conophytums and other mesembs are succulents reduced to their simplest forms.

At first you might assume that you like color, shapes and patterns equally. Well, that’s what I thought, until I realized I like nothing so much as symmetry, both in form and pattern. I love color in leaves but am fairly indifferent to flowers.

Queen Victoria Agave victoriae-reginae (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave victoriae-reginae 'Compacta'

Now it's your turn. Do share your own preferences and other factors worth considering in the Comments below.

Steven Hammer: quips and quotes

A few of my favorites:

  • "I contemplated the crossing of Conophytum ratum S.A.Hammer and C. burgeri L. Bolus because the omnibus name, Ratburger, amused me---but I would only use it if it actually worked. Moreover, an easy success might suggest, if not confirm, a genetic kinship between these hyper-obese dumplings." -- Cactus and Succulent Journal, Winter 2022

Lithops in bloom (c) Debra Lee Baldwin


  • "honeycombed buns speckled with chestnut tattoos" -- Book review Lithops: Inside the Plant, CS Journal, Summer 2023
  • "obligate selfing can be recognized when all fruits on an inflorescence swell in quick succession, as if galvanized into action. One might note a similar flush when the town beauty walks into a sleepy bar and sets ten hearts or heads simultaneously aswivel." -- CS Journal, Jan-Feb, 2008

Pleiospilos in bloom (c) Debra Lee Baldwin


  • "I would attempt implausible unions: marrying a Great Dane, Astrid velutina, to that daschund of the Pleiospilos, P. nelii. The stilt-like Dane was willing to give, the humble split-rock unable to receive; but I kept trying anyway...This exactly paralleled and finally supplanted my romantic life..." CS Journal, Sept.-Oct. 2014
  • "The unidentified plants had already finished their annual bacchanal; mass satisfaction had surely been achieved several weeks earlier. We noted only one freshly withered flower, dangling like a cigarillo from a tiny mouth."CS Journal, July-Aug 2009




Conophytum minimum Wittbergense

Conophytum minimum Wittbergense

  • "Though the greenhouse was not as bright as Myron would have liked, this had actually favored the conophytums, which are niche plants that roast terminally in exposed quarters. The giraffeiform mitrophyllums didn't seem to enjoy the bosky ambience quite as much..." CS Journal, Sept-Oct 2007
  • "I missed the ideal epithet, cannibisidora. That name hadn't occurred to me because I hadn't sniffed the plant on a hot day, when its smoky redolence is obvious. No other mesemb known to me has such a perfume, so suggestive of unsupervised dormitoria." CS Journal, March-April 2006
  • "Some growers will reject hybrids as a matter of principle. I trust that they enjoy only pre-Columbian tomatoes and the tiny, weedlike lettuces available to our Norman forebears." -- Mesembs, The Titanopsis Group
  • "Aloinopsis schooneesii readily hybridizes with A. rosulata, to no particular advantage. The resultant trianguliferous plants...have slightly enlarged flowers, and are alarmingly fertile."-- Mesembs, The Titanopsis Group

Titanopsis calcareum (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Titanopsis calcarea

  • "My own encounters with Titanopsis calcarea have been diverse. It is one thing to be passively introduced to a known population, quite another to stumble unexpectedly upon a plant or two. Rocks come to life! An enhanced perceptual template hovers around one's eyes, and soon a whole population reveals itself... In habitat, Titanopsis calcarea eats, sleeps and dreams hyper-alkaline chalk. Nonetheless, in the confines of a pot it can digest acidified fir bark, peat moss, coconut hulls, and probably crunchy granola." -- Mesembs, The Titanopsis Group

Seed pod opening, time lapse

The seed pod of a "living stones" succulent, the mesemb Argyroderma framesii, opens when soaked by water (or in nature, rain). What starts out as a dried gray button becomes a golden, multipointed star. At Steven Hammer's "Spheroid Institute" specialty nursery near San Diego. Shown at 9x speed.

Related Info on This Site

A collector's boxful of cacti & succulents from the San Diego show

Enjoy My Succulent Show-and-Sale Videos

The idea of making behind-the-scenes videos about the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society shows-and-sales came from friend/collector Rick Bjorklund. Such events are a huge undertaking, and organizers and volunteers deserve accolades. Plus they have great tips to share. I met up with Rick the day before the show during set-up and took photos and…

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  1. Diane Dunhill on June 7, 2024 at 5:36 pm

    Enjoyed the interview with Steven Hammer. We met 35 years ago to trade for some of my Haworthias. Now I am happy to hear that he is still a superior grower of succulents. And I am laughing as I still love my Haworthias, especially the retuse leaved types with different lines on the leaf faces. Guess that means I am too intimate for some. Spots too, so now I am intimate and common. I also still love frogs as does Steven. Wonder what that means??? 😁❤️‍🔥👨‍🌾

    Xo Diane Dunhill

    • Debra on June 11, 2024 at 8:30 am

      Hi Diane — This delights me! What fun to hear from an old friend. I hope you are doing well. I’ll pass this along to Steven. Debra

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