Succulents that make me want to scream are proliferating at my local garden center...which I'm now calling The Big Box of Horrors. I suspect these appeal to kids and newbies who are unaware that fake-and-flashy succulents are doomed to fail, and also to anyone who assumes if a plant's for sale, it must be OK.
No surprise, succulent lovers sneer at cacti sold with phony flowers attached. Yet these were the least of the offenders I found. What's not dreadful about them are their prices: $4 for a small (2-inch-pot) cactus and $7 for a larger (3.5-inch). For a starter assortment, one could do worse. Besides, fake flowers peel off easily (they're glued on). Even so, the concept---which has been around forever---smacks of bait-and-switch and implies that some shoppers are truly stupid.
I know you'd never buy a succulent painted purple, blue, pink, silver or red. They remind me of shore birds that need oil cleaned from their feathers. But what if a sweet grandchild gives you one? Signage says the "artificial coloring" does no harm, and plants outgrow it. Indeed, some were already greening at their centers. Btw, despite a label that too-cutely calls them Kosmic Kactus, they're not cacti but rather haworthias, which---by no fault of their own---are among the few succulents that'll survive minimal sun exposure.
Next among the eye-rollers are moon cacti, cheery little gymnocalyciums in candy colors. A generic label advises they're "High light plants." Well yes, they're grafted onto a cactus rootstock that absolutely requires light---the more the better. However, their spherical tops contain no chlorophyll, so they can't handle sun without burning. To be fair, moon cacti can look cool in some design applications and wouldn't offend me as party favors---which at $6 apiece is a possibility. Savvy shoppers realize that these itty-bitties are short-lived and consider them annuals.
Seeing an invasive cholla tucked amid a nice assortment of small aloes (Aloe brevifolia) made me gasp. 'Eve's Needle' (Austrocylindropuntia subulata) hides vicious spines within green sheathes disguised as slender leaves. Unlike the sillies mentioned previously, this one is all business. Plant it in your garden and it becomes a dense thicket that's difficult and dangerous to remove. Native to western South America, it especially likes Southern CA, where it spreads rapidly.
A succulent that should be banned (indeed, is illegal in Queensland) is cute Opuntia microdasys "bunny ears." This polka-dot paddle cacti can has tufts of glochids---tiny spines with hooked tips that detach easily. Touch a fuzzy pad and OW! (To remove glochids, try coating them with rubber cement; let dry, peel, and hopefully they'll come off along with it.) Don't let small children, clueless friends, pets or livestock near it. Better yet: Don't buy it.
Don't Blame Yourself
Initially I was pleasantly surprised to see portulaca, a floriferous trailing succulent good for hanging baskets and flower beds. Then I remembered it's one of the few annual succulents. It dies in winter, a mere two months away.
An Evil Weed
When I noticed a non-succulent weed---one I've battled for decades---I exclaimed, "Oh, no!" It's a type of asparagus fern with spiny stems, frowsy leaves, and round red berries. In a bad-hair way, it's not terrible in terraces. But don't let its berries fall off. Whatever cranny they roll into, they'll produce offspring that, below the surface, plump into marble-sized corms. These send forth new plants that are impossible to get rid of short of Round-Up.
Pretty but Pricey
On the plus side, I saw a colorful selection of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana---a bullet-proof succulent with shiny, dark green leaves and masses of hot-hued blooms. It's also sold in supermarkets. I briefly considered getting a few orange ones to contrast with my garden's blue senecio, but at $15 apiece...meh.
Speaking of blue senecio, I saw the plant's giant version: Skyscraper Senecio from Sunset and Southern Living Plants (Curio ficoides 'Mount Everest'). This upright beauty is a rarity, so it was a happy find. Although pricey at $19 for an 8-inch pot, its five, 2-foot stems potentially offer a dozen cuttings. Plus, including it here lets me end my woeful song on a positive note.
Kindly Let Us Know
Do you have succulents or nursery plants in your garden that you absolutely would NOT plant again? Do tell us in the comments!
Related Info on This Site
As a succulent garden consultant, I often see these dozen common landscaping mistakes made by well-intended homeowners. Correcting them makes a big difference aesthetically. Do any apply to you? If not, applause!