The collection began in 1959 as a collection of coleus plants within the 3,600 sq. foot greenhouse now known as the Botanical Conservatory. Today, the complex north of Storer Hall serves the University and public communities as an educational facility, research resource and genetic diversity preserve. The complex houses over 3,000 plant species in more than 150 families, including examples from most of the world's climatic regions.
Ernesto Sandoval, the director of the Botanical Conservatory, gave us an in-depth tour of their collection. And what a collection it is! While our tour focused on succulents in all their diversity, the greenhouses are also home to many different tropical and subtropical plants. Some of them you will see below. This post has 60+ photos so please give it some time to load.
Our tour started in the outside succulent area where we ooh’ed and aah’ed over table upon table of goodies.
Table after table of succulent goodies—the beauty on the right is a Dudleya brittonii
Two aloes that caught my eye.
The one on the left is Aloe erinacea, the one on the right didn’t have a label.
Juvenile Aloe suprafoliata with stacked (distichous) leaves. You can see why Annie’s Annuals calls this species “mustache aloe.” Mature plants have a more typical rosette.
LEFT: Tylecodon wallichii
RIGHT: assorted succulents
Othonna cyclophylla—at a distance these looked like cabbage seedlings
Interspersed with the many different succulent genera were South African bulbs, some of which—like the Brunsvigia josephinae—could pass as traditional succulents.
More than a few SCSS members fell head over heels in love with these bulbs, especially the ones that were in bloom. It’s easy to see why. Fortunately, several bulb species were for sale—at extremely fair prices to boot.
Lachenalia aloides ‘Quadricolor’
The cactus tables in the outside area were also packed with plants. While I love cactus, I don’t consider myself an expert so I can’t comment on the “quality” of their collection but I sure liked the variety!
Creeping devil cactus (Machaerocereus eruca)
LEFT: Creeping devil cactus (Machaerocereus eruca)
RIGHT: Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
Unidentified cactus flower
More assorted cacti
Unfortunately, I only saw two agaves, but they were beauties in spite of the bird poop.
Agave parryi with bird poop
Next, our tour moved inside into one of the heated greenhouses. The transition from the crisp outside air (55°F, give or take) to a constant climate of 75°F+ and 80%+ humidity came as quite a shock. Within minutes people were starting to take off their jackets. But in light of the sheer variety of plants packed into this greenhouse, we didn’t dwell too much on our physical discomfort.
Ernesto Sandoval with a cactus he grafted
Ernesto Sandoval showing capillary tissue of a cactus
Ernesto Sandoval with a giant pipevine flower (Aristolochia gigantea)
While most SCSS members were primarily interested in succulents, it was impossible not to be enchanted by many of the other plants inside the greenhouse. Just take a look at the begonia in the next photo and tell me you’re not fascinated by it! Its leaves were soft and velvety, like a lamb’s ear, but much firmer.
And who can resist this? It’s the fruit of the cocoa tree. Each pod contains 20-60 seeds (“cocoa beans”) which are dried and roasted to produce cacao nibs, the main ingredient in chocolate.
Cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao)
Here are some more hot house beauties:
Leaving behind the hot and humid section of the greenhouse, we stepped into the heated but dry “African desert” room. It is jam-packed with all kinds of fantastical plants, as you can see in the next set of photos.
Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei)
LEFT: Pachypodium lamerei
RIGHT: Euphorbia neohumbertii
Elephant’s foot (Dioscorea elephantipes)
UC Davis is one of the few places in the country that has been successful in consistently propagating two very rare pachycauls from the island of Socotra off the coast of Yemen: the cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotranus) and the Socotran fig (Dorstenia gigas). Check this article to see photos of mature specimens in situ.
LEFT: Cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotranus)
RIGHT: Socotran fig (Dorstenia gigas)
I was able to buy specimens of both at a great price to complement the two I already had.
Dendrosicyos socotranus flower
Dozens of Dorstenia gigas
Dorstenia gigas for sale—I snagged one
Another plant that attracted a lot of attention among our group was Welwitschia mirabilis, voted the world’s ugliest plant in 2009 by readers of the Daily Telegraph in the U.K. The Kew website has a lot of interesting information about this extremely strange plant from the Namibian Desert.
In the next two photos you’ll see that the specimens at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory grow in tall chimney pipes. The reason is that Welwitschia mirabilis has a very long taproot to access underground water sources. Some sources suggest that this taproot can go as deep at 100 ft.
Like conifers, ginkgos and cycads, Welwitschia mirabilis is a gymnosperm, meaning that it produces seed cones. I was very excited to see that one of the specimens at UC Davis actually had cones on it. They made a weird and wonderful plant even more weird and wonderful.
Welwitschia mirabilis seed cones
Welwitschia mirabilis seed cones
Even though we saw a great many different plants on our tour, I have a feeling there is much more still left to discover. I can’t wait for an opportunity to go back!