Friday, October 30, 2015

Huntington Desert Garden: aloes and other Old World succulents

On December 27, 2014 I finally had the opportunity to visit the Huntington in San Marino, CA, one of California’s great estates. Established by businessman Henry Huntington in the early 1900s on what was originally a 600-acre ranch, the Huntington comprises a world-class library, art collections and 120 acres of gardens.

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Foxtail agaves (Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’), some of them in flower. Behind it is a mature tree aloe (Aloidendron barberae).

The most famous of these is the 10-acre Desert Garden. It was started in 1907 when garden superintendent William Hertrich convinced Henry Huntington to plant cacti in an area where little else would grow. Huntington initially agreed to let Hertrich experiment on ½ acre. Hertrich went ahead at full steam, filling the ½ acre lot with 300 cactus. In 1908, Hertrich hauled three carloads of saguaros from Arizona, followed in 1912 by two carloads of cacti and other succulents from Mexico. Huntington was finally convinced and gave Hertrich another 4½ acres. In 1925, the Desert Garden grow by another five acres, and in 1981, long after Hertrich’s death, the final 5 acres were added. In 1985, the Desert Garden Conservatory opened to the public; it’s home to 3,000 succulents that either need some sort of protection or are simply too rare to leave outside.

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Aloe panorama

Today, the Desert Garden has sixty planting beds filled with more than 2,000 species of succulents and desert plants from both the Old and the New World. While impressive-sounding, these stats are fairly meaningless until you see the garden’s splendor in person. We’re not just talking a lot of plants, we’re talking old plants, masses of them. It’s easy to see why the Desert Garden is considered one of the world’s premier collection of succulents.

Last December I spent an afternoon in the Desert Garden and posted a short summary. I fully intended to write several full posts in January or February, but time slipped away and now it’s almost November. I was simply too daunted by the 500+ photos I snapped, knowing it would take a long time to go through them and edit them for the blog. But as I’m starting to plan my 2015 desert trip, I realize that it’s now or never. I took a lot of beautiful photos that do deserve to see the light of day.

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Euphorbia lambii

This post focuses on Old World succulents, especially aloes. The Huntington has an exceptional collection of aloes that includes over 200 of the 300 recognized species. Huge swaths of them were in bloom in December – a truly unforgettable sight.

So without further ado, let’s walk through the Old World section of the Huntington Desert Garden. As always, you can click each of the small photos to see a large high-resolution version. 

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Aloe × principis, a naturally occurring hybrid between Aloe ferox and Aloe arborescens

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Aloe aculeata

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The flowering aloes were truly spectacular

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One many paths in the Desert Garden

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Aloe rubroviolacea

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Unfortunately, many of the aloes weren’t labeled

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Euphorbia grandicornis × pseudocactus

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LEFT: Aloe aculeata  RIGHT: Aloe marlothii

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Unlabeled aloe hybrid

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Aloe × principis

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LEFT: Aloe sabaea   RIGHT: Aloe harlana

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Haworthia coarctata f. conspicua

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Aloe marlothii

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Aloidendron barberae, the largest tree aloe in the world

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Aloidendron barberae

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I don’t know what the single-stemmed aloe in the three photos above is. Any ideas?

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Euphorbia ingens

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Aloidendron barberae

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Aloidendron barberae

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Aloidendron barberae

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Vining cactus (not from Africa, but from the New World) in the Old World section

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Aloe vanbalenii

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Pachypodium lamerei, often called “Madagascar palm” although it’s not a palm

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More aloe goodness among the trees

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Aloe pluridens

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Aeonium arboreum

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Aeonium arboreum

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Aeonium percarneum

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Aeonium percarneum

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Unlabeled aeoniums

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Unlabeled aeoniums

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Aloe aculeata

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Pleiospilos peersii

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Creeping elephant bush (Portulacaria afra)

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Aloe ‘William Hertrich’, named in honor of the first superintendent of the Huntington Gardens who during his long tenure (1905-1948) was the mastermind and driving force behind what you see today

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Aloe dorotheae

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Aloe camperi

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Aloe ‘David Verity’

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Unlabeled aeonium

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Aloe erinacea

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Aloe erinacea

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The smaller tree aloe next to the towering Aloidendron barberae is Aloidendron ramosissima

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LEFT: Aloe pluridens  RIGHT: Unlabeled

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Unlabeled but elsewhere I saw an Aloe ferox × microstigma cross that looked quite similar

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Unlabeled

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Aloe × principis

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Aloe × principis

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Aloe sabaea, a species I’d love be able to grow but it’s very tender

This post is about the New World succulents in the Desert Garden, such as agaves and cacti. This section is just as memorable.

The Desert Garden is only one of a dozen gardens spread over 120 acres. I really need to spend three or four days in Pasadena to photograph them all. A project for retirement!

RELATED POSTS:

December 2014 Desert Trip index

12 comments:

  1. Great photos and very informative post, even tho I go there all the time. The 3 pix of the same unknown, I will have to see if I have pix of that one in bloom, or try to spot it in bloom this fall/winter. Looks marlothii-ish.

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    1. Thanks!! As if it weren't enough to have 200+ aloe species, the Huntington also has scores of hybrids. I wish they'd publish a comprehensive list of everything they have :-).

      Would love to meet up with you if I do make it south between Christmas and New Year.

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  2. You did a great job photographing the desert garden. I love the panoramic shot of the Aloes, as well as those of the unlabeled Aeoniums. I don't think I've ever been to the Huntington in December but it looks like a good time to visit - maybe if I start now I can convince my husband to make the slog through downtown LA traffic.

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    1. You should definitely try to go in late December or early January when the aloes are at their speak. It's a spectacular display! Mayve the traffic is less bad between Christmas and New Year?

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  3. wonderful post Gerhard..I expanded every single photo. I have not been to the Huntington since the early 80's. When I was in high school (much earlier than the 80's I'm afraid) we used to like to take picnics there and see the peacocks .I need to plan a trip down..

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    1. I bet the Desert Garden has changed a lot since the 80s. Hope you'll get to visit soon!

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  4. I forgot how much I love seeing tree aloes. Really love seeing images of this place because of the maturity of the plants. Great photos as always!

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    1. Tree aloes aren't a common sight for me either :-).

      I hope you'll get a chance visit the Huntington in person someday soon.

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  5. This was a fabulous post Gerhard, all those blooming aloes take me back to my December 2014 visit, which I have not yet posted about either...someday soon, hopefully. Also thanks for the reminder about how much I love, desire, and must have a Aloe erinacea!

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    1. What a special place the Huntington is!

      I don't have Aloe erinacea either. It's still very expensive. I'm making do for now with Aloe melanacantha, which is very similar.

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  6. Can't begin to tell you how wonderful these photos are. I always think I'm perfectly happy with a (very) small garden, and then I see this and think, hmmm, I need acreage ;~) Dashing off to work now, but I'll be sneaking looks at your blog all day. (Picked up an Aloe × principis at the UC Riverside sale -- we'll see how it handles foothill weather...)

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    1. Thank you, Luisa!

      I feel the same way. When I visit a place like the Huntington, I want space to create my own miniature version.

      Let me know how that Aloe × principis goes for you. It's certainly beautiful!

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