My succulent haul from the Southland

Yesterday I was teasing you about this mystery plant that I brought home from our trip to the Southern California desert:

Mystery plant in 5-gallon container…

The way it was wrapped it could have been anything, but it is a beautiful specimen of a fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) native to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Since it’s hardy to at least 15°F, it can spend winters outside in our climate as long as it is protected from the rain.

Check out this site for some beautiful photos of its spines and flowers. As you can see in my photos, the spines lose their cinnamon color as they age and turn to a pinkish gray.

…revealed to be fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii)

I realize the spines are pretty nasty looking but since they’re curved, they don’t really prick you unless you touch them from underneath. I do like the heavy armature on this cactus—it has attitude!

This Arizona native has very impressive spines—they are rigid and sharp

Click here to see where the fishhook cactus ended up.

I also brought home some small cacti. The first two are star cacti (genus Astrophytum). I saw one in the ground at Ruth Bancroft Garden last summer and have been wanting one ever since.

Bishop’s cap (Astrophytum myriostigma), 2½” wide in this photo
Monk’s hood (Astrophytum ornatum), 2” wide in this photo

The next one is an agave cactus (Leuchtenbergia principis). Looking at the leaves, it’s easy to see why it’s called agave cactus. It’s supposed to be very slow-growing, to approx. 30 inches over many years. Since it forms a turnip-like tap root, it prefers to be planted in a deep pot. This is different than most cacti whose root systems are shallow.

Agave cactus (Leuchtenbergia principis)

The next three don’t really look like they’re related, but they are. They are not cacti, i.e. they are not members of the New-World Cactaceae family. Instead, they are euphorbias, native to the Old World (in this case Africa).

The genus Euphorbia, part of the Euphorbiaceae family, is enormous, comprising more than 2,000 species. It includes the ever-popular spurges, poinsettia, crown-of-thorns, giant columnar “cacti”, and many others.

Milk barrel (Euphorbia horrida var. striata), 1½” wide in this photo.
Eventually grows into a cylindrical plant up to 3 feet tall.
Hardy to the mid-20s for short periods of time.

Euphorbia aeruginosa, 4” tall in the photo above, eventually to 12” with many tightly packed stems. Flowers in the early spring. Very cheery looking plant. Not cold hardy so it’ll live in a pot and be brought inside on frosty nights.

Pencil milk bush (Euphorbia mauritanica), native to northwest Africa. 12” tall in the photo above, 36” when mature, hardy to the mid-20s

The next one is a silver dollar plant (Crassula arborescens), closely related to the jade plant (Crassula ovata), with the same growth habit and cultivation requirements. I actually like it even better than the jade plant because of its gray leaves with red margins. Since jade plants are marginally hardy in our climate—i.e. they can stay outside but need some protection on the coldest nights—this one will live outside as well.

Silver dollar plant (Crassula arborescens)

I also brought home three prickly pears (opuntias). Since they had completely outgrown their nursery containers, I transplanted them into a larger pots. Check back  on Tuesday for a separate post about that. It was quite an undertaking, with glochids (tiny spines) flying everywhere.

P.S. I’ve been posting a lot about succulents lately, especially cacti. I promise you, I’ll return to less prickly plants very soon, especially as our bamboos begin to shoot.


  1. Since you bought these on your recent trip, who has to sit next to them on the hours-long car ride home? ;-)

  2. Alan, we have a minivan so there's always room somewhere. Plus, I'd brought a couple of boxes, just in case :-)

  3. Gorgeous collection Gerhard! The Bishop's Hat is such elegant statement plant when it gets bigger!

    Did any of the passengers had to carry one back home on their lap? :)

  4. I've wanted a Bishop's Hat for a long time but never found one locally.

    The smaller plants went in a box in the back of the van, and the 5-gallon ferocactus fit on the floor next to the two seats in the middle. Nobody was inconvenienced. At least not overly :-).

  5. All really beautiful plants. The Bishop’s cap is my favourite. The Agave cactus looks very neat too. :)


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