Recent plant purchases: weird and wonderful

Spring is here for good, and it’s planting—and plant buying—time! With little room left in any of our planting beds, I’m focusing on smallish plants I can display on tables and racks. This week our lovely mail lady brought two packages. If you’re anything like me, opening a box from a mail-order nursery is a little bit like opening a birthday present: thrilling and exciting. And who can ever have enough thrill and excitement in their life?

Box of goodies from Arid Lands

My first box was from Arid Lands Greenhouses in Tucson, Arizona, one of the premier specialist succulent nurseries in the country. Arid Lands has an astonishingly broad catalog; if you’ve never been to their web site, you must check it out if you’re into succulents. The euphorbia section alone contains 485 items!

In fact, my order consisted of nothing but euphorbias. They came neatly wrapped in newspaper:

Wrapped in newspaper to enhance the opening pleasure

While personally I prefer receiving potted plants, I do understand that shipping bare-root material is significantly cheaper. And I admit, it is cool being able to see the roots.

Bare-rooted plants from Arid Lands

When buying plants this small (all of them were in 4-inch pots), it often takes a bit of imagination to visualize what they will look like later on. In addition to photos of the plants I received, I’m also adding photos of what mature specimens look like so you have any idea why I was attracted to these euphorbia species in the first place.

TOP: Euphorbia cylindrifolia subsp. tuberifera
BOTTOM: Euphorbia ambovombensis
Euphorbia cylindrifolia subsp. tuberifera
Mature Euphorbia cylindrifolia subsp. tuberifera at Huntington Botanical Gardens
© Candice Suter. Reproduced with permission.
Click here to visit Candy’s blog.
Euphorbia ambovombensis
Euphorbia ambovombensis
Older Euphorbia ambovombensis
Photo credit: Fernando-M on Flickr
Euphorbia bupleurifolia
Euphorbia bupleurifolia
Mature Euphorbia bupleurifolia. It’s sometimes called “pineapple euphorbia,” and looking at a mature specimen, it’s easy to see why.
Photo source: Gates Cactus & Succulent Society
Euphorbia susannae
Euphorbia susannae
For this euphorbia I don’t even need to post a photo of a mature plant; it’s easy to see why I like this species so much!

In addition to my order from Arid Lands, I received a plant from Terrapin Gardens, a small mail-order nursery in Seattle, Washington. While their catalog is heavy on perennials, especially rare salvias, they also have a handful of succulents, including one I’ve been looking for for quite a while: Dioscorea elephantipes, commonly called “elephant’s foot” or “hottentot bread.”

Dioscorea elephantipes

This South African native has a very attractive caudex with a cork-like texture that in the wild can grow to astonishing dimensions. According to

Sir William Hooker, one of the ex directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and historical botanical explorer, reported seeing one such specimen in the wild attain a height of 2.1 m (7 ft). The weight was estimated at 365 kg.

That is a jaw-dropping 800 pounds! Needless to say in cultivation the plant stays significantly smaller—a specimen I photographed at UC Botanical Garden (see below) was about 8 inches across and 20+ years old.

Mature Dioscorea elephantipes at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley

The plant I received from Terrapin Gardens is small—it’s caudex is about 1⅝ inches in diameter—but it is already showing the fissures that make this species so attractive. As you can see from the vine, the plant is actively growing. The vine will die in early summer and the plant will then go dormant for a period of time.

Dioscorea elephantipes

I’m still relatively new to the strange world of caudiciforms and pachycauls—“fat plants,” as they are often called—but I love learning about their quirks.


  1. I can definitely see the attraction of these, except for the slow-growing aspect.

    Remind me to triple-wrap any plants I send you this year so you'll have more fun unwrapping. :-)

    1. Triple-wrapping in newspaper is fine. But shrink-wrap and I are NOT friends!

      The slow-growing aspect is actually OK with me. Otherwise I'd run out of room even faster. On that note, I'm about to head to another plant sale :-).

  2. Its always great to have new plants arrive, to unpack and sort them out. Even better when they are as interesting as those you had before.

    I can see why you like Euphorbia susannae so much, very cool looking plant!

    1. To me, there's something very exciting about a plant as symmetrical as Euphorbia susannae, or the Medusa head euphorbias. If only they were less wimpy in the winter...

  3. How fun and they will look so awesome with time! It's amazing they send them with absolutely no dirt! And that elephant foot is so cool looking. I have a pic or two of that one in the Huntington posts also. It is so big and really looks like an elephant foot!

    1. Would love to see your elephant foot photos from the Huntington!


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