Visiting Africa at UC Davis

On Saturday I went on a field trip with the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society to tour the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory greenhouses. Ernesto Sandoval, the director of the Botanical Conservatory, gave us an in-depth tour of their collection. But before we get to that, I want to show you some of the magnificent plants we saw outside the greenhouses and in front of nearby buildings on campus. This post is about African plants. Tomorrow’s post will be about American and Asian plants.

I’ve lived in Davis for 16 years and I’ve been to the Botanical Conservatory greenhouses, best known for their corpse flower which has bloomed twice in recent years, but I’ve never walked around that part of campus in search of plants. I was floored to discover not only that there are public planting of succulents in front of quite a few buildings but that there even is a small cycad collection with species from Africa, South America and Asia.

Who knows what other treasures might be tucked away here and there! If anybody knows of other interesting plantings on campus, please leave a comment below.

Let’s start this post with the aloes planted outside the Botanical Conservatory greenhouses. These are fully hardy in our climate since the less hardy species died in the big freeze of 1998. They are also fairly tolerant of our native clay soil, which is cold and wet in the winter. For more information on aloe species that do well in the Sacramento Valley, download this PDF published by the Botanical Conservatory.


Aloes in front of Botanical Conservatory greenhouses


Aloe littoralis


Aloe arborescens (foreground) and Aloe littoralis (background)


Aloe littoralis


Aloe microstigma

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Aloe microstigma


Aloe striatula


Euphorbia atropurpurea


Euphorbia atropurpurea


Aloe hereroensis and Euphorbia atropurpurea seedlings


Aloe hereroensis

Our next destination was Storer Hall. The outside plantings are grouped into three distinct areas: Africa, South America, and a small Asian island featuring sago palms and daphne (more tomorrow).

The African beds not only contain aloes…


Aloe arborescens


Aloe plantings

…but also a several species of Encephalartos, the most important African cycad genus. Encephalartos horridus is considered to be one of the most spectacular of all cycads because of its bluish coloration, the elegant curve of its leaves, and its wicked spination. I was glad to see it’s fully hardy in our climate.


Encephalartos horridus


Encephalartos horridus


Encephalartos horridus

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Encephalartos horridus and Aloe comosa

Check out the otherworldly color of this Aloe comosa!


Aloe comosa


Miscellaneous aloes


Aloe suprafoliata

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Partridge breast aloe (Aloe variegata) and Cape lily (Veltheimia bracteata) with flower buds


Broken off aloe trunk waiting to be replanted


Tree grape (Cyphostemma juttae) waiting to leaf out

Our final stop was the Sciences Laboratory Building. It features a large planting bed chock full of goodies, not only from Africa but also from the Americas (cactus and agaves).


Aloe ferox and Aloe marlothii in front of Sciences Laboratory Building


Aloe ferox and Aloe marlothii in front of Sciences Laboratory Building


Aloe marlothii


Aloe peglerae


These fascinating leaves are from a South African bulb in the genus Haemanthus—I don’t know which species


Yucca rigida—not an African species, obviously, but I’m including it here because it’s surrounded by African plants, including Star of Madeira (a variegated Echium candicans) and an Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’

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Yucca rigida and Star of Madeira (a variegated form of Echium candicans)


Another plant from the island of Madeira: Geranium maderense. In the summer it will produce large pink flowers. For more details, click here.


Tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). The gray skeletons in the foreground are old plants that have toppled over. The rosettes towards the back should flower this year.



  1. Replies
    1. I'm glad you liked the photos. Check back in a day or two for the next installment.

  2. It always amazes me that Aloes get that large. I would plant one of those Star of Madeira in a second if I lived in the right climate -- what a stunner!

    Great stuff!

    1. My tallest tree aloe (an Aloe marlothii) is only about 3 ft tall but it's already five years old. Tree aloes do NOT grow fast. My guess is that the really tall ones at UCD are 20+ years old.

      I had a Star of Madeira a few years ago but it rotted in the winter. They don't deal well with wet clay soil. I should get another one and plant it on a mound. It truly is a spectacular shrub.

  3. Fantastic planting and specimens! Isn't it nice that even if you've been there a few times before that there are still parts of it that you never knew had such superb plantings until this recent visit? Looking forward to the next instalment!

    1. Since I don't work on campus, I don't go there often (with the exception of the Arboretum, which is on the periphery of the central campus). But yesterday's experience has whetted my appetite for more exploration!

  4. Great plant finds Gerhard...what a way to spend your Saturday.

  5. And it was a fun Saturday indeed! Wonderful post my friend and thanks for helping me identify my aloe photos. Hee hee! Can't wait for next post.

  6. Great shots Gerhard. Just this last Sunday Ernesto came and did a presentation of So. African bulbs at the San Jose Cactus Society. He had some for sale and of course I ended up with a few more. One of these days, I will get myself over there.


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