More succulent Shangri-La: Rancho Soledad Nursery (part 2)

This is part 2 of my trip report about Rancho Soledad Nursery in San Diego County. If you missed part 1, click here.

Rancho Soledad may be open to the public, but it's very much a working nursery. There were signs of it everywhere even though we didn't see many employees. Plants, usually larger specimens, were in the process of being hauled from one point to another, like Aloidendron ramosissimum in this photo:

Aloidendron ramosissimum

Outside the greenhouses, succulents were growing pretty wherever they felt like it. Or it seemed that way. I don't know if they were planted on purpose or whether they may simply have rooted through nursery containers that had been left in the same place for too long.

The "cactus" is a euphorbia, not sure which species. The aloe looks like Aloe 'Fire Ranch' or 'Candy Corn'. Both are hybrids of two Madagascar species: Aloe vaotsanda × Aloe divaricata.

Aloe 'Fire Ranch' or 'Candy Corn' (pretty much the same thing)

Alluaudia procera

The greenhouses are very much production environments. Don't expect a gussied up retail space with pretty decor. What you can expect though: classical music, both inside and outside the greenhouses. It was quite strange walking around among the plants, seeing not another living soul, and yet hearing classical music from unseen loudspeakers. Apparently playing classical music was a tradition started by Jerry Hunter, the patriarch of the family who established the nursery in the 1950s. Jerry died in 2012, but the music keeps playing on.

Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta'

Some aisles seemed like a random assortment of succulents, but I'm sure there's a system

These comically tall Pachypodium lamerei growing out of plastic pots made me chuckle

Unfortunately, none of the smaller plants are for sale. They're grown on until they're larger (usually 3 gallon and up).

Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie'

Here's an Agave ovatifolia that has somehow escaped and rooted into the ground

Agave 'Kissho Kan'

Agave pablocarilloi (formerly known as Agave gypsophila)

Beauty where you don't expect it

More escaped succulents, in this case Aloe dorotheae

Strappy lads

Another droolworthy Dioscorea elephantipes

And another one, none of them for sale

Dyckia 'Grand Marnier'

Agave desmettiana with extreme variegation ('Marginata' and 'Mediopicta')

Poking around behind the greenhouses was just as much fun. Some areas are small display gardens, while in others the plants are allowed to do what they want. 

Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum)

Some of these flower stalks were tagged with ribbons—maybe hybridization work in progress?

Plants roaming free behind a hoop house

Flowering agaves

Agave titanota, the REAL titanota

Agave titanota

Euphorbia busting free

Agave flower stalk landing right on top...

...of an otherwise perfect Agave parrasana

Agave victoria-reginae long after flowering

Bulbils on a flower stalk—I couldn't tell what species this was but the bulbils were clearly not worth enough to be picked off and potted up for sale

No, we didn't stay until the moon came out although I imagine this is what the bulbils will look like at night

Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) bulbils left to their own devices

Aeonium seedlings popping up... front of this clump

Rancho Soledad is the place to go when you want large specimen plants. That goes not only for succulents, but also for palms and cycads. Many of them, just like other tropical plants, are grown at their 25-acre nursery in Hilo, Hawaii. I could have spent a lot more time checking out all the cycads, but we were running short on time.

I wonder how long ago the species name was scratched into the metal band of this box? Cycads are slow-growing, so it could have been many years ago.

If you take a look at the map of the nursery, you can see that Aliso Canyon Road cuts right through the middle. All the photos you've seen so far were taken in the areas north of the road. We didn't have much time to explore the other half of the nursery grounds, but what we did see was fantastic.

One tree aloe is an impressive sight. How about four or five?

Instant impact in your garden. All you need is a truck and a big wad of cash.

My partner-in-crime Sarah next to a big fat ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)

Heavy equipment is needed to move these giants!

What looks like red flowers are actually older inflorescences...

... that were successfully pollinated and are going to seed

Panorama of this area

More Agave ovatifolia

Agave ovatifolia (top) and Agave 'Snow Glow' (bottom)

Agave impressa

Agave pedunculifera 'Durango' 

Kentia palms galore, brought in from Rancho Soledad's growing grounds in Hawaii

The largest philodendron leaves I've ever seen

Separate from Rancho Soledad Nursery but closely affiliated, Rancho Tissue Technologies is one of the world's leading tissue culture labs. In operation since 1986, they produce everything from agaves (49 varieties) and aloes (37 varieties) to blueberries and hazelnuts. According to their web site, they grow as many as 4 million plants a year! Check out this quick lab tour to find out more about how tissue culture works.

The next time I go to Rancho Soledad Nursery, I really need to bring my own car!

© Gerhard Bock, 2018. No part of the materials available through may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Gerhard Bock is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by  United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. If you are reading this post on a website other than, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Any unauthorized use will be reported.


  1. Darn! I had a friend almost convinced to make a trip to this nursery but, if all they sell is large specimens, that's going to be a no-go. Maybe the background classical music would be enough to attract my husband.

    1. Kris, they do have lots of plants in 5 gallon sizes. And supposedly even a section with 1 gallon plants, although I missed it.

  2. So much to see! Those Pachypodium reinforce my fear that mine will someday be too tall to get into the house -- even horizontally!

    How big was the Agave impressa? I think mine needs to go into a bigger pot.

    1. Those Pachypodiums! No wonder they haven't been moved in a while--years, probably.

      The Agave impressa was maybe 1.5 ft. across.

  3. More fabulousness! I can see where a big wad of cash and a large truck would be very helpful when visiting this nursery. What came home with you?

    1. Sadly, I didn't buy anything. Since I hadn't flown to SD, I didn't have room. And I'd already abused the generousness of my plant-hauling friend enough.

      But I want to go back soon, in my own car. And if daughter #2 ends up going to college in San Diego, I'll be down there regularly.

  4. Don't bring car. Bring big truck.

    Those big big cycads in those little bitty pots! Guessing they don't have big root systems.

    1. I guess not! I guess I don't need to be so anxious about repotting plants that look too big for the container they're in.

  5. Agave impressa is mighty stylish. Is there one in your garden?

    1. No, unfortunately Agave impressa isn't hardy enough to survive a winter here without unsightly leaf damage.

  6. It never struck me until you mentioned hybridization what a prodigious amount of seed an Agave stalk produces. There'd be more than enough to share with other enthusiasts. In the wild, I'd expect a lot of the seed gets eaten, but with so much of it to begin with, some hits the ground and gets a chance to germinate.

    1. It really is mind-boggling, isn't it? I have no idea how many individual seeds there might be on a single flower stalk.


Post a Comment