Huntington Desert Garden keeps me coming back

My previous post from the Huntington Botanical Gardens in Southern California bypassed the world-famous Desert Garden. In contrast, this post is about nothing else.

I've talked about the history of the Desert Garden in an earlier post, but here's a recap:

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. Arguably the most famous 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.

Isn't this a breathtaking sight?

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.
On that note, let's go!

Agave horrida var. perotensis

No label, but it may be Agave potatorum 'Cameron Blue'. Mine (much smaller) is showing similar center striping.

Agave applanata 'Cream Spike'

Agave parrasana with its very asparagus-like flower spike

Aeonium sp. and Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue'

Aeonium sp. and Agave 'Blue Flame'

Aloe mawii

No clue, but I'm drawn to aloes with yellow(ish) flowers

Aloe dorotheae

Haworthiopsis attenuata

Tree grape (Cyphostemma juttae)

The lethal but beautiful bromeliad on the right is Bromelia serra 'Variegata'

Echeveria avavoides × colorata

In nature, aeoniums, aloes and cacti are continents apart but who cares—they look good together

Three Agave chazaroi (front left to top center)

String of buttons (Crassula perforata) and Deuterocohnia brevifolia

Crassula perforata and Aloe dorotheae, all green because it's growing in the shade

Dyckia maritima

Hechtia glauca. I have no idea why the lower leaves are so funky.

Hechtia huamelulaensis.The name may be a tongue twister, but the plant itself is one of the most striking of all hechtias.

Cleistocactus sp. with typical tubular flowers

This cactus (no ID) seems to be growing straight out of the rock

A view like this makes my heart beat faster

One of my favorite vistas in the Desert Garden

Cleistocactus straussii (the tall columnar cactus in the back), Mammillaria geminispina (the white clump on the left), and Agave ovatifolia

Hechtia aff. glomerata (thanks for the ID, Andy)

Hechtia aff. glomerata

Hechtias are what botanists call “dioecious,” i.e. a plant is either male or female. Reproduction requires pollen from the male flower to be transferred to female flower. The hechtia in this photo is female; you can clearly see the stigma where the pollen grains land.

One of the most spectacular spots in the Desert Garden

Golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii) and Agave parryi var. truncata

I'll never get tired of this!

Hechtia stenopetala

Hechtia stenopetala

Hechtia stenopetala

The regular form of Agave applanata is much less frequently seen in cultivation than the variegated 'Cream Spike' you saw towards the beginning of this post

The flowering agave is Agave parrasana

A massive clump of dyckias in front of golden barrels

Puya venusta in the front

Fallen flower petals under a palo verde

Deuterocohnia longipetala

Heart of flame (Bromelia balansae). The center of this terrestrial bromeliad from Argentina and neighboring countries turns bright red prior to flowering (hence the common name).

My personal highlight was seeing these Yucca rostrata in full bloom. I've never seen so many inflorescences at the same time.

Truly a spectacular sight!

This seems like a good place to bring this post to a close

One more Huntington post to come: photos from the Cactus and Succulent Society of America's big show.



  1. Incredible photos Gerhard! Photo #7 really caught my eye with the dichotomy of the semi-closed Aeonium rosettes and the wide open Agave 'Blue Flame'. The photos of all the yuccas flowering is very cool. Dr. Seussian. Wonder what garden maintenance is like around all that spiky danger?

  2. It's really a challenge to stop taking photos of the Golden Barrel/Agave parryi 'grove'! I enjoyed your visit and the great plant portraits you captured. I will have a possible opportunity to visit the Huntington is Sept as I have to go down to Socal on business. I plan to drive which gives me more flexibility.

  3. You did a great job capturing the beauty of the desert garden, not that I'd have expected anything less.

  4. So much spiky beauty. Thanks for all the eye candy!

  5. The golden barrels with the parryi truncatas are such a striking pair.

    I took almost that same shot as the "A view like this makes my heart beat faster" photo, though at a different time of day. It's such a striking scene, isn't it?


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