UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, summer 2020: Americas

The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley was closed longer than many other public gardens in California because it's on the campus of UC Berkeley and therefore subject to its regulations. Even now you need to make a reservation in order to visit, although even same-day reservations are generally available.

Feeling a bit restless, I made a reservation for last Saturday, and as luck would have it, my Bay Area friends Justin and Max were able to join me. It was great meeting up with them since they share my enthusiasm for plants. Even though we were wearing masks (required at the UCBG) and kept our distance from each other, it almost felt like a return to normal—the old normal, the one that's beginning to fade into oblivion...

Selfie with Chilean rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria)

Justin, Max and I, aka the Three Plant Amigos, spent most of our time in the Mexico & Central America Collection (see garden map), skirting Australasia and South America where I took the Gunnera selfie above. 

As the UCBG website states, the Mexico & Central America Collection “is representative of plants from the Sierra Madre mountain ranges of Mexico south to the higher elevations of Central America. Two major plant communities are represented: pine-oak woodland and cloud forest.”

It may come as a surprise that Mexican succulents, including the likes of agaves and beschornerias, often favor somewhat sheltered positions near or under trees or shrubs rather than growing out in the open. Relatively few agaves are true desert dwellers adapted to life in the hot blazing sun; these tend to have pale blue or silver leaves. Species with greener leaves are typically denizens of higher-elevation pine-oak communities.

Agave “sp.” (always my favorite label) and Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum)

I love everything about this vignette

I did a double-take when I saw this, thinking it was a new-to-me agave species. Not so. It's a Furcraea guatemalensisFurcraea being a related genus.

Agave marmorata, small and cute now but able to grow to giant proportions (in excess of 6 ft. in height and width)

Another Agave marmorata

Agave wocomahi

Agave wocomahi may not be a household name, but it deserves to be more widely grown since it's very cold hardy

Labeled “Nolina sp.”

Dasylirion acrotrichum in the front, unknown Nolina behind it

Agave gentryi growing in quite a bit of shade

Beautiful Agave “sp.”

This Manfreda sp. is an example of a plant so ugly only a real aficionado can love it

Cycads are another major plant group from Mexico I'm fond of. This is a rare Dioon sonorense.

Yucca rostrata towering over everything else

Agave “sp.” growing in fairly dense shade

Beschorneria albiflora

My latest plant crush: Brahea decumbens. I've long been enamored with the Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata), but it's a big plant that takes up a substantial amount of room. Brahea decumbens, on the other hand, is much smaller, only to 6 ft. in many years. Needless to say that, like so many other plants I become focused on, Brahea decumbens is rare and virtually impossible to find.

Brahea decumbens

Dioon edule, much easier to find and faster as well—but alas, not a blue palm!

Echeveria gigantea growing in conditions that I assume are similar to its natural habitat

If I hadn't seen the label, I wouldn't have believed that this is an oxalis: Oxalis magnifica

I don't associate tree ferns with Mexico/Central America, but here's one: Cyathea fulva, hailing from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas

Cyathea fulva frond getting ready to unfurl

Another relatively rare Mexican cycad, Dioon tomaselli

A few photos from the South America collection:

Gunnera tinctoria

And yours truly for scale (photo by Justin Cannon)

Aechmea recurvata var. ortgiesii growing in a crack in this rock

Next up, Baja California:

Agave datylio

Agave shawii ssp. goldmanniana

Agave shawii ssp. goldmanniana with Dudleya brittonii. Check out the incredibly long flower stalks!

I went a bit overboard taking photos of Dudleya brittonii...

...but it's such a beauty (here with Hechtia montana)

More Dudleya brittonii

OK, last Dudleya brittonii photo

A close relative, Dudleya anthonyii

A shrub for a change: Tecoma stans

Hechtia texensis at the entrance plaza:

The world-famous clump of hedgehog agave (Agave stricta) next to the tour deck:

One of the UCBG's signature plants, Agave mitis var. albidior 'UCBG':

And, to wrap things up, a personal favorite, Puya coerulea

A nice place to nap as long as you stay on the bench!

In part 2, I'll show you photos from other collections at the UC Botanical Garden, including Australasia.


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  1. Great Post,
    Reach out to Phil at junglemusic.net, he has a couple of Brahea Decumbens for sale. Such beautiful palms and if you are enamored with those check into Brahea Moorei equally beautiful and compact.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. Will definitely look into Brahea moorei!

  2. It's way past time for a visit for me;I've been remiss ! I love taking photos here--there is just so much horticultural depth. And it's always good to see a successful Dudleya brittonii--I think I've killed 3. Were they selling any plants ?

    1. I've kept my D. brittonii alive for 3+ years now. Go very easy on the water in the summer. Just a drop every now and then to prevent the roots from desiccating completely. And plant the rosettes at a slight angle so water runs off in the winter instead of pooling in the center.

      Yes, they were selling plants on the tour deck. The selection was smaller than in the area behind the gift shop, but they still had some nice choices.

  3. Thanks for sharing another of your botanical adventures. I love the photos of the Agave beneath the weeping bamboo with that splash of red-orange floral color thrown in to jazz things up.

  4. I do appreciate your admiration to Brahea's which I ended up propagating from seeds, they respond relatively well providing they do have the right conditions. If you wish to try, here is a link for you to worth exploring:


    1. Thank you! I've ordered seeds from Rare Palm Seeds before (agaves and hechtias) and they germinated well.

  5. One of the silver linings to having to register is you pretty much have the place to yourself. Great photos but I love the third one with the agave and the bamboo(?). The textural differences are fabulous. Nice mask too.

    1. My wife made the mask. She's made several dozen now using random fabric she had on hand :-).

  6. thanks for taking us along with the Three Plant Amigos! And great rec by Unknown reader re junglemusic.net. I could really use a short road trip...

  7. Physical distance and a mask is a small price for visiting the UCBG after it was close to visitors for so long, and it maybe that we are getting used to the new normal.
    It could be the effect of mass planting, but I really loved the clump of hedgehog agave. Another favorite photo is Achmea recurvata: glowing (and growing) straight out of the rock.

  8. chavliness comment above sums my plant-thoughts up better than I can phrase them.

    Happy you got out and about safely!

  9. I haven't been here for ages, thanks for the visit. I wish I could have joined you guys!


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