UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley: New World Desert (August 2020)

At the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley (UCBG), the hill that is home to the Southern Africa Collection looks down (literally) at the New World Desert. This is what you see:

If this were my garden, I'd be ecstatic!

With so many agaves, there's always something in bloom. Here's an octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) whose flower stalk is covered with bulbils—miniature plants which, in time, will detach and fall to the ground where they will hopefully find a bit of soil to root in. But that's in nature; I'm sure that at the UCBG the inflorescence will be harvested.

There's one plant (or rather clump of plants) I check out on every visit to the UCBG. Based on that, I guess that makes it my favorite plant there! Here it is:

This silver-leaved marvel is Puya venusta, a terrestrial bromeliad from Chile which forms large thickets over time. This looks great if well maintained, as it is here, but I wouldn't be the one doing the maintaining—as in cleaning out all the debris that ends up in there.

When somebody else does the work, and does it well, it's a thing of beauty.

Puya alpestris not far from the Puya venusta clump

Unidentified prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) and Mammillaria compressa

The same Mammillaria compressa, darkened in Photoshop to highlight the remarkable spines

Oreocereus leucotrichus, one of the “old man of the Andes” type cactus

Oreocereus doelzianus, a related species

Agave mitis var. albidior, a beautiful agave that I've had the hardest time growing in my garden. It must be our summer heat!

Agave mitis var. mitis and Agave parryi var. truncata looking great together

Agave mitis var. mitis

Agave shawii ssp. goldmaniana (Baja California)

Agave datylio, a Baja California native rarely seen in cultivation

Agave cerulata, a somewhat variable species from Baja California

Agave sobria ssp. roseana, virtually never seen in cultivation—maybe because it's not all that attractive

Dudleya brittonii, an all-time favorite of mine. Some moron felt it necessary to scratch their initials into the rosette on the right. Fortunately, it didn't spoil the overall look.

In a place full of beautiful vignettes, this is arguably one of the prettiest:

This large clump of agaves—Agave filifera, Agave parryi var. huachucensis and Agave xylonacantha—is an iconic sight.

LEFT: Agave parryi var. huachucensis   RIGHT: Agave filifera

LEFT: Agave parryi var. huachucensis   RIGHT: Agave filifera

TOP: Agave xylonacantha   BOTTOM: Agave parryi var. huachucensis

Agave parryi var. huachucensis

Sometimes black and white is the best look

There's another iconic sight in the New World Desert: the large clump of Agave stricta along the path separating the New World Desert from the South African hill:

Agave stricta is a very prickly species; it's called hedgehog agave for good reason! I certainly wouldn't want to trip and fall here.

But from a purely visual perspective, it's a thing of raw beauty.

Once you've seen these Agave stricta in person, you'll never forget them!

In closing, I want to repeat the online plant sale info from my previous post:

The UCBG recently started selling a curated selection of plants online. Currently there are five categories: California Natives, Cactus + Succulents (only dish gardens at the moment), Insectivores, Trees + Shrubs, and Cycas + Palms. Not a massive selection, but for the most part they are unusual plants not easily found elsewhere. Prices are very fair, and all purchases support the Garden. 

It's easy to order online, but you have to come to the Garden to pick up your plants; they don't ship. This limits purchases to folks living in the Bay Area (or those who don't mind a bit of a drive). But if you can combine plant pickup with a garden visit, it's a tempting proposition.


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  1. The close up of Agave parryi var. huachucensis is stunningly beautiful. I'm a sucker of the blueish tone. I wonder how they keep the Puya venusta clump so perfect... there must be a vacuum involved.

  2. The massed plantings are spectacular. I can't even begin to imagine how they keep everything so well manicured.

  3. I wonder how many photos I've taken over the years of that clump of Agave striata ? One of the things I love about the New World Desert garden is how the hillside locations lets you see (and photograph) plants from so many different angles. You've inspired me to go back and look at some of my photos from visits to this garden. A pleasant way to spend a 109 degree afternoon !

  4. so many choice plants and grown to perfection. I am guessing the Puya is well armed? As always your photos really capture the character of the garden but I particularly like the black and white shot of the agave. It really highlights the shadows and forms created by the leaf rosette.

  5. Now you're talking! While I enjoyed your other UCBG posts this section of the garden is my fav, and it's looking good! It's been so long since I've had a chance to visit...

  6. Your photos of a beautiful garden give me a lift after what was a frightening weekend of 108F Saturday and 110F Sunday. It's a relief to just look at some gorgeous plants.

  7. wow! I've been there a few times but your shot of the massed A. striata shows this hillside in a way that is different from what I remember.


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