UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley: South African Collection (August 2020)

The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley (UCBG) is open daily from 12 to 5 pm, but visitors need to make a reservation. Fortunately, that's easy to do online, and same-day reservations are usually available. The upside of the reservation system is that fewer people visit at any given time, making it much easier to find parking at the Garden's parking lot.

In late July, I blogged about the Mexico and Central America Collection and the Australasia Collection. This post is about the Southern Africa Collection; the next one will be about the New World Desert.

The Southern Africa Collection features everything from spring-blooming bulbs (now dormant), to proteas, ericas and restios, to cycads. What I'm most interested in, of course, are the succulents, especially aloes. 

While late winter/early spring is the best time to see aloes in bloom, there were a few even now. But aloes are beautiful year-round; the flowers are just a temporary bonus.

The beauty in the middle is the tilt-head aloe (Aloe speciosa).
As its common name suggests, the head is tilted towards the sun instead of growing straight up.

Trio of Aloe speciosa

Aloe mitriformis...or Aloe perfoliata...or Aloe distans—take your pick. I've lost track of what this beautiful creeping aloe is currently called.

Aloe kedongensis, a shrubby species from Kenya

Aloe kedongensis flower

Labeled Aloe abyssinica, now considered a synonym of Aloe elegans

Aloe mubendiensis (Uganda)

Aloe capitata var. quartziticola (Madagascar)

Aloe aculeata (Zimbabwe and South Africa) in a sea of Euryops tysonii

Fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis), easily one of the most unique aloes

This fan aloe has got to be the largest in Northern California

The aloe to the left of Kumara plicatilis is simply labeled Aloe sp...

...but it looks very much like it has Aloe ferox in it

Erica vestita, one countless South African heathers

Erica vestita

Erica vestita (left) and unlabeled pink heather

Christmas berry (Chironia baccifera)

Encephalartos altensteinii, one of the most common cycads in the Eastern Cape; the flowers on the right are Kniphofia sp.

More cycads: both are Encephalartos lehmannii, the one of the left has newer leaves that look much bluer

Encephalartos natalensis

Brunsvigia josephinae, one of the most magnificent South African bulbs

Boophone haemanthoides, dormant but still impressive

I have no idea what this succulent groundcover is, but it looks great forming a carpet on this rock. ID'ed as Euphorbia clavaroides (thank you, Kathy and Chris)

View from the Southern Africa hill towards the New World Desert (left) and the Tour Deck (right):

The Plant Deck next to the Garden Shop at the entrance is currently closed, but a good selection of plants is available on the Tour Deck (see photo below):

You pick out the plants you want, have a tally sheet written up, take it the Garden Shop to pay, and then pick up your plants. A bit cumbersome, but an understandable procedure, considering the social distancing restrictions. I'd rather walk a few extra steps than not have plants for sale at all.

The UCBG also sells 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 more 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. I didn't know that Boophone bloomed. I have to look for Aloe elegans, which is a beauty. I got excited when I saw the online list of plants but, as curbside pickup isn't really an option, I'll go search Huntington's site and see if they're still shipping plants.

    Stay cool, Gerhard. We just hit 100F here and the heat index is reading 104.

    1. For me, seeing Boophones this large is always a treat, whether in flower or in leaf. They're so slow growing!

      I hope you're doing OK in the heatwave. It's brutal in Southern California...

  2. I really need to go, have not been a single time this year. I almost always go on Sunday morning to arrive right when they open-parking is no problem then,and not too bad going home traffic either. I've started to move a couple of my smaller Aloes into the ground-it will be an experiment to see how they do in winter.

    1. You should go while the crowds are non-existent!

      Your aloes will be perfectly fine. I know it, ha ha.

  3. An impressive collection. Didn't know SA had ericas. Just read an article from the Kew website on how the illegal trade in cycads is driving them to extinction. Botanic gardens might be their last stronghold.

    1. Yes, lots and lots of heathers - over 600 species of Erica and related genera like Calluna. Most of them won't grow here (our native soils are alkaline) but I enjoy them greatly in places like UC Berkeley, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, and the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden.

  4. Hi Gerhard,
    Great photos of the botanical garden! This is making me realize I really need to take a day trip out to Berkeley and have a visit where I spend more time checking out their succulents. The last few visits I've had were with family and friends so they've been quicker trips.

    For one of your photos, I think I may have an identification. To me, that mounding groundcover succulent looks like it might be Euphorbia clavaroides, which is supposed to be a pretty hardy species from the Lesotho area. I agree, it looks great juxtaposed against a large rock like that!

    Right now my whole succulent collection is in containers, but someday I hope to really get into landscaping a garden, and this species would definitely be on my list. Cool plant!


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