A tale of two dudleyas unfolding in our garden

Dudleyas are the most intriguing succulents native to California—or in a broader sense, the California Floristic Province, which extends into Oregon in the north and Baja California in the south. Geoff Stein wrote a great introduction to dudleyas on Dave's Garden so I don't need to repeat the same information here.

The common name for dudleyas is live-forever, owing to their extreme longevity (some species live 100 years or longer). That, however, is in their native habitats. I doubt the same is true for cultivation. They certainly don't last that long in my garden. 

With some exceptions, dudleyas grow near the coast where it's nice and cool year round. In our hot inland summers, when they're dormant, they struggle mightily. Water them during their dormancy, and they'll likely rot. Don't water them at all, and they might die of desiccation. In their native environment, they get just enough moisture from the air that they're able to survive the dry season. Of course the much cooler temperatures also help.

Why then, you might ask, would I even bother with dudleyas? Because I love a challenge, and because the best of them have an otherworldly beauty. Just look at this Dudleya brittonii I photographed last summer at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley:

Dudleya brittonii at the UC Botanical Garden

To my delight, I've managed to keep Dudleya brittonii alive in my garden for 4+ years now, largely by leaving it to its own devices. Like all dudleyas, it's a winter grower, and it's getting close to looking perfect right now. Here it is in the front in the photo on the left and in the back in the photo on the right:

The other dudleya in these photos is its close sibling, Dudleya pulverulenta. At its best, it's a dead ringer for Dudleya brittonii, albeit with less fleshy leaves But in my garden, the differences between the two couldn't be greater. One is thriving, the other is dying.

Dudleya brittonii is native to Baja California while Dudleya pulverulenta inhabits cliff faces and similar rocky environments in Southern California. Wikipedia may claim that Dudleya pulverulenta “is a much hardier plant for the garden environment than the more commonly available Dudleya brittonii,” but that is not my experience. In fact, in my garden, Dudleya brittonii has thrived while Dudleya pulverulenta (the plant in the photos above) died within a matter of months. 

That wasn't the first Dudleya pulverulenta I've killed; in fact, it was my third. Following my maxim that you have to kill a plant three times to conclusively determine that it's not suited for your garden, I'm now done with this species and will stick with Dudleya brittonii, which is beautiful and forgiving.

To give you an idea of what Dudleya pulverulenta looks like in habitat, here are some photos I took in northern San Diego along Del Dios Road near Lake Hodges Dam:

Steep hillside right next to the road

The rosettes always grow at an angle so the rain runs off instead of collecting in the crown

These photos were taken in March of 2018, and these specimens looked perfect

The lesson I've learned from this is two-fold: (1) You can't grow 'em all, and (2) some plants are best enjoyed in their native environment.

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  1. Four years is very good, Gerhard! I think the longest I managed was a little over two. I can't tell you the species and it's long gone.

    1. I'm surprised, considering that you live on the coast. I was actually thinking they should do well on your slope--completely left to their own devices.

      I remember driving on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu a few years ago, and they had Dudleya brittonii or pulverulenta (couldn't tell which) growing in the median strip!

  2. I'm ready to give brittonii another go-I've only killed it once so I'm well within the three rule. I have two possible spots so I'll buy one for each and see how they fare.

    1. Annie's Annuals always has a good selection of D. brittonii, not to mention a handful of other species with lots of individual plants to choose from.

  3. Wonder if it was planted sideways on a slope the way it is in it's natural environment might make it happier? but like your maxim "You can't grow them all". So true.

  4. Nice photos! They are touchy plants in my garden.

    1. And I thought they'd thrive in your garden, seeing how close you are to where many species occur naturally.

  5. So the trick should be to plant it on its side? It's rather amazing anything would thrive is such unwelcoming conditions: rocky dry slopes.


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