The great 2021 Dudleya torture test

This post is the result of a six-month experiment to see how various Dudleya species and hybrids handle our hot and dry summer. Consider it an intermediary snapshot. Another post will follow in mid-winter, hopefully to show the same plants at their best. 

Since this post is primarily meant as a reference, it contains photos of dudleyas that look unattractive or even dead. Some may actually be dead, although I'm hoping they're just dormant, which would be the normal behavior for many species. In any case, you most likely won't be wowed by the plants in these photos, but they're a realistic reflection of what to expect when growing this iconic genus of succulents.

With that out of the way, here's a brief introduction to dudleyas. While there are other succulents native to California, including agaves, yuccas, and opuntias, arguably none are as intriguing, mysterious, and poorly understood as dudleyas. Found from southwestern Oregon down the entire length of the U.S. state of California and most of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico, dudleyas are perfectly adapted to their habitats, for the most part the Mediterranean-type climate of the California Floristic Province. This means that they're in active growth from late fall through early spring when we receive virtually all of our precipitation, and then they spend the hottest months of the year in a state of stasis or even outright dormancy with much of their above-ground parts shriveling up. 

As a result of this survival strategy, many dudleya species don't look like much in the summer. For this reason, and because care must be taken not to overwater them when they're dormant, they don't necessarily make great garden plants. Since many of us don't exactly know what dudleyas need, we often kill them with misplaced kindness. At the end of this post, I'll give some tips on watering and sun exposure.

Let's start out with some general photos of my dudleyas. About a third of them are in the ground, the rest in containers.

Photos 1 and 2 below are of the larger of the two succulent mounds in our front yard:

Dudleya farinosa 'Noyo River' (red; almost fully dormant); unidentified Dudleya hybrid (yellow and green), both doing OK

Unidentified Dudleya hybrid (green and red), both doing OK

 The next photo is of the dudleyas in the bed next to the front door:

Dudleya arizonica (blue), Dudleya caespitosa (green), unidentified Dudleya hybrid (yellow), Dudleya virens ssp. hassei (orange, 2x), Dudleya brittonii (purple), Dudleya cymosa (red; fully dormant)

 Next up a 15-inch round pot made by Keith Kitoi Taylor. It sits on a turntable so I can rotate it to give each plant an adequate amount of sun. This spot is in bright shade from noon on, with a few hours of direct sun in mid-afternoon.

Clockwise, starting at the bottom: Dudleya gnoma, another Dudleya gnoma, Dudleya pachyphytum, Dudleya hybrid, all doing well. Not visible but alive: another small Dudleya pachyphytum and six Dudleya verity seedlings

 The 15-inch terracotta bowl below holds four dudleyas. There's room for more, but that's all I had at the time I planted it. It was in full afternoon sun originally but I recently moved it to a more sheltered position.

July 28, 2021
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: Dudleya brittoniiDudleya cymosa ssp. pumila, Dudleya traskiae, Dudleya cymosa (orange-flowering form). All are alive.

For comparison, the next two photos were taken on April 26, 2021:

April 26, 2021
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: Dudleya brittoniiDudleya cymosa ssp. pumilaDudleya traskiaeDudleya cymosa (orange-flowering form)

April 26, 2021
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: Dudleya cymosa (orange-flowering form), Dudleya brittoniiDudleya cymosa ssp. pumilaDudleya traskiae

 In two 22-inch Corten steel bowls by Veradek I've created miniature landscapes featuring rocks and dudleyas. Each planter sits on a 7-inch turntable so it can be rotated to vary the sun exposure. The left side of planter #1 (below) gets some overhead sun protection from a 'Black Lace' elderberry; the right side receives full sun from noon on. Remarkably, all dudleyas are alive.

Corten bowl #1, July 28, 2021

Corten bowl #1, July 28, 2021
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: Dudleya anthonyi, Dudleya greenei, unidentified Dudleya sp. or hybrid, Dudleya caespitosa 'Lucy in the Sky', Dudleya traskiae, Dudleya caespitosa 'Frank Reinelt', Dudleya traskiae, Dudleya anomala hybrid 'Edna's Echidna' (center)

Corten bowl #1, July 28, 2021
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: unidentified Dudleya sp. or hybrid, Dudleya caespitosa 'Lucy in the Sky', Dudleya traskiaeDudleya caespitosa 'Frank Reinelt', Dudleya traskiae, Dudleya anomala hybrid 'Edna's Echidna' (center), Dudleya anthonyi, Dudleya greenei

Corten bowl #1, March 29, 2021
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: Dudleya caespitosa 'Lucy in the Sky', Dudleya traskiaeDudleya caespitosa 'Frank Reinelt', Dudleya anomala hybrid 'Edna's Echidna' (center), Dudleya anthonyi, Dudleya greenei, unidentified Dudleya sp. or hybrid

 Here is Corten bowl #2. It was planted a few months after bowl #1, so these dudleyas didn't have as much time to get settled in before summer arrived. This bowl gets full sun from noon on, but I'm protecting the plants with a piece of old window screen. One dudleya is dead (or deeply dormant), the others are alive, albeit partially sunburned.

Corten bowl #2, July 28, 2021
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: "dormant" unidentified Dudleya, Dudleya pulverulenta, unidentified Dudleya hybrid, Dudleya cultrata, Dudleya lanceolata, Dudleya attenuata, Dudleya cymosa ssp. pumila, Dudleya caespitosa 'Frank Reinelt', Dudleya greenei (center)

Corten bowl #2, July 28, 2021
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: unidentified Dudleya hybrid, Dudleya cultrataDudleya greeneiDudleya caespitosa 'Frank Reinelt',  "dormant" unidentified DudleyaDudleya pulverulenta

 The powdery beauties below are waiting in the wings for a spot in the ground or in one of the Corten bowls. Right now, they're in a plastic tray in the backyard and receive a couple of hours of direct sun in early afternoon. They look the best out of all my dudleyas.

Farinose beauties in pots doing very well. Clockwise starting at the bottom: Dudleya pachyphytum hybrid, Dudleya attenuata hybrid, Dudleya candidaDudleya pachyphytumDudleya gnoma

 Much to my surprise, I just found these two perfect specimens—Dudleya traskiae (left) and Dudleya palmeri (right)—at Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento. They were grown by Suncrest Nurseries, a wholesale grower on the Central Coast, and look absolutely perfect. I'm not sure where they'll go eventually; for now, I'm simply enjoying their flowers.

Dudleya traskiae (left), Dudleya palmeri (right)


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Below is an alphabetical listing of all the Dudleya species and cultivars I've been growing as part of this experiment. I'm giving the distribution of each species, its flower color, and a brief description of how it's doing in our garden.

Dudleya anomala hybrid 'Edna's Echidna'

Distribution: Coronado Islands and Todos Santos Islands, Baja California

Flower color: white-pink

'Edna's Echidna' is a hybrid of Dudleya anomala by dudleya wizard Stephen McCabe. It's growing in Corten bowl #1 and receives a good amount of afternoon soon. Right now, it's semi-dormant but still very much alive.

Dudleya anomala hybrid 'Edna's Echidna'

Dudleya anomala × attenuata

Flower color: white

I bought this hybrid at the Ruth Bancroft Garden; according to the label, it was grown by Tiedemann Nursery in Soquel, CA. It's in the ground in the larger succulent mound in the front yard where it receives about three hours of afternoon sun. It looks quite good.

Dudleya anomala × attenuata


Dudleya anthonyi

Distribution: Santa Maria Island and coastal Baja California; thought to be related to Dudleya pulverulenta, which grows further north

Flower color: red

Growing in Corten bowl #1 where it receives direct sun from noon on. Very much awake, unlike the related Dudleya pulverulenta in Corten bowl#2 which is dormant.

Dudleya anthonyi

Dudleya arizonica

Distribution: southeastern California, western Arizona

Flower color: red

I have three specimens of Dudleya arizonica, often listed as Dudleya pulverulenta var. arizonica. The two in semi-shade are doing well; the third one, growing in direct sun, is either dormant or dead.

Dudleya arizonica (Ethical Desert), semi-shade

Dudleya arizonica (Nick Deinhart), semi-shade

Dudleya arizonica (Nick Deinhart), semi-shade

Dudleya arizonica (Nick Deinhart), full sun, dormant or dead

Dudleya attenuata

Distribution: Southern California and Baja California

Flower color: white

Plant #1 below is straight Dudleya attenuata. Growing in Corten bowl #2 in full sun (although covered with window screen), it's alive and kicking.

Dudleya attenuata

Plant #2 is a Dudleya attenuata hybrid. I don't know what the 2nd parent is, but based on the powdery leaves, it might be Dudleya brittonii. It's still in its nursery pot and looking great with a few hours of afternoon sun.

Dudleya attenuata hybrid

Dudleya brittonii

Distribution: coastal Baja California and coastal islands

Flower color: yellow

Dudleya brittonii is the most widely available dudleya species because it is the easiest to grow in garden situations and one of the most beautiful.

Plant #1 is in the bed next to the front door in a mostly shady spot; it gets maybe an hour of direct sun. I hand-water it very lightly once a week. I've had it for four years and it still looks good.


Dudleya brittonii

Plant #2 is a recent addition, in the 15-inch terracotta pot for the moment. It doesn't look very good right now because it receives several hours of direct sun a day, which is clearly too much. Another possible reason is that it may be too dry; from my experience it seems that Dudleya brittonii can take more summer water than most other species.


Dudleya caespitosa

Distribution: coastal Central and Southern California

Flower color: yellow

Dudleya caespitosa is a coastal species that doesn't experience the kind of summer heat we routinely have here in the Sacramento Valley. Still, I've managed to keep plant #1 (below) alive for several years. It receives virtually no direct sun.

Dudleya caespitosa

Below is a cluster of Dudleya caespitosa a friend of mine gave me earlier this year. She's had it growing in this shallow dish for "many years." It looks like a miniature forest! I'm keeping it on the table on the front porch where it's in shade most of the day.

Dudleya caespitosa


Dudleya caespitosa 'Frank Reinelt'

Flower color: pale yellow

'Frank Reinelt' is a special selection of Dudleya caespitosa. I have two, one in each Corten planter, and they're both doing OK, especially considering how much sun they're getting.

Dudleya caespitosa 'Frank Reinelt'

Dudleya caespitosa 'Lucy in the Sky'

'Lucy in the Sky' is a Stephen McCabe selection of Dudleya caespitosa. It's named after the town of Lucia on the Central Coast where it was found. My specimen is in the larger succulent mound in the front yard and is doing fine.

Dudleya caespitosa 'Lucy in the Sky'


Dudleya candida

Distribution: Coronado Islands, Baja California

Flower color: yellow

Dudleya candida is related to Dudleya brittonii but much rarer in cultivation. I have high hopes for it since it's a beautiful plant (and offsets, which D. brittonii typical doesn't). I've only had my specimen for a few months, but so far it's handled the heat well. Right now, it's just sitting in a tray in the backyard where it gets a couple of hours of afternoon sun. 

Dudleya candida


Dudleya cultrata

Distribution: San Quintín Island and San Martín Island, Baja California

Flower color: yellow

Dudleya cultrata is another Baja endemic rare in cultivation. My specimen is in Corten bowl #2 in full sun, although protected somewhat by a swath of window screen. I think with a bit more sun protection, it would look fairly decent.

Dudleya cultrata

Dudleya cultrata

Dudleya cymosa

Distribution: Northern to Southern California

Flower color: yellow, orange, red

Dudleya cymosa is a widespread species with multiple subspecies. Together with Dudleya farinosa, it's the most challenging species for me. If my two plants end up dying (#2 below may already be there), I'll give up on this species.

Dudleya cymosa (orange-flowering form)

Dudleya cymosa

Dudleya cymosa ssp. pumila

Distribution: Santa Lucia Mountains (Monterey County) to Transverse Range (Southern California)

Flower color: orange-red

Dudleya cymosa ssp. pumila is from further south than the two D. cymosa above and appears to be handling the heat better.
 
Dudleya cymosa ssp. pumila 'Figueroa Mountain' 

Dudleya farinosa

Distribution: coastal southwestern Oregon and Northern California

Flower color: yellow or red

Dudleya farinosa is not a happy camper in our summers. Plant #1 below is either deeply dormant or dead; plant #2 at least still shows some sign of life.

Dudleya farinosa

Dudleya farinosa 'Noyo River'


Dudleya gnoma

Distribution: Santa Rosa Island (Channel Islands), Southern California

Flower color: yellow

Dudleya gnoma is very rare in the wild, but fortunately less so cultivation. It's a beautiful species, with rosettes that are often less than an inch in diameter. I have several plants: One is still in its nursery container and looks perfect; the other two are in the round Keith Taylor pot and are doing OK. 

Dudleya gnoma

Dudleya gnoma

Dudleya greenei

Distribution: San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands (Channel Islands), Southern California

Flower color: creamy yellow

Like Dudleya gnomaDudleya greenei is a Channel Island endemic. It's doing surprisingly well, except for #3 below, which didn't have enough time to get acclimated before the summer heat arrived.

Dudleya greenei

Dudleya greenei

Dudleya greenei


Dudleya ingens

Distribution: northern Baja California

Flower color: pale yellow with pink

Dudleya ingens is a Baja species rare in cultivation. I recently got two plants to try as part of this torture test; both are still in their nursery containers and appear to be handling the heat well.

Dudleya ingens

Dudleya lanceolata

Distribution: mountains of Southern California and Baja California

Flower color: yellow or orange

Dudleya lanceolata is a mountain species and resents our summer heat almost as much as D. farinosa and D. cymosa. My one plant is not dead (yet), which I rate as a success. If it does die, I won't bother with this species again.

Dudleya lanceolata


Dudleya pachyphytum

Distribution: Cedros Island, Baja California

Flower color: greenish white

With its highly succulent leaves covered by a dusting of white powder, Dudleya pachyphytum might quite possibly b the most beautiful member of the genus. It's found only on Cedros Island off the central coast of Baja, right at the border of the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. It's severely threatened by poaching in the wild; there have even been reports of Mexican drug cartels being involved in smuggling plants off the island. Fortunately, Dudleya pachyphytum is easy to grow from seed, and an ethically propagated supply of plants is making it into California native plant nurseries. This summer, both Tree of Life Nursery in Orange County and the Theodore Payne Foundation in Los Angeles County have had plants for sale.

All my Dudleya pachyphytum are doing well, including the tiny seedling in photo #2 below.

Dudleya pachyphytum

Dudleya pachyphytum

Dudleya pachyphytum hybrid (left), Dudleya pachyphytum (right)

Dudleya pachyphytum hybrid

As you can see in the photos above and below, Dudleya pachyphytum hybrids are beautiful, too—and they handle our summer heat as well as the species.

Dudleya pachyphytum hybrid

Dudleya palmeri

Distribution: San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, Central California

Flower color: orange or red

Dudleya palmeri is a green-leaved species from the Central Coast. The plant below is a very recent addition so I don't have any experience with it yet. For now, it looks great in its nursery pot.

Dudleya palmeri

Dudleya palmeri

Dudleya palmeri


Dudleya pulverulenta

Distribution: Central and Southern California (central coast, south coast ranges, Transverse Ranges, Peninsular Ranges, desert mountains)

Flower color: red

Dudleya pulverulenta is superficially similar to Dudleya brittonii, but its leave are less succulent. I'm not sure if that's the reason, but it has a much harder time coping with our summer heat, even in the shade. I'm down to one plant (see below), and it's doing a good job shriveling away to nothing. I'm still hoping that this is just a sign of summer dormancy instead of permanent demise.

Dudleya pulverulenta

Dudleya traskiae

Distribution: Santa Barbara Island (Channel Islands), Southern California

Flower color: yellow

Like the other Channel Islands natives I'm trialing (D. gnoma, D. greenei, D. virens ssp. hassei), Dudleya traskiae is doing surprisingly well. Thanks to increased retail availability, I now have four different specimens: one from Annie's Annuals, two from the UC Davis Arboretum plant sales, and one (bought just last week) from Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento. This species has potential and may be a good candidate for inland gardens.

Dudleya traskiae (Annie's Annuals)

Dudleya traskiae (UC Davis Arboretum)

Dudleya traskiae (UC Davis Arboretum)

Dudleya traskiae (Green Acres, grown by Suncrest Nurseries)

Dudleya traskiae

Dudleya traskiae

Dudleya traskiae

Dudleya verityi

Distribution: Santa Monica Mountains, Southern California

Flower color: yellow

Dudleya verityi is one of the rarest species in the genus. In 2013, the Springs Fire destroyed over 95% of the entire population of Dudleya verityi; the drought in the years after the fire as well as poaching made the situation even worse. Today there are just a few hundred plants left

I received six small seedlings from a friend who bought a batch from an ethical source. Against my expectations, they're all alive, and a few have doubled or tripled in size. They're in shade most of the time and get just a bit of water once a week. 

Dudleya verityi will never be a landscape plant due to its diminutive size and rarity. I consider having come into possession of these seedling a great opportunity for stewardship and ex-situ conservation.

Dudleya verityi (multiple seedlings)

Dudleya virens subsp. hassei

Distribution: Santa Catalina Island, Southern California

Flower color: yellow

Another Channel Island dudleya able to hold its own in our summer heat. All three plants below have been in our garden for 3+ years now, growing in fairly shady spots protected from the afternoon sun.

Dudleya virens ssp. hassei

Dudleya virens ssp. hassei

Dudleya virens ssp. hassei

Dudleya viscida

Distribution: Orange and San Diego County, Southern California

Flower color: pink

This Southern California species isn't the most attractive and, based on my brief experience with it, may not be suitable for our climate anyway.

Dudleya viscida

Dudleya hybrids

Dudleyas mix and mingle freely. Put two flowering dudleyas near each other, and you're virtually guaranteed to get hybrid seeds. This makes it challenging to propagate pure species because efforts must be made to keep other flowering plants out of pollinator range. But it makes it almost laughably easy to make new crosses, with all the horticultural benefits that often come with it: increased vigor, better tolerance of adverse environmental conditions, and prettier plants. In fact, I think that dudleya hybrids might hold great potential as landscaping plants for hotter inland gardens.

Here are some of the dudleya hybrids in our garden. I don't know what their parentage is because they were all labeled either "Dudleya sp." or "Dudleya hybrid."





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Watering

Watering is the #1 issue when it comes to cultivating dudleyas. There's no one-size-fits all answer. If you live on the California coast where temperatures remain moderate all summer and you benefit from the marine layer with its influx of moist air, you might get away with no additional irrigation. The situation is radically different in hot inland areas, like the Sacramento Valley where I live. Don't water your dudleyas, and they'll likely die of dehydration; water them, and they might rot because they're susceptible to pathogens active in warm moist soil.

Based on what I've read and my own (still limited) experience in my garden, here are some watering guidelines for hot inland areas

  • No dudleya species should be left unwatered for months at a time. The risk of death from dehydration is higher than the risk of rot from pathogens in warm moist soil.
  • All dudleyas in pots, especially in small pots or nursery containers, should be watered—sparingly but regularly. Mine are in fast-draining succulent mix, and I water them every 10 days.
  • For dudleyas in the ground, the watering situation is a bit more complex. It appears that coastal and island species native to Central California and points south tolerate supplemental summer water better than species from Northern California. Every 10 days works for me. My soil is 50% inorganic material and drains quickly.
  • The northernmost species, i.e. Dudleya farinosa and the northern subspecies of Dudleya cymosa, are the most difficult for me to keep alive. My best advice is not to bother with them no matter how alluring they are. The same applies to Dudleya pulverulenta, a Southern California species that I find very challenging; the similar-looking Dudleya brittonii is a far better garden plant.

Sun

I've found that most dudleyas want as much sun or very bright shade as possible. At the same time, blazing-hot afternoon sun in our climate is too much and could easily scorch or kill them. Good old morning sun is best, but it may be in short supply (like it is in my garden). If you don't have a Goldilocks spot for your dudleyas, you may need to use shade cloth or window screen (like I do) to create some extra protection.


Conclusion

This is an ongoing project and I expect the results will change over time. Again, these are my personal experiences in our garden in Davis/Sacramento Valley. If you live closer to the coast, you'll most likely have an easier time growing dudleyas successfully.





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Comments

  1. Quite an undertaking with all these Dudleyas! Most of them don't like the desert here at all. However, we do have Dudleya collomiae saxosa that is rare and is found only in Arizona in the central, southern and northwest parts of the state.

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    Replies
    1. Nancy, I've been looking for Dudleya collomiae var. saxosa but haven't been able to find it. I'd love to give it a try although I suspect it may not thrive in our climate since it comes with higher elevations.

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    2. It is available as seed from https://www.ecrater.com/p/31080346/dudleya-collomiae-unusual-succulent-seeds?gps=1 as well as some other Dudleya species as seed. Just an FYI. I don't know if you do seed! That can be a challenge in itself!

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  2. I had no idea you'd taken such a huge leap into dudleyas! I do love these plants when they look good, but since 1) I get impatient with plants that don't look good in the summer when I'm out in the garden the most, and 2) we get a little too much rain (snow/ice) here in the cold months... I am not destined for my own dudleya binge.

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    Replies
    1. Let's just say I fell in with the dudleya crowd.

      Many of the species I listed won't be long-term residents, I fear. But this experiment will give me a better idea of what's viable--and possibly reveal some surprises.

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  3. Interesting experiment. Most of them do look pretty rough when they are dormant. However, their ability to go dormant during the heat explains a lot about why I struggle to grow them in my cold climate in pots. Outside in the summer but under lights in the winter so they either rot or disappear. Look forward to the next update.

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  4. I had no idea you had a Dudleya collection this large! I look forward to your findings. I should go check the 2 plants I have in my street side bed - they looked okay the last time I checked the bed but that was nearly a month ago and we've only gotten hotter and drier.

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  5. Wow, that's a large collection. Not suitable for my PNW garden, obviously, but I do appreciate your experimental undertaking. It would be interesting to see what comes out of hibernation and performs well for you.
    Dudleya pachyphytum hybrid is stunning with its frosty goodness!

    ReplyDelete

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