Exploring the Desert Collection at the Fullerton Arboretum

The biggest surprise of my early-August trip to Southern California was the Arboretum at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), a.k.a. the Fullerton Arboretum. I knew from my wife and others that the Fullerton Arboretum had a desert garden, but I'd never been there myself. 

Opened in 1979, the 26-acre Arboretum is located on the north end of the CSUF campus, right off the 57 Freeway in northern Orange County. That made it an easy stop on my way from the Inter-City Show at the Los Angeles County Arboretum to where my daughter lives in southern Orange County.

As you can see in this garden map, the Fullerton Arboretum is divided into four major living collections—the Cultivated Collection, the Mediterranean Collection, the Woodlands Collection, and the Desert Collection—as well as a few dedicated gardens, including the Community Gardens and the Children's Garden. I managed to get lost (literally) in the Woodlands Collection, which takes up about half of the Arboretum's acreage, and it was truly beautiful: not just trees and shrubs, but cycads, tropical foliage plants, bamboos, and palms. I'll have a separate post at some point.

My main interest, however, was the Desert Collection. I expected something modest and, to be honest, fairly generic. In reality, the Desert Collection is expansive in scope, showcasing dryland plants from Africa (including Madagascar), the Americas, and Australia. It's immediately evident that they thrive in the hot-summer and mild-winter climate of Fullerton. 

Like the Huntington, the Fullerton Arboretum has a publicly accessible ArcGIS system identifying the location of individual plants. It's not as complete or up-to-date as the Huntington's, but it's a useful tool nonetheless, especially since physical plant labeling ranges from sparse to non-existent. I did the best I could identifying and labeling the plants in this post, but I wasn't always successful.

On that note, let's take a walk through the Desert Collection!

Blue vesper palm (Brahea armata)[Mexico ]and ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) [Mexico]

Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) [Mexico]

Aloe perfoliata forming a fairy ring, with old growth dying in the center and new growth moving outward [South Africa]

Aloe dhufarensis [Oman]

Australian grass trees (Xanthorrhoea sp., left), aloes, and agaves

Aloidendron dichotomum [South Africa]

Aloidendron 'Hercules' [cultivated hybrid]

Aloe tomentosa [Yemen]

Base of ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) [Mexico]

Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) [Mexico]

Agave parryi [US, Mexico]

Agave desmetiana flower stalk with hundreds of bulbils [Mexico]

Yucca filifera [Mexico] and Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens) [Texas, Mexico] covered in flowers

Leucophyllum frutescens [Texas, Mexico] and Nolina nelsonii [Mexico]

Leucophyllum frutescens [Texas, Mexico]

Yucca filifera [Mexico]

The most attractive specimen of Agave deserti I've ever seen [California, Arizona]

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) [Southwestern US, northern Mexico]

Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) [California, SW USA]

Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) [California, SW USA]

Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) [California, SW USA]

Silver thicket (Euphorbia stenoclada) [Madagascar]

Euphorbia stenoclada [Madagascar]

Madagascar ocotillo (Alluaudia procera); in spite of its common name, not related to the "real" ocotillo

Alluaudia procera in flower [Madagascar]

Alluaudia procera in flower [Madagascar]

Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lameri)

Pachypodium lameri [Madagascar]

Pachypodium lameri flowers—it's easy to see that pachypodiums are related to plumerias and oleanders (all of them in the Apocynaceae, the dogbane family)

Aloe suzannae, a slow-growing aloe from Madagascar which is often vexingly difficult in cultivation

Over time, Aloe suzannae can grow to tree size; this specimen fell over at some point...

...probably because the soil got soaked in a winter rain storm. This spot appears to be in the middle of a wash.

Euphorbia grandicornis... [Southern Africa]

...forming a beautiful but formidable thicket

More euphorbias [Southern Africa]

Another cactoid euphorbia  (I won't venture a guess as to what species it is)

Aloidendron pillansii [South Africa]

Aloe mite, virtually impossible to avoid in a large garden

Namibian grape (Cyphostemma juttae), related to table grapes but not edible [Southern Africa]

The Cyphostemma juttae specimens at the Fullerton Arboretum...

...are impressive...

...probably because of the hot summers and very mild winters

It's easy to see why birds love these grapes

Aloidendron barberae [South Africa]


...right next to the freeway

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) [Southwestern US, northern Mexico]

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) [Southwestern US, northern Mexico

Zero clue as to what cactus this is

Desiccated agave flower spikes...

...look great silhouetted against the sky

Desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) [Southwestern US, Mexico]

Golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) [Mexico]

Beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata) [Texas]

Agave americana 'Marginata' [Mexico]

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) and Yucca sp. [Mexico]

The last set of photos were taken in the Southern California/Channel Island section of the Mediterranean Collection, which is adjacent to the Desert Collection.

Dudleya pulverulenta, found in California from San Luis Obispo on south

Dudleya pulverulenta

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), native to Baja California, and Agave shawii, native to San Diego County and northern Baja California

St. Catherine's lace (Eriogonum giganteum), native the Channel Islands

Velvet cactus (Bergerocactus emoryi), native to Baja California and north to Southern California, and  St. Catherine's lace (Eriogonum giganteum)

Dudleya virens ssp. hassei, endemic to Santa Catalina Island (southern Channel Islands)

Dudleya virens ssp. hassei

The Fullerton Arboretum is located at 1900 Associated Road in Fullerton. Fall hours are Wednesday through Monday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, although a $5 donation is suggested.


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  1. I didn't know the Fullerton Arboretum was anywhere near that large. I've never been there either and I have no excuse for that. It impresses me that the birds can consume the grapes of the Cyphostemma with no problem, when the plant is considered so toxic for humans.

  2. I think their succulent section is completely unirrigated--the plants are grown very hard That suzannae is looking great despite having fallen over at some point. It's huge! Is it pillansii that's infected with mite? Ouch!

    1. Wow, unirrigated. That would make it even more spectacular.

      The aloe mite infestation was in a different plant, not the pillansii. Fortunately!

  3. There are a lot of unusual and well established succulents. Many of them have taken on really cool shapes like the A. pillandsia, kind of like a serpents head. The grocery stores here sell little pony tail palms as houseplants. Purchasers have no idea how big these plants will get. Thanks for the great tour. Nice you can visit gardens and daughter on the same visit.

  4. Fabulous! I appreciated your attention to getting some of the shadows in the shot, especially the first Pachypodium lameri image.


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