More magic: Huntington Desert Garden, fall, late afternoon

This post continues my late-afternoon ramble through the Desert Garden at the Huntington in San Marino. Click here to read part 1.

Here are some fun facts about the Desert Garden:

Fun fact

William Hertrich (1878-1966), the Huntington’s first superintendent of buildings and grounds, worked at the Huntington from 1904 to 1948 when he retired. In the Desert Garden’s early days, he went on a series of large-scale collecting trips. In 1908, he hauled three railway wagons of cacti from Arizona, including a wagon of saguaros. This was followed in 1912 by two wagons of cacti and other succulents from Mexico. The Huntington estate had its own spur line, making rail transport easy. [*]

Borzicactus fossulatus and Agave parryi var. truncata

Diamond cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)

Agave potatorum with emerging flower stalk

The showiest Agave potatorum I’ve ever seen

Just look at these spines and teeth...

...or should I say fangs!

The bud imprints on the leaves are sweet, too

Agave marmorata, still a juvenile. This will be a BIG plant someday!

Fun fact

Henry Huntington didn’t like cacti. In his younger years, when supervising work for the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was owned by his uncle, he backed into a prickly pear and never forgot the unpleasant experience. Later, however, he took great pride in having one of the most significant succulent collections in the country and loved to show it off to visitors. Apparently he was very competitive and wanted the best of everything. [*]

Old man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

Lots of spiky goodness

Agave shrevei var. magna

Bergerocactus emoryi, a California native! It’s found in southern San Diego County, San Clemente and Santa Catalina Island as well as northern Baja California.

Creeping devil (Stenocereus eruca), forming large colonies on sandy soils on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur

Creeping devil is such a great name!

Fun fact

Albert Einstein visited the Desert Garden in 1926 and is seen examining a pad on one of Luther Burbank’s spineless opuntias in this photo. No record of what his thoughts were, on the opuntia or the Desert Garden in general.

Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris), one of the signature plants of Baja California. I have no idea why this one is growing like this.

Agave sisalana

Agave impressa

Argentine saguaro or cardón grande (Echinopsis terscheckii) and Agave tequilana ‘Sunrise’

Aloe sinkatana × harlana, a cross made at the Huntington in 1975. The yellow-flowering form was made available through the Huntington’s International Succulent Introductions (ISI) program as ‘Sophie’, the orange-flowering form as ‘Kujo’.

Agave parryi and Aloe ‘Kujo’

When you plant a dyckia in the ground, be aware that it has the potential to become massive over time

Aloe africana × cameronii, an interesting hybrid I’d never seen before

Agave franzosinii

The small backlit tree is called palo Adán (Fouquieria diguetii)

Bromelia ballansae with bright red flowers

Agave titanota

Yucca filifera

Fun fact

The oldest cactus in the garden is a Cereus xanthocarpus, planted as a mature specimen in 1905. Weighing an estimated 20 tons, it’s also the gardens most massive plant. [*]

Aloes blooming under majestic dragon trees (Dracaena draco)

Crassula capitella and Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’

Cleistocactus and other columnar cacti

Agave ‘Blue Flame’ and Agave impressa

Parodia magnifica and Agave ‘Blue Flame’

Fun fact

Of the many hundreds of golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) found throughout the Desert Garden, some are 85 years or older and weigh hundreds of pounds. [*]

Agave oteroi and Echinocactus grusonii

Hechtia rosea

Hechtia gayorum

The rosettes of Hechtia gayorum are very small but so colorful at this time of year

Wider shot in the Upper Garden (Old World)

A cheerful little aloe without a tag

Aloe schelpei

Aloe schelpei

Another Aloe ‘Sophie’ (Aloe sinkatana × harlana)

And another photo of the Aloidendron barberae you saw at the beginning of part 1 of this post

Fun fact

Roberto Burle Marx, the famed Brazilian landscape architect, once called the Desert Garden “the most extraordinary garden in the world.” [*]

© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. I enjoyed the excellent photos and 'fun facts'. I find the Dracaena draco tree mind blowing!

    1. Agreed!! If I lived in the right climate and had room, I'd plant a small grove of Dracaena draco!

  2. I think the Huntington should commission you to produce a book on the Desert Garden. I love the shot of the Boojum tree, which is odd and wonderful at the same time. Your closeups of Agave potatorum's "fangs" are impressive too. I'm surprised to see so many Aloes already in bloom. Your warning about Dyckia's inclination to spread was timely as I was considering freeing a couple of mine from their pots just yesterday.

    1. I think the aloes are early this year. Must have been the crazy rains in September followed by a long period of warm weather.

      As for the dyckias, you don't have anything to fear by putting them in ground. It's not like they grow into an impenetrable thicket over night.

  3. Great photos, congratulations! I think one should only visit 'gardens' in the fall light. Amazing colours, contrasts, shades. Top 3 favourite are, 'dyckia in the ground', 'aloes blooming under majestic dragon tree' and 'wider shot in the Upper Garden'.

    1. It's amazing how the light is good pretty much all day in the fall :-)

  4. I would agree with Roberto Marx's comment. It is spectacular. Looking at the ground cover of Devil's cactus and Dyckia I sympathize with the gardeners who might have to do any work in those patches. Some really gorgeous specimens in the garden. I love the little spiral spine tip on the A. potatorum. Based on Huntington's early experience it's a wonder the cactus/succulent garden ever came about.

    1. I guess having a cactus garden was a must back then so Huntington really didn't have a choice if he wanted to keep up with the Joneses, ha ha.

  5. Another fun fact is the biggest oldest golden barrel cacti at the Huntington were grown from seeds in the garden.


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