Treasure hunting at Solana Succulents

It’s become a tradition: Whenever I’m in San Diego County, I stop at Solana Succulents. Located less than a mile from the Pacific in the town of Solana Beach, Solana Succulents opened its doors 30 years ago and has been in the same spot on Highway 101 ever since.

You may know owner Jeff Moore as the author of a series of books on succulents: Under the Spell of Succulents, Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation, Soft Succulents, Spiny Succulents, and Agaves: Species, Cultivars & Hybrids. Written and self-published by Jeff (Agaves in collaboration with Jeremy Spath of Hidden Agave Ranch), these are the most visually stunning succulent books around. A new book on dudleyas is currently in production and should come out later in 2023.

Solana Succulents shares an address with a skin-care salon. The small entry courtyard right off the sidewalk is packed with plants, but it’s only a small part of the nursery. The main part is down a set of stairs—essentially in the building’s backyard.

My recent visit was timed just right to catch the nursery’s signature flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta) in full bloom. With its masses of orange flowers, it’s a beacon that can be seen from a block away:

Flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta)

A few photos of the entry courtyard (the skin-care salon occupies the red building):

Plants in the entry courtyard, including a spectacular three-stemmed Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lameri)

A rare variegated monstrose Myrtillocactus geometrizans

A duo of Euphorbia ammak reaching towards the sky

Bulbil-laden flower stalk of Agave desmetiana

The main part of the nursery is down a set of stairs:

Stairs leading down to the main part of Solana Succulents

View from the top of the stairs

The nursery is jam-packed with goodies, some common, others rare. I can’t think of any other nursery where poking around is so much fun. There are so many special plants tucked into nooks and crannies, you never know what treasure you’re going to find.

Fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis)

Dudleyas, aloes, and Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’

Trichodiadema bulbosum, a caudex-forming plant from South Africa. It’s often staged with its roots elevated above the ground.

Aloidendron dichotomum (front), boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris)

Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris)

Bench with plants for collectors

×Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ with slight variegation

Aloe karasbergensis and Yucca aloifolia ‘Blue Boy’

This brightly variegated Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is a show stopper. It’s beautifully grown, with no blemishes of any kind. I really wanted to take it home, but it was $280. Well worth it if you have the $$$ to spare.

Mixed tray of cacti, euphorbias, and dudleyas

Dudleya pachyphytum, Mammillaria sp., and short-spined form of Echinocactus grusonii

Gymnocalycium mihanovichii with red variegation. I don’t know what to make of them. To me, they look more like chocolate confections than real plants.

Gymnocalycium baldianum with a radial crest

Cluster of Astrophytum capricorne

Aloe cameronii (top) and unidentified Echeveria

Agave toumeyana × Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

A perfect specimen of Agave victoriae-reginae

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ × Agave mitis. I bought one of these when I visited in July 2022, much to the envy of my friend Michele (her garden is featured in this post). She asked me to grab one for her if there were any left. To my surprise, Jeff still had two; this one went home with me for Michele.

Agave shawii with particularly colorful teeth. Agave shawii is native to San Diego County although there are very few natural habitats left north of the border. South of the border, Agave shawii is quite common.

Agave shawii closeup

Agave shawii with teeth reduced to a continuous margin (see closeup below). This one wasn’t for sale; Jeff was thinking of having it tissue-cultured.

Closeup of Agave shawii with reduced teeth

Agave impressa with pronounced bud imprints

Agave oteroi with pronounced teeth

Wider view of the back section of the nursery. As I said, it’s packed.

Another impressive clump of variegated Euphorbia ammak. These are a common sight in Southern California, particularly along the coast, but to me they’re something special.

And another view of the flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta) as I head back to my car

Much of Solana Succulents’ inventory comes from small growers in San Diego County. Jeff has known many of them for decades and has first dibs on their choicest plants. That’s why poking around the nursery is so much fun and so rewarding. The odds are high that you’ll find plants you literally won’t see anywhere else.

What did I buy? Aside from the Agave ‘Blue Glow’ × mitis hybrid for my friend Michele, I got a few things for myself:
  • Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ × dichotomum, which essentially makes it ¾ dichotomum
  • Ferocactus viridiflorus, a small barrel cactus native to San Diego County
Solana Succulents is at 355 N. Hwy 101 in Solana Beach in North County San Diego. It’s open Wednesday-Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm, and on Sunday from 12:00pm to 4:00pm.


© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. That flame vine is incredible. I saw one at Sherman Gardens during a late January 2020 visit and it about knocked me over but it wasn't half as vigorous as the one at Solana Succulents. I was surprised you only brought home 2 plants for yourself but then I remembered how many places you visited on this trip and I realized you had to be very selective - maybe you need to invest in a trailer for future trips ;) I love that toothy Agave shawii. I don't remember seeing one with teeth that colorful before.

    1. I told Jeff he should sell that flame vine, especially in late winter when it's in bloom. But apparently, it isn't that common in the nursery trade.

      Being a disciplined shopper is particularly hard at Solana Succulents, but I have so many random potted plants already. In that sense, it's good that I've had a number of casualties this winter because of the rain. At least I'll be able to move some from my "nursery" into the garden. Just as soon as the rains stop.

  2. The flame vine is beautiful! Lucky you to be there at the bloom time and to be close enough for somewhat regular visits to this special place. Some amazing plants there; I'll have to keep it in mind for a future visit to the area. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Definitely visit the next time you're in the area. Plus, Jeff is a good guy!

  3. Your photos are so great as in the nursery. That Boojum tree is incredible.

    1. I was tempted to get that Boojum tree, but I knew I wouldn't be able to give it the kind of home it wants. That's why I didn't even look at the price tag.

  4. I'd love to visit here sometime, Andrew and I need to plan another trip to San Diego!

  5. I have a summer place there and really enjoy visiting Solana Succulents.

  6. My Cactus Society is going to Solana Succulents in June. I can't make it, but I sure wish I could. But I have your tour there, Gerhard, and that is almost as good. I have been there in the past. Such a quirky, fun shop!

  7. Yes a wonderful place to poke around looking for treasures, and some of the plants poke back!

    1. Oh yes, many of them poke back. Most of the time I don't even notice until I find scratches or scabs on my arms some time later :-)

  8. The flame vine is extraordinary! So vibrant! It would be difficult for me to take my eyes off it...
    You've pictured some very special, mouth watering specimens here. From the variegated monstrose Myrtillocactus geometrizans to Agave shawii, with and without teeth.
    I'm a big fan of variegation, and the variegated A. ‘Blue Glow’ is indeed perfect, but I find myself wondering: where's the blue? This is one of those rare times I prefer the original.

    1. Variegated plants aren't to everyone's liking, and having too many in one spot in the garden becomes overwhelming. But I think a pairing of 'Blue Glow' and this variegate would be something very special.

  9. Went to college in Rancho Santa Fe and lived in Solana Beach in the early 90's....sure would like any 'boojum tree germination advice!


Post a Comment