Cactus seedlings and a lot more: catching up with Justin Thiel

A couple of weeks ago, fellow plant nerd Kyle and I visited our friend Justin in the East Bay. Needless to say I took a few photos of Justin’s garden. I mean, how could I not? He has an amazing selection of succulents, many of them growing in miniature rock landscapes he created himself.

Click here to see my other posts about Justin’s garden.

Above and below are prime examples of Justin’s rockscapes. The plants are tucked into small pockets between the rocks, which results in superb drainage. And it looks great, too.

Agave utahensis var. eborispina

Above and below: cross between Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ and Agave titanota, created by Nick Deinhart. These two plants are from the same seed batch, but they look very different. This often happens with hybrids.

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ × Agave titanota

Justin’s front yard is home to some exceptional agaves:

Agave montana. Agaves don’t get better than this!

Agave montana

Agave montana

Agave horrida

Agave applanata, the standard form (the variegated cultivar ‘Cream Spike’ is far more common)

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’. Quite possibly the most perfect specimen I’ve ever seen.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’. Seriously, this is one good-looking specimen!

Even the spiders in Justin’s garden are beautiful.

Ferocactus rectispinus with its last flower of the year

Ferocactus rectispinus

Variegated Ferocactus

Ferocactus latispinus, easily recognized by its wide central spines and the deep purple flowers

Outrageously colorful specimen of Aloe vanbalenii in the backyard. Who needs flowers when you have leaves this outstanding!

Of one of a handful of wooden planter boxes Justin built in the backyard. They’re home to a large variety of cacti, aloes, mesembs, and other succulents.

Another Agave utahensis var. eborispina

Notocactus roseoluteus

Euphorbia sp. and Agave peglerae

Agave albopilosa

Aloe 'Pink Blush'× polyphylla and a clump of perfect Sempervivum

Nice clump of Stomatium, a night-blooming mesemb (aka “ice plant”) from South Africa

Justin has a new greenhouse where he keeps his seedlings as well as a small selection of potted succulents:

Southern African landscape in a bowl: Aloe erinacea and Lithops

Agave utahensis var. eborispina grown from seed Justin and I collected on our trip to Nevada last year

Agave utahensis var. nevadensis seedlings, also from habitat seed

Cross between Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ and Agave parrasana, from plants that flowered in Justin’s front yard last year. All the plants you see above are from the same seed batch. The variability is astounding.

To me, this baby combines the best of both parents

Stenocactus and Echinocereus seedlings

Leuchtenbergia principis seedlings, unmistakable even at this size

Opuntia aurea seedlings with exceptionally long hypocotyls

The hypocotyl is the stem between the cotyledons (the two embryonic leaves on either side of the cactus body) and the roots

Also, this happened while we were at Justin’s:

Annular solar eclipse on October 14, 2023

In case you were wondering: Justin is growing many of these seedlings for sale at next year’s San Francisco Cactus & Succulent Society Show & Sale, to be held in mid-June.

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


  1. Amazed at how big those agave seedlings have grown in just over a year! (I'm assuming that the seedlings are in 2 1/2 inch pots.)
    I wonder about how the cactus between rocks would fare in a different (rainy) climate. It seems the rain falling on the rocks would splash onto the cactus, and then drain between the rocks (as opposed to flowing downhill when the soil is mounded.

    1. Yes, the seedlings are in 2 1/2 pots. Watered and fertilized well, they can grow quickly.

      I don't know about the cacti between the rocks. But they fared well in last year's super wet winter.

  2. One beautiful specimen after another! I'm awed by their perfection. And I'm now asking myself why I don't have an Agave montana, among other things.

    1. You MUST get a montana - or several. One of the best agaves, period.

  3. Always fascinating to see what Justin is up to. And crosses with the spiral aloe too! (Who knew anyone got Aloe polyphylla to bloom...)

    1. Our friend John in Richmond had a large polyphylla that bloomed every year. That's where the pollen came from. Unfortunately, his polyphylla died - like they're all wont to do :-)

  4. The teeth/leaf imprint on Agave montana is gorgeous. I feel like I've read an actual name for that -bud imprint doesn't seem right?

    1. Bud imprint is what I've always called it. But there probably is a more technical botanical term.

  5. Your photo of Ferocactus latispinus is mesmerizing.

  6. Some mighty fine looking agaves there!

  7. Wow, loved all these. Some are so rare in our country. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I'm so jealous is all I can say. Thanks for the wonderful tour, Gerhard!

  9. It must take hours to go through Justin's garden to see, discuss, sigh over all the beautiful specimens. I need an A. montana, for sure. The Ferocatcus latispinus flowers--sensational colors. Beautiful 'Vanzie'--that selection rivals 'Blue Glow' for perfection, doesn't it?

    1. Exactly! That's what makes a visit with Justin so special--always something new to see and discuss.

      As for 'Vanzie', I couldn't agree more. I have one in the backyard, tucked away in a far corner. It would look so good in the front yard, but I already have a "plain" ovatifolia there. I do think 'Vanzie' is the most beautiful ovatifolia cultivar.


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