Tom Karwin, on gardening | Mexican Succulents – Santa Cruz Sentinel


Take care of your garden

Today’s column appears on Christmas Eve, a joyous occasion for the people of the Monterey Bay area who observe the birth of Christ or share goodwill for all the people of the world, and both.

Our next column will appear on New Years Eve, another important event for anyone who has celebrated or tolerated the 2021 experiences and who are optimistically looking forward to 2022.

The transition to a new year resonates with every gardener’s attention to the future: looking to the year ahead is integral to enjoying the continuous cycle of the seasons.

With that thinking, we return to our series of relevant seasonal insights into garden plants from dry summer (or Mediterranean) climatic regions.

Today we are focusing on succulents from Mexico. Which is home to many succulents worthy of a garden. We hasten to reaffirm that plants associate with favorable growing conditions, rather than political boundaries, so that “succulents of Mexico” could include plants from the southernmost regions of the states. United, as well as Central America, the northernmost regions of South America and the islands of the Caribbean Sea.

While these regions total a fairly large area, they are not home to all succulents, which thrive in other regions of the world that have periods of limited humidity. In addition to the wider Mexico region, South Africa is home to many succulents. We will focus on this succulent region in a future column.

Succulents have evolved to store moisture in their leaves, stems, or roots in order to survive during seasonal dry spells. They have developed within several different genera. The cactus family (Cactaceae) includes many succulents, and knowledgeable gardeners understand that while all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti.

This past weekend, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society hosted its annual succulent plant auction, as part of its festivities. Members provided high quality plants for the auction and received a share of the auction price or forfeited a share and donated all profits for the benefit of the host company.

The auction featured plants from Mexico and South Africa, too many to summarize here. I was drawn to two interesting Mexican agaves in particular. Learn more about these plants by searching the Internet for their botanical names.

Lucky Crown Century Plant (Agave Potatorum ‘Kissho Kan’). I already have an A. Potatorum, with a slightly variegated rosette leaf structure, but the auctioned cultivar had more prominent variegated leaves, from silvery blue to greenish blue, edged in creamy white. Superb, but I was overbid.

White-haired Agave (Agave albopilosa). This very rare Agave was discovered on an almost vertical cliff in the Mexican state of Muevo Leon. Small plant, it develops small white tufts of hair-like fibers at the end of narrow, green leaves turned upside down. It tends not to produce suckers, so its slow propagation by seed considerably limits its availability, compared to other agaves. This charming plant had a reserve value of $ 100. I did not participate in the auction.

The third auction plant of note was a South African Conophytum (specific name unknown). This genus includes more than 100 species and has several common names related to the form: Button Plant, Cone Plant, Waterblasies (Water Blisters), Dumplings, Living Pebbles, etc. They are dwarf plants forming clusters in great demand by collectors, many in Asia. They are threatened with extinction due to mining and poaching in the wild for the black market. At the local auction, this very small plant drew a final bid of $ 585.

Collectors and growers of special succulents made this annual auction a huge success for the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society.

Here are some of the plants from my modest collection, selected to suggest the range of plant forms of Mexican succulents. These plants are valued for their leaf shapes and colors, their varying sizes, and the range of overall shapes in the landscape. They also flower, some seasonally and others only after several years of development. Agaves are usually monocarpic, which means that they flower once and then die, while spreading by lag.

Cream Spike Agave (Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’). A small plant with olive green leaves with cream colored edges and dark brown thorns. This plant easily produces suckers and eventually forms a colony of plants of varying sizes.

Blue Lechuguilla (Agave funkiana ‘Fatal Attraction’). This plant has long variegated leaves, resembling the popular A. lopantha ‘Quadricolor’, which has a more pronounced variegation. It grows two feet tall and three feet wide and produces a lot of offsets to share.

Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii). This plant, endangered in the wild, is one of the most popular cacti in cultivation. It is valued as an architectural accent plant for the design of contemporary gardens. It has a wonderful array of very decorative gold colored thorns. I have moved five of these plants twice in my garden. It was an easy task as the plants have a small root mass and can be wrapped in an old towel for safe handling.

Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’. This attractive plant forms a rosette of pale greyish brown leaves with pink highlights and a white powder called “pruinose”. A hybrid of E. gibbiflora ‘Metallica’ × E. elegans, it grows to only 1 foot by 1 foot.

Our Lord’s Candle (Hesperoyucca whipplei). A dense rosette-forming plant with long, silvery leaves, reaching 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. When it reaches maturity in about 10 years, it quickly sends out a spike up to 12 feet in height, with white to purplish flowers. The wait is worth it!

Mangave x ‘Bloodstain’. Managaves are popular and newly introduced hybrid plant series created by combining agaves with their botanical parents, Manfredas. They usually have mottled leaves. This cultivar grows a foot tall and up to two feet wide.

Improve your gardening knowledge

The School Garden Organization Support Network announced its recorded webinar series on how to make a school garden a success. Check out these free resources by visiting and clicking on “webinars”.

The American Horticultural Society has launched a new series of virtual speakers, featuring the winners of the AHS Great American Gardeners Awards. The next webinar will be presented at 7 p.m. EST on Thursday, January 27, 2022, with Michael Balick. Dr Balick, vice president of botanical sciences at the New York Botanical Garden, works with indigenous cultures to document plant diversity, preserve knowledge about traditional uses of plants, and help communities manage their resources sustainably. His most recent project focuses on the tropical Pacific islands of Micronesia and Melanesia. For more information and to register for this paid event, go to and search for “webinars”.

Enrich your gardening days

The great variety of succulents from Mexico and their easy cultivation attract a specialized collection of selected genera. They are also easy to share with friends, which makes adding plants to the garden enjoyable and inexpensive and building a collection.

Enjoy your garden!

Tom Karwin is the past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Suclent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and UC Lifetime Master Gardener (certified 1999-2009). He is now a board member and garden trainer for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To view photos of his garden daily, To find an archive of previous gardening columns and gardening coaching information, visit Contact him with comments or questions at


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