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For The Garden

Sculptural Succulents

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: May, 2014, Page 124



Living Rock cactus
(Ariocarpus retusus)


Type: Cactus

Elevation: Low

Blooms: Creamy-white; fall

Size: 2-10"H by 2-12"W

Soil: Use a cactus and succulent mix.

Light: Prefers filtered light or a shade house

Water needs: Low; let soil dry out between waterings.

Maintenance: None

Attracts: Hummingbirds may collect the white “wool” for nest building.

Note: Plants display considerable variation in the shape and length of  “leaves,” which are actually stiff outgrowths. Grow in pots to control soil moisture, sun exposure and cold protection.

Why we like it: Layers of tubercles create an intricately detailed pattern when viewed from above. Unusual woolly tufts fill crevices.



Red aloe
(Aloe cameronii)

Type: Succulent   

Elevation: Low-mid; hardy to 25-30 degrees F

Blooms: Orange-red; winter

Size: 1-2'H by 2-4'W

Soil: Good drainage

Light: Full sun; afternoon shade in low-desert summers

Water needs: Low

Maintenance: Minimal

Attracts: Hummingbirds

Note: Produces numerous offsets over time to form an eye-catching sculptural mound. Offsets can be removed and transplanted elsewhere.

Why we like it: This aloe features an open rosette shape. In sunny, cold and dry growing conditions, its medium to dark-green leaves turn a coppery red.



Toothless Desert Spoon
(Dasylirion quadrangulatum) (Syn. D. longissimum)

Type: Succulent

Elevation: Low-mid; hardy to 15 degrees F

Blooms: Cream; late spring to summer

Size: 6-9'H by 6-9'W

Soil: Excellent drainage

Light: Full, partial or reflected sun

Water needs: Low to moderate

Maintenance: Minimal

Attracts: Pollinators when in bloom

Note: Site where it can grow to mature size without pruning, which destroys its symmetry. After it is established (7 to 10 years), it produces a 10' to 15' flower stalk.

Why we like it: Flexible, narrow leaves about 4 feet long arch dramatically from the trunk, forming an almost perfectly shaped rosette. Leaves are unbarbed (toothless).



Totem Pole
(Pachycereus schottii f. monstrose)

Type: Cactus

Elevation: Low-mid; hardy to 20 degrees F

Blooms: Pink; late spring to summer, if at all

Size: 10'H by 10'W

Soil: Sandy or gravelly; well-drained

Light: Full sun

Water needs: Low

Maintenance: Protect growing tips during cold weather.

Note: The “monstrose” form of a plant displays some type of abnormal growth that differs from its species.

Why we like it: Totem pole’s columnar stems are spineless. The stems’ irregular gnarly bumps resemble a child’s fanciful clay modeling project.


Other Favorites: Beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata), cape aloe (Aloe ferox), desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri), ocotillo, saguaro, tree aloe (Aloe dichotoma)
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