4 Strange-Looking Succulents You Should Consider Adding to Your Garden
Go beyond the usual garden suspects with these succulent oddities recommended by Gene Joseph, owner of Plants for the Southwest in Tucson (plantsforthesouthwest.com).
By Lori A. Johnson
• Fall/winter blooms; yellow • 4′-23’H by1′-3’W • Well-drained soil • Zones 9A-11B • Full sun • Low water; low maintenance
Also known as kokerboom in its native South Africa, this tree-form aloe grows as tall as 20 feet and can survive for as long as 80 years. Due to their slow growth, they are ideal for planting in pots. Its smooth, trunklike stem forms branches toward the top, creating an umbrella shape. The bright yellow blooms attract hummingbirds.
Why we like it: “The quiver tree is one of the few dramatic tree-form succulents that we can use in a pot, or in the ground in warmer locations, though it needs protection below 26 degrees,” Joseph tells us. “Once mature enough, it flowers in the fall and winter with clusters of yellow blooms.”
• Fall blooms; varied • 1″-2″H by 1″-2″W • Well-drained soil • Zones 10A-11 • Sun to partial shade • Low water; medium maintenance
Native to the dry regions of southern Africa, these tiny plants mimic the shape and size of small stones. Each is divided into two succulent leaves that are fused together at the base. In the fall, the fissure between the leaves separates, followed by a flower bud. There are many species, each with unique colors and leaf markings.
Why we like it: “Lithops are remarkable for the colors and markings on the leaf tops that mimic surrounding rocks in their native habitat; hence, the name ‘living stones,’” Joseph says. Lithops should also be given a watering rest in the winter when new growth draws moisture from the old leaves, he adds.
• Spring blooms; white • 4″-10″H by 6″-16″W • Well-drained soil • Zones 9B-11B • Full sun • Low water; low maintenance
Another South Africa native, this plant is sometimes called “The True Vingerpol.” Note that, as with other euphorbias, this plant’s leaves contain a milky sap called latex that is poisonous and can irritate skin, so it should be handled with care.
Why we like it: “This plant has one of the more interesting growth forms, with a main stem emerging from the ground and numerous, finger-thick branches emerging all around,” Joseph says. In spring, clusters of white flowers emerge from the end of each branch.
Sonoran Rock Fig
• Insignificant blooms • 20′-50’H by 20′-50’W • Well-drained soil • Zones 9B-10B • Partial sun • Moderate water; low maintenance
The rock fig is one of the few species of figs adapted to arid conditions. The caudex of younger plants can grow rather large, giving them an appearance similar to Adenium (“desert rose”). While the plant does produce small figs, they are considered inedible, so this is grown mainly as an ornamental plant.
Why we like it: “A fig from southern Sonora, Mexico, this succulent has an enlarged base and architecturally interesting branching,” Joseph says. “It makes an excellent desert bonsai, especially when trained over a favorite rock.”