Showy Succulents for Warm Climates
These striking specimens add a little something different to the xeriscape garden.
By: Susan Morgan
Aeonium 'Zwartkop' A plant collector's delight, the deep-purple, near-black rosettes of 'Zwartkop' are quite stunning in the garden. There are few options in the plant world that offer this color and unique texture, so use it as a specimen or plant in masses for maximum effect. 'Zwartkop' contrasts nicely with the blue-gray colors and textures of blue fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue') and blue lyme grass (Elymus arenarius). Combine it with low-growing golden creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'), which will be nice when 'Zwartkop' produces its bright yellow summer flowers. Or, plant with other similar colors to create a chocolate-flavored garden: Use with caramel-colored carex (Carex flagellifera 'Toffee Twist'), New Zealand flax (Phormium), burgundy-leaved pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa 'Sparkling Burgundy') and Pennisetum 'Prince' or 'Princess.' Plant 'Zwartkop' in full sun to dappled shade as the sunlight helps to retain the rich color. However, in climates with extreme heat, plant it in a bit more shade. It grows best in a well-draining soil with deep, infrequent waterings. It has a clumping growth habit and reaches two to three feet tall. Drought tolerant. Hardy to USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Red kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos). Certainly a conversation piece for the garden, this Australian native has clusters of fuzzy, scarlet-red flower buds resembling animal claws that open to delicate flowers in summer. Kangaroo paws form clumps of evergreen, strap-like basal foliage, and plants can reach up to six feet tall and half as wide. Because its tubular flowers attract hummingbirds and other pollinators, plant kangaroo paws in a wildlife-friendly garden. It's also great for a cutting garden. Plant kangaroo paws in full sun and a well-draining to sandy soil. Water deeply but infrequently. Yellow-flowering and bicolor cultivars are available. Drought tolerant. Hardy to USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Sticks on Fire
Sticks on fire (Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'). The glowing reddish-orange, pencil-thin stems of this euphorbia are sure to stop you cold, or hot, in your tracks. Use it in a Xeriscape or plant as a specimen in a container planting or perennial border. Plants reach up to four to six feet tall and half as wide. Plant sticks on fire in a well-draining soil in a sunny location. In colder climates, bring this plant indoors and grow as a houseplant during the winter months, but be sure to keep it out of reach of children and pets. Note: As with all euphorbias, it produces a milky sap that can be caustic to skin, so handle plants with care and perhaps some gloves. Drought tolerant. Hardy to USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Creeping devil cactus (Stenocereus eruca). This unusual groundcover cactus grows prostrate instead of upright. Covered in rigid spines, it's a house thief's worst nightmare. As it creeps along the ground, older portions of the plant die out. Creeping devil prefers a sandy soil with infrequent waterings. This plant may be hard to find through mail order. Very drought and heat tolerant. Hardy to USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Cute, But Not Pettable
Old man cactus (Cephalocereus senilis). The wiry, white "hairs" of old man cactus are an adaptation to protect the cactus from the harsh desert sun. Caution: Although it looks touchable, avoid petting its inviting coat of hair as sharp thorns lie underneath. Old man cactus prefers a very well-draining, sunny location; the more sunlight it receives, the longer and thicker its "hairs" will grow. This erect cactus can grow to 20 feet tall or more after several years. In colder climates, keep in a container that can be taken outside for the summer and easily brought indoors for the winter. Water very infrequently. Very drought and heat tolerant. Hardy to USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae). A slow-growing agave, the striking Queen Victoria agave (named for the former queen of England) forms solitary rosettes with distinctive white markings on both sides of the leaves. Some plants can lose these markings and never recover them. After many years, this agave will produce a tall flower spike, and when finished blooming, it will die like other agaves do. Plants grow to about two feet tall and as wide. Plant in full sun and a well-draining soil. Use it as a specimen or plant in masses in a Xeriscape. In colder climates, keep Queen Victoria agave in a container to be taken indoors for the winter. Relatively cold-hardy, this agave can tolerate a light frost. Be careful of the rigid thorny leaf tips. Very drought and heat tolerant. Hardy to USDA Zones (8) 9 to 11.
Twin-spined cactus (Mammillaria geminispina). Clump-forming mounds of this fuzzy but prickly cactus create a cool effect when planted in masses. Tiny, rose-colored flowers appear in summer. Twin-spined cactus is best used in a Xeriscape and looks great in a mass planting. It stays relatively short, reaching only about one foot tall and about as wide. Plant it in full sun and a well-draining soil. Water infrequently. Very drought and heat tolerant. Hardy to USDA Zones 10 to 11.