"My Favorite Plant"

The recent CalHort bulletin asks the impossible.
"Tell us about your very favorite plant, and why it is so special to you. I know, we are not supposed to 'play favorites', but it does happen. Did this come from a friend? Is it a memory of gardens long ago? Send the story to..."
The phrasing tilts answers toward the sentimental and that makes it easy for me: Cotyledon orbiculata v. longifolium. I took cuttings of it from my grandfather's garden just before he moved in to an assisted living facility and I've been propagating it ever since. Cuttings root easily and a plant so propagated develops interesting and appealing structure within a year or two.

This is a gray-to-light-green South African crassula with thick, 5-inch-long, finger-like succulent leaves that point upward in clusters at the ends of creeping stems. Left on, old leaves dry into curly crisps. Hummingbirds visit the inflorescence: an umbel of 8-16 pendant campanular flowers with lightly reflexed pale orange petals. Flowers are bisexual and the anthers are dusted with bright yellow pollen. The inflorescence dries to a stiff twisty brown thing that rattles lightly in the breeze and produces enormous amounts of tiny seeds that do not self-sow in typical Californian situations.

Like most succulents, the plant looks good with cacti, perennial bunchgrasses, medium-sized rocks, and California poppies. Trailing branches will cascade nicely over the sides of a container. I advocate pruning to thin all species of Cotyledon to show off the the branching structure. Happy even in heavy soils, I rooted my first cuttings in the unamended clay I dug straight up from granddad's garden and put in a terracotta pot. (By the end of the summer I had a rock solid brick, with a plant growing out of it--this was before I called myself any kind of a gardener.)

My grandfather grew this plant here and there along the driveway in his lightly watered Portola Valley garden where deer and gophers were constant companions. As a child, I paid more attention to the poppies and other wildflowers that grew everywhere on his property, but this plant became special to me as I got older and grew to appreciate the variety of plants granddad found to grow in his mostly unmanaged garden. Granddad died last October but I have this living thing imbued with my memories of him.

I thought I had more pictures of it readily available, but here are a few.

IMG_6313 IMG_3575

potted succulents


Anonymous said...

Chuck! I swoon at that beautiful succulent box and the surrounding pots! What gorgeous combos - I want someone to make me a dress inspired by this planting...

Frances, said...

That was a sentimental pick, and I can understand why. It is touching to hear the way you refer to your grandfather, he must have had a wonderul influence on you, especially in the gardener you have become. Thanks for the story about your pick. I cannot pick a favorite, it would have to be 'one of my favorites' always. Being the mother of four children, the word favorite is not a good idea.

Frances at Faire Garden

Unknown said...

What Germi said. Wow that is some box of succulents.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, and that's a gorgeous succulent planter!