Two notable plants

A further report on yesterday’s visit to the cactus and succulent garden at Stanford, where Juan Gomez and I were struck by two plants, one a cactus of remarkable shape, one a succulent of surprising beauty. I’ve nailed the first, but I’m still circling around the second.

The contorted cactus. That was our initial description. Searching on that phrase netted a variety of wonderful, weird, and beautiful cactuses (which I might post about separately), but nothing close to what we’d seen. Then I tried the phrases wavy cactus and curly cactus, and found a photo that looked just right:


This turned out to be an odd variety of an odd species in a genus very familiar to us (one well represented in the Stanford garden): Opuntia, the prickly-pear or (in Mexican Spanish) nopal (pl nopales), which I’ve written about several times here: O. ficus-indica is cultivated in plantations for their fruits, and they grow wild in vacant lots and other disused places; I’m fond of them, but they are nastily spiny.

The species in #1 is, however, O. microdasys. From Wikipedia:

Opuntia microdasys (angel’s-wings, bunny ears cactus, bunny cactus or polka-dot cactus) is a species of cactus native and endemic to central and northern Mexico.

Opuntia microdasys forms a dense shrub 40–60 cm tall, occasionally more, composed of pad-like stems 6–15 cm long and 4–12 cm broad.

Opuntia microdasys has no spines, but instead has numerous white or yellow glochids 2–3 mm long in dense clusters; these glochids are barbed and thinner than the finest human hairs, detaching in large numbers upon the slightest touch. If not removed they will cause considerable skin irritation, similar to small electrical discharges, so the plants must be treated with caution. Despite this, it is a very popular cactus in cultivation.

Bunny ears in white and yellow:



And then to the variant Opuntia microdasys monstrose (or monstuosa), sometimes called Crazy Bunny Ears (with wavy or curly pads and bright yellow glochids) — apparently the result of natural sports that were then bred for cultivation.

The succulent with white tips. The basic plant was familiar, not unlike this Echevaria secunda


— but more compact and somewhat darker, and with leaf tips so intensely and purely white they seem to glow.

On the genus, from Wikipedia:

Echeveria is a large genus of flowering plants in the Crassulaceae family, native to semi-desert areas of Central America, Mexico and northwestern South America.

Plants may be evergreen or deciduous. Flowers on short stalks (cymes) arise from compact rosettes of succulent fleshy, often brightly coloured leaves. Species are polycarpic, meaning that they may flower and set seed many times over the course of their lifetimes.

The genus is named after the 18th century Mexican botanical artist Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy.

Lots of species have colorful leaf tips. For instance, the red-tipped Echeveria agavoides ‘Maria’, the Wax Agave:


(which is of course not an agave, but merely agavoid, that is, agave-like).

But I couldn’t find any white-tipped Echevaria. Nor did I find any white-tipped variants of the closely related genus Dudleya. From Wikipedia:

Dudleya is a genus of succulent perennials, consisting of about 45 species in southwest North America.

Many plants in the Dudleya genus were formerly classified as Echeveria.

The fleshy and glabrous leaves occur in basal rosettes, in colors generally ranging from green to gray. The inflorescences are on vertical or inclined stems up to a meter high, but usually much shorter, topped by a cyme with alternate leaf-like bracts.

The genus is named after William Russell Dudley, the first head of the botany department at Stanford University.


Dudleya brittonii

No doubt there’s a genus of succulent I’m missing here. I am, after all, pretty much an idiot about cacti and succulents. I know something about sedums and sempervivums, from having grown them in Ohio. Ditto Schlumbergera plants — Christmas cactuses — and Crassula ovata — the jade plant. Out here in California I’ve been slowly learning about agaves and prickly-pears and a few others. But the world of cacti and succulents is staggeringly huge. So I’m still looking for the white-tipped beauty.

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