News for cacti and succulents 6/20/17

Two reports on the cactus and succulent front: two photos from a visit to the Stanford garden yesterday (a foxtail and an assortment of columnar cactuses), plus edible miniature cactus and succulent gardens (cakes and cupcakes!).

Stanford cacti and succulents. The Stanford garden is wonderful, but there are no identifying labels, nor any guides, so most of it is a fascinating mystery (especially to utter novices in the area, like Juan Gomez and me). Two scenes that really caught our eye during yesterday’s visit: a remarkable agave (or so we identified it) and a collection of columnar cactuses. Photos by Juan:



The first photo gives a sense of how the garden is laid out, in a large number of islands, each with a wide selection of plants in it. Dominating the scene in this first photo is a big flowering stem (arching above us) growing out of a basal rosette of leaves, which seemed to us to be pretty clearly agave leaves, rather than the rather similar-looking aloe leaves.

Agaves and aloes are both succulents but not cacti. They are also both perennials, but agaves are semelparous: each rosette flowers once (usually after many years) and then dies.

There are one or two hundred species in the genus Agave, hard to say just how many because they hybridize in nature and spontaneously develop new varieties. The closest I could find to the plant in #1 in the genus Agave (or Aloe) was Agave attenuata, a plant with the “foxtail” appearance of #1, but not its color. From Wikipedia:


Agave attenuata is a species of agave sometimes known as the “lion’s tail,” “swan’s neck,” or “foxtail” for its development of a curved stem, unusual among agaves. Native to the plateau of the State of Jalisco in central Mexico, as one of the unarmed agaves [lacking teeth or spines], it is popular as an ornamental plant in gardens in many other places. It is reportedly naturalized in Madeira and Libya.

The stems typically range from 50 to 150 cm (20–60 in) in length, and eventually old leaves fall off, leaving them visible. The leaves are ovate-acuminate, 50–70 cm (20–28 in) long and 12–16 cm (5–6 in) wide, pale in color, ranging from a light gray to a light yellowish green. There are no teeth, nor terminal spines, although the leaves taper to points that fray with age. The inflorescence is a dense raceme 2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 ft) high, with greenish-yellow flowers.

So for the moment, I’m guessing that #1 is a unusual color variant of the foxtail agave.

Brief digression on the foxtail lily. The foxtail image is also enshrined in one of the common names for the showy flowers in the genus Eremurus: foxtail lily, desert candle (though the plants are neither lilies nor, of course, candles). Some discussion (and photos) in a 6/5/12 posting on this blog.

Columnar cactuses. We were attracted to the scene in #2 because of the pretty flower buds about to open. Then we realized that there were (at least) four different species of columnar cactuses in the scene, with different numbers of vertical ridges or ribs (along which the spines appear), and with other differences: the cactus just behind the pink-budded one had just flowered, and its flowers were cream-colored; and the cactus to the right of center has long fierce spines.

Alas, there are a great many columnar cactuses, and I’m deeply ignorant of the domain (I do much better on legumes, or labiates), so for the moment these are just four different species.

Cactuses and succulents as cakes. This morning, a lucky find by Kim Darnell: a Facebook page on New Idea Food, featuring this image:


Three creations from the Iven Oven firm, described on the treehugger site on 4/11/17, in “Incredible artisanal cakes are decorated like mini-terrariums” by Kimberley Mok:

Many reluctant gardeners who love plants, but don’t have time to maintain fussier species, have great experiences with succulents. These drought- and fire-resistant plants are easy to take care of, and wonderful to look at. Taking that love of succulents to the next level is Jakarta, Indonesia-based artisan home baker Iven Kawi of Iven Oven. Kawi is the creator of these incredible cakes with jaw-droppingly realistic-looking succulents and flowers, made out of frosting.

It turns out that there’s a “Cactus Cake” Pinterest board, with lots and lots of cake creations, in many different styles. Cactus cakes, it seems, are a thing.

One Response to “News for cacti and succulents 6/20/17”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Whatever it is, that arching Agave is spectacular.

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