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Friday, April 23, 2010


Exciting things are happening in the succulent garden!  Gethsemane Garden Center had its Spring Open House a couple weeks ago (shame on you if you missed it), and much to probably every C+S lover in the greater Chicagoland area, Robert Webb of Arid Lands Greenhouses in Tucson, Arizona was a guest lecturer.  He brought with him a fabulous bunch of rare and exotic succulent plants (of which I bought five members of the Asclepiadoideae subfamily), gave an extemporaneous lecture on some of his favorites, and entertained a Q&A session on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Like a huge nerd, I went both days and sat in the second row.  I am not afraid to tell you that I was eyeing a certain Stapelia flavopurpurea with such fierce vengeance I think I would have knocked it out of someones hand had the opportunity presented itself.  Fortunately, restraint and patience prevailed, and  I did not get up in the middle of Dr. Webb's lecture and start snatching up the best of the litter.

Behold!  My Stapelia flavopurpurea in all of its stocky, spotted glory!  To really appreciate what makes this guy special you have to see it in bloom.  Little spindly yellow-red star fish perched upon the tips of each arm giving off a delicate, sweet fragrance.  Stay tuned for pictures of the flowers, but that won't happen until late Summer, early Fall, if at all (given my less than optimal lighting situation).  The blooming habits of this little guy are even more special if you consider that the other members of its family have flowers that smell of rotting meat.  Oh, yes.  It is true and I have PROOF!

So, the subfamily Asclepiadoideae includes some great examples of the creative lengths to which plants have evolved in inhospitable climates.  The subtropical arid climates in which these stinky succulents are endemic lends itself to an abundance of flies, but a paucity of bees and birds to assist in pollination.  Rather than competing for the attention of the latter, the Hoodia, Stapelia, and Huernia spp. have evolved to attract flies to pollinate their flowers!  By creating flowers that stink of death and decay, and even in some cases resembling open wounds and mimicking the textures of rotting, moldy meat, these smelly succulents have the blow fly market cornered!  Outstanding!

This is one of the reasons S. flavopurpurea is so interesting.  A stapeliad that doesn't stink!  Very special.  I sure hope mine blooms eventually or at least gets some new growth on it this summer.

Stapelia scitula, on the other hand, is blooming like crazy.  Well, I won't go that far, but it is covered in buds and has one or two flowers at a time that last about a full week each.  Supposedly this plant blooms throughout the year and sometimes quite impressively.  I personally love plants that bloom frequently.  It can get rather boring waiting for that once a year treat, so having  a few regular bloomers around the house really help to cheer up those drab Chicago winter days.  These guys do stink, but with each bloom the size of  a nickel, you really have to get your nose up into the flower to smell it.  Dirty socks.  Weird. 

This Arid Lands/Gethsemane find (I am embarrassed to say)  may have been purchased before one was technically supposed to do so...(oops).  It was two weeks before the scheduled open house, and after searching online nurseries for a S. scitula, LOW AND BEHOLD Gethsemane gardens has at least half-a-dozen of them!  There may have been a sign over the shelf that said "Not for sale yet," but I didn't realize this until AFTER I had already paid at the desk for it.  Well, karma came my way and part of a small branch got knocked off in transit (see photo from last post), but the plant itself has doubled in size since then and now seems to be as happy as a clam!  Of course I let the stem dry out for a few days before sticking it in some soil.  Maybe it will root!  Mea culpa.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Spring is here!  Well, actually, it has been here for over a month, but now it has finally blessed my north-facing window garden with floriferous abundance!  This is the first time my paphiopedilum has bloomed since I bought it last summer.  It is a hybrid labeled Incantation x Cocoa Cherry, and was a wine-red lady slipper bloom that lasted quite a while before finally drying up.  Now we wait.  I hope the bud doesn't blast.  That would be disappointing. 

A little background...

I am the proud resident of a north-facing condo in downtown Chicago.  My home possesses beautiful skyline views, lake Michigan peaking out from between towering high-rises, and plenty of light all day long.  Plenty of indirect light.  No direct sun.  Ever. 

Here, in my cave, a genocide has occurred.  Innocent jade plants of all sizes and variegation met a cruel, mushy, fungal demise as a direct result of Sol in absentia.  No sun.                             

Who knew you needed direct sunlight to grow plants???  Well, I sure do now.  After much research, trial, and error, I am now owned by a number of lower-light requiring plants...and more succulents!  Hi, my name is John, and I am a cactus and succulent-a-holic.  I've been a long-time C+S lover, and now I am on a quest to raise a few of my favorites despite my northern exposure.  This blog will chronicle my defeats, lessons, and (hopefully) victories.  However small they may be.  Thrown into the mix will be a collection of vigorous gesneriads, tropical house plants, a couple indestructible plants, and a slightly sunnier office space that I use as a convalescence home for succulents in need.  I have learned that the death of a plant is not a total waste.  While disappointing, we can learn from every failed attempt.  Perhaps most importantly, it provides the opportunity to try again.  Or buy a NEW plant! 

What we call the beginning is often the end.  And to make an end is to make a beginning.  The end is where we start from.  (T. S. Eliot)

Stapelia scitula in bud.