Eau de Stapelia

I am proud to report that I have not one, not two, but three different stapelia succulents in my garden are blooming at the same time. I wish I could tell you my secret to making this happen, but I don’t have a clue.

The little flower below is no bigger than a dime. Teeny-tiny with a little fuzz.

This one is one of my favorites. How can you not love the perfection of nature’s work?! The flower is about two inches across and has a thick, fleshiness to it, but no fuzz.  These two flowers must be slightly different varieties because their colors are a bit different from each other, the bottom one being slightly greener.

This one is Stapelia gigantea, and is the biggest of the blooms, 10 inches across. It smells, but not too much. I think I like the flower bud before it opened better than the flower. It looks like a bell. The buds look like they are ready to pop for two weeks. It is very satisfying to see multiple buds developing on the plant.

Stapelia succulents can be identified by the four-sided fleshy leaves. My plants’ stems range from pencil width in the smallest one to over an inch on the biggest plant.

I grow stapelias in bright light but not much direct sun unless in the morning or late afternoon. I water the plants regularly, letting them dry out between waterings, but not to the point of stress. Other than than, no special treatment.

I’m assuming that the weather stars aligned perfectly to produce all the blooms this year, or maybe I lucked out and found each plant’s happy place. Either way, it has been satisfying to see the range of interesting flowers.

Sago Palms

I was walking past a local hotel last week and came upon a cluster of sago palms, all in the throes of reproduction.  Right there in plain site!   Promiscuous plants, these sagos.  Here is a male and a female planted side by side.   I’m going to let you guess which is which.

Sago Palms typically aren’t mature enough to bloom and reproduce until they are 15 – 20 years old.  In fact, until your sago blooms, you won’t know if you have a male or a female plant.  It takes two to tango, so it’s a bit tricky if you are buying immature plants with the intent to propagate more in the future.

I find the female sagos are fascinating for their artistic styled, and fuzzy, leaves.   I was on a historic homes tour one year, and realized that during the Arts & Crafts era artists used the shape of these leaves in a lot of their designs, particularly wallpaper and fabric.  It’s only my observation, and may be incorrect, but it seemed obvious to me.  Sago palms were a novelty plant, but popular, back in that era.

This is a close-up of the female palm’s megasporophyll, which is more simply put, modified leaves.  They are soft and fuzzy.

The male sago palm really makes a statement, doesn’t it?  This seed cone is about two feet tall.

Here is a close-up of a male seed cone.  It has a little fuzz, but it’s not soft like the females’ leaves.


This male sago palm has two seed cones.  A bit unusual, but his father must be very proud.  🙂

Here are a few fact sheets I gathered and found useful:
Growing Sagos from Seed
Identifying Flowering Sago Palms

A side note:  Sago palm seeds are very poisonous to dogs.  If you have a sago palm accessible to your dog, please beware…..

Know Your Zone

Plant Zones – are you confused? Me, too. Who can remember all this stuff?!  This should help.

I’m a 10 (in my dreams!) and a 24. More specifically, I live in Zone 10 in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and Zone 24 in the Sunset Garden Climate Zones. The difference is that the U.S.D.A. maps tell you only where a plant may survive the winter; Sunset climate zones show where that plant will thrive year-round. Sunset also takes other factors into account: latitude, elevation, ocean influence, mountains, hills, and valleys.



A morning at the Botanical Garden

Yesterday morning I spent a few hours doing Master Gardener volunteer time at the Botanical Garden Building in Balboa Park. Sunday mornings are quiet and it was a treat to hang out in this historic building surrounded by beautiful plants. The place was decked out with red and yellow poinsettias for the holidays which only added to the experience. Built in 1915, this building is one of the largest lath structures in the world.

Holiday spirit at the Botanical Garden

The bromiliads on the west end of the building were very interesting and more appealing to me than I thought they would be. I have not had good luck with bromiliads and have sent a lot of them to bromiliad heaven. At Balboa Park I can enjoy all the varieties they are growing.
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Orchids were pretty, too.
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The people watching was fun. It was quite the entourage of families getting Christmas card pictures taken in front of the poinsettias. A lot of Europeans visited. An entertaining moment came when a little boy ended up in the little pond. He was no worse for wear. His mother was right there and fished him out, but he was covered in pond scum and was not a happy camper. I was tempted to yell, “Clean-up in Aisle 6!” but I kept my mouth shut. 😉

One of the specimens in the building is a Deppia splendens. Native to Mexico, this plant is extinct in the wild, but is propagated widely, so it’s not going away anytime soon. Pretty blooms….

Deppea splendens 'Aguston'

What a spectacular place!

A peaceful Sunday morning


Melia is the Hawaiian translation for Plumeria. Yesterday I heard a talk about plumeria trees. Tom Cook of Tom’s Plumerias in Solana Beach brought a lot of flowers of different varieties to show, as well as plants and cuttings that were available to purchase.

Plumeria need at least six hours of full sun and good drainage, should be planted south facing, and they should be allowed to dry out in between waterings to prevent rot. San Diego, inland and coastal, grows beautiful plumeria, in an array of colors.

They are potassium feeders so it’s important to fertilize with a heavier potassium mix (a higher P number in the N-P-K numbers) when the leaves are starting to bud out. It’s important to remember not to feed plants as we get closer to cold weather because the nutrients will promote tender growth that is easily frost damaged. The potassium will promote a stronger bloom which is, of course, the main reason we grow these tropical beauts. Also, now is a great time to feed your plants with Sul-Po-Mag. Sul-Po-Mag is a naturally occurring mineral containing significant quantities of sulfur, potash, and magnesium. Another dose of these trace minerals in the spring will really boost the health and bloom potential.

Cuttings are easy to cultivate for new plants. There are two kinds of cuttings – stem cuts and tip cuts. Early spring is the optimal time for cuttings, but in our mild weather, you can cut pretty much year round. RooTone isn’t necessary, but it sure can’t hurt. RooTone has nutrients for a good solid start, and a fungicide to prevent diseases. Soil type is important because good drainage is crucial. A mix of 2/3 E.B. Stone (Edna’s Best) potting soil and 1/3 perlite is a good soil medium. Again, don’t keep the starts soaked or you’ll just end up with a rotten mess. Roots take about 4-6 weeks to begin developing. Patience is a virtue….

Stem cuttings are sections of a plumeria branch, with both ends of the branch cut. A little trick if you aren’t sure which end is supposed to be up, is to look at the leaf nodes and make sure they look like smiley-faces. The advantage to stem cutting is that the stem will do more branching out.

Tip cuttings are only cut on one end with the natural end of the branch at the other end. Important note when cutting tips – Trim or snap off all the leaves on the branch. If the leaves are left on, the transpiration process will continue and the stems will dehydrate. The advantage of tip cuttings is that they are early bloomers, but beware that growth will be slowed because the plant’s energy is being diverted from root development to make those flowers.

I have one tree in the front yard, but am not inclined to have any more because I’m out of room, but I bought two cuttings (‘Lanai’ – pink, and ‘Celadine’-yellow) from Tom that are different colors and I’m going to attempt to graft them onto my existing tree. (I’ll document that when it happens.) I learned alot today and will strive to do better with my existing plant.

An interesting tidbit I learned with more research: Plumeria were only introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1800s. They are native to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. I had no idea!

Some handy websites to check out:
Tom’s Plumerias – the guest speaker.
Southern California Plumeria Society
Plumeria Society of America
Exotic Plumerias