Most of us select our ‘tender” succulents by virtue of their unique forms or foliage in desert tints of sage green, blue gray, dusty rose, plum, khaki gold. A few put out flowers during our northern hemisphere summers, but many warm winter succulents bloom when the day length is shorter…mid-late fall, winter, and early spring. These succulents add astonishing color to a windowsill display while we wait for spring to really settle in.
I’ve been collecting “tender succulents” for more than 15 years, and one of the frustrating things I constantly come across are mislabeled plants. We now have an excuse to visit southern CA more frequently as one of our sons is living there, and since this is where more succulents are grown than anywhere else, I have made it my mission to visit botanical gardens and nurseries from Santa Barbara to San Diego in search of proper names. The most common succulent genera are Aloe, Crassula, Echeveria, Gasteria, Graptopetalum, Kalanchoe, Pachyphytum and Sedum.
What makes things very curious is that there’s been a lot of inter breeding going on, and by that I mean crossing one genus with another. For example, Echeveria crossed with Sedum becomes Sedeveria. Because these genera are so closely related (many are in the Crassulaceae family) this works, and some interesting new plants have been introduced. This does however complicate identifying misnamed plants. The foliage isn’t always the tell tale sign; the flower formation can give better clues, but even then…take for example Graptoveria ‘Moonglow’, a cross between Graptopetalum and Echeveria.
The flowers of Echeveria tend to be bell shaped with many variations: tightly closed, flared, chunky, narrow and are held on short or even tall stems that can be terminated with a few blossoms or multi branched. Graptopetalum blossoms are star shaped with prominent stamens and are held on upright stems in branches of a few to many flowers. The flowers of Sedum are held in terminating clusters of star shaped inflorescences. The intergeneric crosses display a mix of these flower formations, and here is where further research is required. I plan to continue to study the differences.
Photo documentation is essential in keying identity. I now have a set up for plant portrait taking, and will continue to photograph the various flower forms as plants continue to open bud. Here are a few photos of various succulents in flower.
I have yet to find an authoritative source, online or in print, documenting and clarifying information on succulents. It is a challenging task, for sure. Do you have a resource or guide you refer to? Please share if you do.