Cacti and Succulents

Cacti and Succulents

with Vince Schneider

By Published October 03, 2022

Shop for Succulents at Plant Delights Nursery

In this video, recorded July 15th, 2022, Vince Schneider takes guests on a tour of the crevice garden at Juniper Level Botanic Garden and talks about the collection of amazing succulents. Gardening Unplugged are a series of educational garden talks provided free of charge at our Open Nursery and Garden Days 8 weekends a year.

Cacti, agave, and other succulents mentioned in this video:

  • Lithops (living stone)
  • Notocactus (back spine cactus)
  • Sempervivum (hen and chicken)
  • Delosperma (ice plant)
  • Escobaria (pin cushion cactus)
  • Coryphantha recurvata (beehive cactus)
  • Agave x mitiflora 'Aristocrat'
  • Agave bracteosa
  • Agave ovatifolia
  • Echinocereus coccineus
  • Opuntias (prickly pear)
  • Aloe saponaria (soap aloe)
  • Aloe cooperi
  • Orostachys malacophylla
  • Agave ovatispina


Video Transcript

I'm Vince Schneider. I'm a volunteer here at the Juniper Level Botanic Gardens and I'm going to talk to you about cactus and succulents. And for those who don't know the difference, all cacti are succulents not all succulents are cacti. Basically, all cacti are all new world plants, you can find cacti from down in Patagonia all the way up into western Canada.

Succulents Are Not a Group, They're a Survival Strategy

Succulents are not a group. They're basically an evolutionary survival strategy. So, there are different succulents and lots of different plant groups, but they're not like a taxonomic group that's just succulents. So, we're going to go around the garden here and talk about a little plant... a number of the plants here that I'll have as examples and also, I'm going to talk a little bit about some of the research we're doing. Okay, so the first plant I'm going to talk to you about is this one here in the back here. These are living stones they're called lithops. We have tried to grow those for several years. When I first came, there were several over here in this garden. They didn't survive. So, when we built this berm and the new crevice garden in the back, we decided to try them again and we put them in places that were completely covered so that they wouldn't get any of the rain. They get mist and you know every now and then you get a sideways blowing rain, they get their water that way. They seem to be doing real well and these are, and we know they're doing real well because last winter in October they actually bloomed and flowered, a number of them. Which is the first time we've ever seen them bloom here at the garden besides surviving the winter. They also are very unique because I almost think of them like they're the only plant I know that basically sheds their old skin and the new part comes out and then they split like cells do. You can see how they are here you know we had a plant here and it split and then they split again. Yeah, these here yeah.

They're very hard to grow because they got to be kept dry, but they also don't want to be kept so dry that you lose the root hairs. A lot of people that have them in their home or in the house have a tendency to say - Okay it's September, I’m going to bring them in and not water them for the whole winter and the root hairs die. And so, a lady that was in charge of arid gardens in the Living Stone Gardens out in Arizona said basically you've got to spritz them once a week just a little bit to keep them just... a minimal amount of water to keep those root hairs. But they are doing very well here.

Good Drainage is Key to Surviving the Winter

We have started getting numerous cacti from all over. We're getting number of cacti from South America, especially the notocactuses and some of the others are doing very well. You see we're also they're all in this soil mixture we have here, which is 50 percent Permatill, which is this crushed rock here, that we can get. 50 percent that, 25 percent topsoil, and 25 percent compost is what the soil mix [is]. So, it's a well-drained soil. You know, usually cacti are not a problem they can survive in lots of different soils during the summer. Because during the summer, they drink whatever you can give them. During the winter, when they shut down, they don't want any water. And that's why a lot of cactuses don't survive because they're not in good drainage. Our winters here can be very wet and, you know, that's why, since they're out in these berms here, we have to provide the drainage so that the roots stay dry. You know water comes by, goes through past the roots, and continues on. The roots can dry out but during the summer, you know, cactuses, you know, I water my cactuses every week and they do fine.

So, let's go over here. You can see how all these different cactuses here are in little niches here. So, we've got them in these crevices so that we're limiting the water. And it also seems to be very nice because they like to tuck under things. You can see this one here is basically the roots are going under this rock. You're seeing the plant, but the roots are under the rock. So, the roots are protected a lot so they're doing fine.

We also got this here, this is a sempervivum, which is one of the succulents... doing fine. We also got ice plants which were right around the corner there, another succulent. We're going to talk about the agaves in a minute.

So why don't we come over here. This plant here, this little escobaria cactus. Here, you can see two little red pods on the top. Those are the seed pods. And also, this plant here you can see a little seed pod in here. So, it's already flowered. Right now, we are doing something we've never done before with all our cactuses, especially the little sort of barrel cactuses. We are recording when they flower. So, we got a chart, each week we go out and actually record each cactus when it flowers if it's flowering this week or not. So that's going to give us a good idea you know so far, we know probably may is the best month end of April may and it's a part of June is where we have the greatest number of these species actually uh flowering. The flowers don't last long they usually last a day maybe more or two days. But what happens is a lot of these have so many buds that it seems like they're flowering for weeks because you get a different bud come out and you get a new flower all the time.

This cactus over here, which is coryphantha, has flowered probably since April. But it seems to have put out one flower and then go about two or three weeks and then put out another flower go two or three weeks and put out another flower. So, it's constantly putting out flowers. But you know it's a different flower each time.

Let's go over here. So, one of the projects we're doing is we are looking at agaves and actually doing, trying to cross pollinate the plants. This is Agave 'Aristocrat’, and you can see we've got several tags on this. And it's real important to have these tags because we've got to keep up with the data. You know, each of these is a different cross. From here to there was a different cross. You can see the cross we made here was unsuccessful. The cross we made from here to this tag seems to have taken. So, what that means right now is we're hopeful because it looks like it's making seed pods. We can't tell until they have actually ripened whether we've got fertile seed or not. But, you know, and then after we determine that we've got fertile seed or fertile looking seed, then we can actually come along, and we'll plant them. Not every seed that looks fertile is actually fertile. You know sometimes they don't actually pot out very good. And then it takes a year or so after they're potted before they can actually determine whether we've got something that has new characteristics. So, what we're wanting to do with a plant like this or any others, we take two plants and put multiple pollen from other plants, other agaves on it. We look at each one. What we're looking for is that first of all that we're looking at two different agaves that are hardy. We don't look at agaves that are not hardy because we basically want the final result to be an agave that is hardy and also has new characteristics. This has pods here it looks like it's got new seed growing but we don't know yet whether it's actually going to take all the characteristics of the parent and none of the pod parent I mean of the pollen parent. So, you've got to see which characteristics are more dominant. Hopefully, we're always trying to hope that we're getting a cross where we have some characteristics from each.

So, let's walk over here.

Q: How many seeds?


Q: How many seeds from each pod?

So, if a pod is successful, you know it will have 30 to 40 seeds in there. You know, they may not all be ripe. You know, you may open it up and there'll be a bunch that didn't ripen at all but there may be a few. If we get a few, we can work with it. We can actually pot out the plant.

Let's come over here.

Cross Pollinating Agave

Okay we've got a number of things. This is an agave, here. This is Agave bracteosa. Very primitive or basal agave. You can see we have agaves like the one behind us. The one that's curling is a single stalk inflorescent. We've got agaves like this one here, which is an inflorescent that has branches over it. And this one here actually looked more like a bottle brush than anything else. So, it's probably a very basal agave. So, we've taken pollen from it, we've crossed it with several plants, the pollen. And then we've taken the pollen from this and we're using it on several other plants.

Sometimes pollen from one plant won't work on another but the pollen from this plant may work on the other plant. So, like if we had, for instance, Agave ovatifolia, which is the big elephant tongue agave, or whale tongue agave. If we put that pollen here, it may not take. But if we take the pollen from here and put it on to the Agave ovatifolia it actually may produce pods. So, you try it both ways because they're not always successful. Here's another cactus here that I want. This is the echinocereus. We had talked about you know controlling water. This is one that lives in the desert, in the southwest and in Mexico but it's one of those that it lives in very dry climates. But when it's here it does have a problem sometimes. It has a problem is it drinks too much water. And I've actually seen these explode. So, they just get too much, they just keep on drinking and just explode. So, you still have to keep them in good drainage so that it still can't get all the water that comes.

Q: Do the little plants around it help soak up some of the water?

Correct, that's one of the things we're doing here. You know you can take something like this and put other plants around it or put it under an agave or something like that. These are different ways to actually take the water so that the cactus is not getting it. We all don't have big berms like this so you're thinking, well i can't grow many. But you know I’ve got a yard and I’ve taken a number of small cacti and taken them up and built a little bed around the base of a tree like an evergreen or an oak tree and that actually limits the amount of water that those cacti get. As long as they're getting the sun, you know, they'll still survive and grow there. Because you're actually limiting that water especially like in a pine tree which keeps its leaves or something all winter it's not going to get much water during the winter. So, it still gets all the requirements needs gets as much water as it needs but it still survives. We haven't talked a lot about these opuntias, which are another type of cactus here. These grow sort of in pads and all these are fleshy. Like all the succulents, if you cut them and open [them] they're just full of water. Because that's one of the strategies that has for survival is to just have protect the water it's got. A very hard skin on the outside protecting a lot of water in it.

This one is, and we're giving these away free over there if you want some pads, very nice little cactus.

And the way they actually spread in the wild is you know something will cross up and knock. They'll spread by seed, first of all, if they get fertilized and the seed gets that. Otherwise, you know, if something comes along some animals feeding and knocks off a pad the pad falls down it'll re-root. Okay, there's a neat one that we actually sell in there which are like little potatoes. It's a little opuntia and it's a little potato like shaped which is very good because you could imagine, and these things a lot of times grow on the especially in the southwest on the side of cuts in the hills. So, they're growing on one side you know something knocks it off boom it goes down washes down and who knows how far it goes before it actually can root and form another plant. So, let's talk about these, I'm going back and forth. If I go too crazy let me know. These agaves are amazing plants because they have so many strategies to survive. Okay this one here is this agave here which is a 'Twisted Tongue’ this is a hybrid. This one offsets. So basically, we put one plant in there and it's coming up from the roots. So, it's getting new plants once they influoresce, like this one over here, you could see where it's going into the main plant the plants already dying, you know. It's taking all its energy and putting into seed development. So, one strategy here is it offsets and spreads that way. Second strategy it basically sends up an inflorescent, which would we call these stalks here. This one right behind you, that tall stalk sends up an inflorescent, it produces flowers, tries to get pollinated. If it doesn't get pollinated by other agaves after a while it will actually, up toward the top, self-pollinate itself. And if that doesn't work, and somehow the plant chemically knows that it doesn't work, it will actually produce little marbles on the top little plantlets, and we've seen that happen a number of times where it knows that it hasn't been able to pollinate itself so it produces little plantlets which drop off and can root. So, there are basically little clones of itself.

Q: Which agave is used for the syrup

That is the blue agave. The, you mean the tequila?

No, the syrup.

Oh, the agave syrup. I'm not sure which agave does...

It is a blue agave for consumption, a sweetener, like honey. Yeah, I've got some, yeah, yeah. And tequila and then a number of the other agaves are also used for mezcal. Which is another liquor, okay. Now the Native Americans used agaves all the time for ceremonial drinks and also for...

Basically, it's a very stringy plant and as it dries you could take the leaves and you could almost make fabric from it, and you could also use the spines from it to make needles and actually sew with it.

So, if we come over here, we've got another succulent here. Does anyone know what that is?

That's an aloe. This one here, we have two aloes on the property, this one is saponaria and we've got a cooperi, okay. Aloes are mainly from Africa. They do okay here this one doesn't do as okay as the cooperi. The cooperi seems to do a lot better than this one. This one however seems to die back quite a bit during the winter. But now that the root system is going pretty good it can definitely survive and comes back in the spring each year.

That's orostachys.

Q: Is that a succulent?

Yes, it is a succulent. You can see...

Yeah, there you go. See it's like we’ll see how it's how wet it is. It's just really...

Yeah, just wipe your hands a little bit with plants after you touch your them. Yeah, don't wipe your eyes. Yeah, so each of these here was where a flower is and right now... let's see if i can take it out. Okay, I can take it out and you can see the seeds that are in there already.

Q: That's neat looks gross.

Yeah, this one yeah this is teeny tiny seeds.

Q: How long does it take for them to germinate? I mean, I assume you harvest them.

We harvest them, well, we will take them, and I’ll put them over here because i don't want them over there. Some of them fall out and the next year you see new plantlets coming. Okay, it takes several years a year or so for them to actually get big enough that you can notice them pretty good.

Q: So that’s not something you would put in the greenhouse.

Not right away they would, you know, basically the way these seeds go is when they want to plant them, they put them in little packs, and they put like numerous seeds in one pack.  Because you don't want to take up a lot of space with the new plant. So, then you see what comes up and as they grow to a certain size then you start separating. So, you start with a lot of plants in a small area to see if you get germination

Q: Do you ever try petri plates?

I don't think we do petri plates now. The little seed packs. So, let's come over here.

Other succulents we have... we have the yuccas here, which are very, very prolific here. Easy to grow. Most of the opontias here that we have here, and you can see quite a bit of them, are easy to grow. You basically just lay the pot on the ground, and it will root.

So now this plant here this is ovatispina.

So, so far, we've seen that all the crosses we made none were successful. Places where we haven't made crosses look like they were not successful except starting to get up top there are a few pods. This may be one of those plants that can self-fertilize but won't take other pollens. But we've taken pollen from here and put it on other plants to see if that works.

Q: How long did it take that spike to get that high?

Okay, how long did it take... that started, probably sometime in June or maybe April. Oh well it was that tall in 2 months or 6 weeks. Okay it... once it grows. In fact, if you have an agave or seeing an agave you can basically take a photograph next to the inflorescent and come back tomorrow and take a photograph and you could see the difference. It grows that fast.

Any questions?

Q: Is this stalk... heavy, so you have it propped up?

It was leaning over so you know all the energy from this plant here is in those leaves and in the core. It's using that energy all those sugars there that it's made all its life. It's... that's what it's going for, making all these sugars to push up that inflorescent there and then provide all the energy those seed flowers and seeds need. And so, if they do break, and they do, like in nature, and just lay down, they will still produce seed. As long as you've got all that energy still there it has it can still tap into that energy.

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