Last Friday, I took a trip out of the city with some friends to buy herbs, and came home with something unexpected. Pig’s Ear (Cotyledon orbiculata) is a pretty grey-blue-green succulent with big, fleshy leaves and orange flowers. According to my favourite go-to succulent identification book, “Succulents: The Illustrated Dictionary” by Maurizio Sajeva and Mariangela Costanzo, it’s from South Africa and not hardy in my zone so I’ll be keeping it in a pot and it will go outside in another month or so with my other tender succulents. Those of you in zones 7 and up will have the good fortune of keeping it outside year-round and may even be able to put it in the soil if you have lots of sun and a dry spot that drains well. It’s look and spreading growth habit reminds me of Flapjack (Kalanchoe thyrsifolia), but with pointier leaves.
No, it’s not a sea creature out of water. It’s a super freak, super freak, super freaky (Rick James approved) mutated succulent!
Fasciation, cristate, cresting, or bundling: all are words for an interesting genetic mutation that causes a plant to grow gnarled and twisted, thick in some parts and thin in others. Sometimes the plants appear super-pumped, almost as if it were doubling and even tripling back onto itself. These mutations, often occurring at the tips in new growth and sometimes even in the flowers, are triggered by a range of traumas ranging from environmental issues such as chemical exposure and frost, to insect attack, over-crowding, and disease.
And then plant breeders take these random mutations and use them to their advantage to produce far-out, freaky, alien varieties, such as this Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy Cristata’.
My sticks on fire (Euphorbia tirucalli) is blooming! The flowers are so wee, I almost missed them. They’re not much to write home about (or on a website for that matter), but it was such a monumental occasion, I felt it warranted pulling out the camera and posting about it anyway.
I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but my interest in oddities from the Euphorbiaceae family seems to be growing. To be fair, it is an attractive family of plants with incredible diversity. Euphorbias can be succulents, trees, bushes, or herbaceous plants. From your seasonal poinsettias to colourful and spiny crown of thorns, and a few thousand utterly wacked out, alien-like plants in between, it’s a family that constantly takes me by surprise.
Back in September I wrote about sinningia, an African violet relative with an unusual tuber that grows above the soil. At the time my plant was in full bloom. It is now going into dormancy and has been losing leaves. The photo above is what it looked like yesterday in its current home underneath lights in my basement. [Please note that the leaves are green. They look yellowy/red because of the back light coming from fluorescents.]
I was prompted to write about the plant because I received an email this week from Tim Tuttle, the person who created the hybrid I am growing, ‘Kevin Garnet.’ A few of you asked if the plant was named for the pro basketball player of the same name. Well, Tim has answered. Here’s what he had to say:
I had to laugh about the comments about the name being in honor of the basketball player. It is NOT named for the basketball player, but rather for my nephew who happens to have the same name. I made this hybrid about ten years ago and named it in honor of my older nephew Kevin.
If you’re interested in learning more about less common Gesneriads (African violet relatives), Tim keeps a blog called A Passion for Petrocosmea, the focus of which is on this peculiar genus. I find the conditions in my home are too dry to grow them well — my single attempt to keep one failed miserably and I have shifted away from most humidity-loving plants as a result. More room for succulents! Still, I find Petrocosmea incredibly fascinating as many of them grow in an almost unreal, nearly-perfect, circular form. They’d make an interesting step forward if you have a lot of success with African violets. I only wish I’d tried them when I had better growing conditions.