Succulents: What's Blooming in the Yard Now? December Edition
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 21, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions or comments.)
If you live in California, or are just visiting, wouldn't it be nice to know what sorts of things are blooming each month so one could decide whether it might be worth it to visit a botanical garden, or go on a garden tour? Of course, most people know when most of the "real"flowers bloom, like roses, irises, camellias etc. But many others don't seem to be quite as familiar with what's blooming in the succulent world. So this will be December's edition of what you might want to look for or expect to find.
I will skip the plants that realistically do not grow outdoors in California or are just too small, or have flowers too boring to include. This will allow me to leave out about a quarter of all the succulents I know anything about, and about all those I know nothing about. But don't worry... there are still plenty left over to start with.
Aloes: As far as succulents go, December belongs to the Aloe. December is a pretty big month for them, though not the biggest. I cannot realistically include all the aloes that bloom this month, nor do I even have access to photos of all the species anyway. But these following species are among the ones I see flowering in my yard in December, or ones you would likely run across when visiting a botanical garden, or the garden of an avid aloe collector.
By far the most commonly visible Aloe in all of California is Aloe arborescens. There may be a few other species more commonly planted, but this one is much larger and takes up far more room than any other species. It has deep red (or yellow) blooms that show off from late November through February, primarily, and though the main season is January, finding one in bloom in December is certainly not unusual.
Aloe arborescens usually has red flowers (left) but there are some strains that make a yellow flower like this on in the Huntington Gardens outside of Pasdadena, California (right). Though the same species, these two color varieties tend to bloom at slightly different times with the yellow form being a predominately December bloomer and the red form being more variable, blooming from November to almost the end of spring.
Aloe barberae (aka bainsii) is the hugest of all the Aloes and this is the time of year it shows off that it has more than just bulk to offer.
Aloe barberae flowers are amazing and attract thousands of bees, but sadly they are usually way high up in the trees (left); but thanks to a particularly brutal Santa Ana wind, this flower on the right fell to the ground and I was able to get a closer look at it
Aloe ciliaris is a nice vining species that blooms irregularly for most of the cooler months, but December and January are its main times to flower.
This giant wall of Aloe ciliaris is at the Huntington growing over a real wall (left); right is a large mound on the ground at the Los Angeles Arboretum
Aloe dichotoma, another of the monster species, is primarily a December bloomer showing off its brilliant yellow flowers. Aloe ramossisima, often considered the same species, only a shrubbier version, is also blooming best this month. This plant is a lot less predictable in the blooming department, however.
Aloe dichtoma flowers are striking, but the entire plant is an amazing work of art and worthy visiting any time of the year
Aloe ramossisima flowers are very similar, if not exactly the same as those of Aloe dichotoma, though the plant looks very different
Aloe ferox flowers for several months and December is not its big one, but it still can display some striking inflorescences this month.
Aloe ferox flowers (left) and old, tall plant in the Huntington collection blooming in December (right)
One of my personal favorites is Aloe petrophila, a smallish, moderately colorful spotted aloe from South Africa who really cranks out a ton of gorgeous candy-striped flowers in December into January.
Shot of Aloe petrophila with a variegated Crassula ovata variety also blooming in the background. Huntington Gardens, California
Aloe suprafoliata is one of the common aloes to start the winter flowering season and December is its month to be a star.
Aloe suprafoliata has nice flowers, but the entire plant is attractive and makes a nice addition to a garden, with the turquoise leaves (left) or purple leaves if really stressed with drought (right). This plant on the left is one of the first plants in my yard to flower each 'aloe season' and lets me know it's that time of year.
Aloe vanbalenii is a commonly grown species that starts out this month but finishes off in January and February.
Aloe vanbalenii looks great as a colony plant or as a potted specimen, and looks good year round, though best in winter.
Flowers are either a bright-pale yellow (left) or a deep yellow-gold (right)
Other aloe species that can be seen flowering this month:
Though not aloes one would travel miles to see, Aloe antandroi (left) and Aloe compressa (right) flower in December. Both are fairly rare in cultivation, so these are flowers I get to see in my own garden, not at a public botanical collection
Aloe sinkatana is a variable species that makes flowers off and on over an entire year. But here are two varieties making some in December
Sometimes lumped as the same species, these are Aloe capmanambatoensis (whew!) left and Aloe fragilis right in my yard in December
Two relatively rare species in cultivation- left is Aloe megalocantha and right is Aloe hoffmanii, both in December
One of the reason there are so many Aloe pluridens (French Aloe) planted on the Lotusland grounds in Santa Barbara is due to this plants amazing grace and beautiful flowers in winter. Left is a shot of one with majestic Chilean Wine Palms in the background at Lotusland
Though usually grown for the interesting plant itself, Aloe melanocantha makes some nice November and December flowers (left); Aloe mutabilis is a very similar plant to Aloe arborescens and cranks out a huge number of flowers this time of year (right) - one of the more spectacular and showy December flowering demonstrations
One of my favorite holiday season aloes is Aloe pretoriensis, with a beautiful candellabra-like inflorescence and bright red, festive flowers. These shots are from my yard. This is a pretty easy-to-obtain aloe. I have no idea why it is not planted more commonly.
Aloe alfredii is a pretty rare species, but has uniquely orange flowers (fairly rare for December flowerers)- left photo thistlesifter; right is Aloe framesii, one of my favorite speckled aloes (see the photo in the thumbnail for a nice shot of these blooming in December)
Aloe labworana makes odd-looking yellow flowers and is pretty uncommon in cultivation, but their is a nice colony at the Huntington Gardens
Aloe tongaensis was for many years assumed to be a form of Aloe barberae, though smaller. Then it was called Aloe 'Medusa'. Now it finally has a species name. Its flowers are different from Aloe barberae in that they are pale orange instead of pink, and have long peduncles and are a different shape. But the plant itself looks very similar (left); right is not really a species, but a hybrid of Aloe barberae and Aloe vaombe, called Aloe 'Goliath'. Like its parents, it flowers in December as well (right).
This Aloe vaombe in the Los Angeles arboretum is fully flowering in December. Mine wait until January to February for some reason. This is not unusual, however, to see aloes flowering in different months in different locations about southern California and is probably due to local temperatures and exposure.
Aloe elegans is a strictly Decmeber flowerer in my yard, but I see it flowering later in others (left); Aloe ellenbeckii (right) has beautiful flowers, but they, and the entire plant, are sort of small and get lost in the landscape... probably better as a potted aloe
Aloe inyangensis is the only grass aloe I can keep alive year after year (left) and it blooms multiple times a year. Aloe tenuior is primarily a December and January bloomer (right)
Aloe cryptopoda is a prolific bloomer and this is just one of about a half dozen months when this species makes some flowers
Aloe ukambensis is one of the more striking aloes with deep, scarlet red flowers, and leaves also deep red this time of year (left); Aloe swynnertonii is one of the nicer spotted aloes with weird, almost flat flowers in December (left)
Cacti: December is not a big month for Cacti as winter is not most cactus's favorite time of year. But for some reason, there are a few species that either only bloom this time of year, or include December as a month to make flowers. The following are some of the ones I have happened to photograph.
Two species of Oreocereus I see blooming regularly this time of year are Oreocereus doelzianus (left) and Oreocereus celsianus var. fossulatus (right). These flowers are nice, but not terribly showy
Ferocactus echidne var. victoriensis flowers in December, at least in the local botanical gardens here
And of course Christmas cacti bloom this month, though sometimes these need some 'daylight manipulation' to really bloom nicely (like the one on the right).
Crassulaceae: The family Crassulaceae has many members that bloom primarily in winter and a few chose to do their thing mainly in December. But for the most part, the other winter bloomers wait for a month or two to show their flowers.
The most well-known of the Crassulaceae December bloomers is of course the Jade Plant, Crassula ovata, and all its cultivars. The blooms, like most of the Crassulas, are not that impressive and one would not likely visit a garden to see this plant in bloom, when frankly it looks nicely NOT in bloom.
... except for the pink forms of this species... very nice flowers
Here is the entire plant showing its multitude of inky dinky pink flowers
Another Crassula that blooms only in December is Crassula lactea. The blooms are very similar to those of Crassula ovata.
by far my favorite December bloomer in the Crassula family is Crassula 'Springtime', inaptly named as it blooms year round. It just happens to also bloom in December.
Aeoniums flower much of the cooler months, but seem unpredictable. Still, some months ase better flowering months than others, and though Decemer is not the best month, it is better than many
Kalanchoe degolensis (one of the Mother of Thousands species) blooms various times of the year, one of which is this month (left); right is an Echeveria mcdougali blooming in December, one of the few that do normally (right)
one of the more popular plants for the holidays as Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, which is usually in nurseries and plants shops this time of year (though this species does bloom most of winter into early spring).
Euphorbias: This is not a huge month for Euphorbias, either, with the obvious exception of one of the symbols of the holiday season, the Poinsettia. Though the best part about these festive plants is not their flowers, which are actually miniature yellow structures almost completely overlooked. But it is their bract-like red, pink or yellow leaves that surround the flowers that one associates with this species.
Euphorbia pulcherrima (Poinsettia) left growing outdoors at a botanical garden in December; right shows my own Poinsettia planting at old rental home
Pink Poinsettia variety propagated in a nursery for sale at Christmas (upper), and an outdoor grown plant showing its more natural appearance as well as the flowers (yellow) in the center (lower photo)
There are a few other Euphorbia species that can often be found making flowers in December.
Euphorbia angularis, not a super popular species, blooms readily in December (my yard- left); right is normally a pot plant, Euphorbia anoplia, but also a decent landscape plant in the right circumstances. It is also an early winter bloomer.
Euphorbia cooperi is a tall, candellabra species that blooms in December (left); on a smaller scale is one of my favorite species in my yard, Euphorbia hamata, which has delicate, attractive flowers in early winter (right)
Other Succulents: a few other succulents, one which I have several of in the yard, bloom primarily or only in December.
Agave attenuata 'Nova', a blue form of Agave attenuata that makes an monolithic upright flower stalk (compared to the drooping one the normal form makes) is just one of many Agave species that bloom in December. Agaves however, only bloom once and that's it, so unless you are planning to visit a large colony of them (as above at the Huntington), a traveling to a garden to see Agaves flower is likely to be a dissapointing trip since it is hard to know what year each plant is finally going to end its life in this spectacular fashion.
Though it is sad to see this plant try to crank out flowers in December, which is obviously its month to do so, Pachypodium saundersii also starts to have problems with the cold this month and both struggles and flowers at the same time (left); right is one of several Glottiphyllum species that bloom in winter (in my yard)
Both Pleiospilos peersii (left) and Pleiospilos willowmorensis are December bloomers. One can see them blooming in the ground at the Huntington Gardens this month
Cerochlamys pachyphylla, another Mesemb December bloomer
One of the more bizzare Succulents one can grow as a landscape plant is the 'other' Crown of Thorns genus, Colletia, a large shrubby plant with imipressive thorn-leaves that makes an incredible impenatrable but attractive barrier. And in December, it is adorned with gazillions of tiny white flowers
There are dozens if not many dozens of other December bloomers in the succulent world, but these are at least a reason to get up and visit the southern California botanical gardens in December, a month not often thought of when considering flowering events.