Two New Caudiciforms

Scott Bar, CA(Zone 6a)

A Pachypodium bispinosum came my way as a dead looking stick a few weeks ago. It was severely root bound in a very small pot. Now it looks pretty lively. Is it like the fockea needing to be buried for the caudex to develop? The only other pachys I've tried were lameri and geayi (that I still have) and which both get really large very quickly.


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Scott Bar, CA(Zone 6a)

This one said euphorbia to me but the prick test shows no latex. Not sure where to start on finding an id. Very sharp single slender spines and usually three thin leaves at each node.

All hints gratefully accepted!


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Baja California, Mexico(Zone 11)

Yes, the Pachypodium develops its caudex mostly below ground. You can lift it a little every time you repot if you want, just try to protect the freshly lifed part from the sun for a while so it doesn't get scarred. It is nowhere near as fast as the tree Pachypodiums, but much faster than the smaller members of the family.

It should profit from repotting once a year or so, so it doesn't get root bound and grind to a halt. The only way to know is to pull it out of its pot and see where the roots are. Over time you'll get a better sense of when to do it. Regular pruning of the skinny branches can be helpful to keep the plant in proportion (and reduce its footprint in a crowded space). They will sprawl everywhere if you let them.

With good light and a permissive climate (like here) the bispinosums grow year round, always retaining some leaves. They flower early in the season, maybe late winter or spring, for a while.

I have no idea what the second plant may be, but if it's not a Euphorbia then maybe it could be a Fouquieria (wild guess).

Scott Bar, CA(Zone 6a)

Baja, you are amazing! The best match in images so far is F. columnaris but very similar to others of the genus. Years ago in my Baja days I visited the boojum habitats but did not consider that this might be one. Images have many great looking bonsais of several species. I think I'll have to let this one mature a bit before I can be sure just which one it is.

So much to learn! Thanks,


Baja California, Mexico(Zone 11)

Well, my F. columnaris seedling does make 3 leaves at the base of the spines, which are derived from the leaf base (petiole I guess?) of the first leaves that appeared along those branches as they were originally made. Once the flat part of the leaf falls, the rest turns into a spine. Subsequent years' growth along the branch consists exclusively of new leaves generated at the base of those spines. Does that make sense? The cirio (Mexican name) is a seasonal grower even in the mildest of climates.

These are not details that one normally picks up when inspecting these plants at a distance in the boojum forest. Here is a picture of something you don't normally get to see because it's happening way over your head.

There are several other Fouquierias out there though, and some of them are easy to confuse, so I am not going to speculate on what your plant is exactly. I remember seeing some choice ones in bloom at the Huntington Desert Garden when I went last year.

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So much to learn!


Scott Bar, CA(Zone 6a)

What a remarkable plant! Thanks for the link. I looked at all the pics and have another question. The ones grown as bonsai with a fat caudex--Are these grown below ground or are they actually the trunk of the tree? I'm quite certain mine was grown from seed and I wonder if it was raised at some point? None of the sites I've looked at have addressed this. If that is the case I should probably rebury it as well as the Fockea and Pachypodium to enlarge the caudex.

Thanks again!


Baja California, Mexico(Zone 11)

The fat bonsai cirios are either plants that have been taken from habitat years ago, or very old seedlings that have been forced to grow in pots instead of the ground... where they take a very different form, unless they happen to sprout in a crack in the rock, and then what results is nature's bonsai (see photo). They will eventually break through the rock if they live long enough.

That is the actual trunk of the tree. The cirio is like a normal tree in the sense that the body is above ground and there are some serious roots anchoring it in the ground. There is no subterranean caudex to speak of, just some fat roots (like lots of trees grow over time to stay anchored). Another BC giant from the same habitat (the cardón) also grows some very serious roots, but also not a caudex in the normal sense below ground. Photo below of a fallen cirio showing some of what's going on under ground.

Don't rebury a caudex that has been lifted. Maybe if it's very recent you can get away with it, no harm done, but otherwise that's a one-way road and you go the wrong direction at your own peril. So I have been told (these Pachyforms books will answer many of your caudiciform questions) but never had the inclination to test. The Fouquierias are all normal above-ground plants to my understanding, maybe with industrial scale roots where necessary. Ocotillos definitely have a big gnarly mass down there when they get old.

This message was edited Nov 12, 2015 7:45 PM

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Scott Bar, CA(Zone 6a)

Thanks so much for the information and advice, Baja. It seems that the inernet sites may be designed for shorter attention spans and the idea of a comprehensive text mkes sense if I want to keep healthy specimens in this genre. The differences in the morphology of these plants based on conditions is astounding. Nice descriptive photos too.

I truly appreciate the time and effort you put into your thoughtful posts and responses.


Baja California, Mexico(Zone 11)

Thank you. I have been where you are now, Bill, and I can appreciate the importance of useful information. There are a number of articles by Palmbob here at DG and you will find valuable discussions there about a number of fat plants. Also spend some time browsing Bihrmann's caudiciform site to get a sense of the variety out there.

And there is a pretty comprehensive site dedicated to Euphorbias which will help out with specific details where that genus is concerned.

I am sort of a book person so have tried to seek out those avenues. There is a book called Caudiciform and Pachycaul Succulents by Gordon Rowley which is good but not nearly as helpful as the Pachyforms books, both in terms of photos and information (especially about how to grow them).

This message was edited Nov 13, 2015 9:31 AM

Scott Bar, CA(Zone 6a)

It may be my age but I agree that books are my preferred choice for information. Unfortunately specialized texts tend to be very expensive so I struggle against my luddite tendencies to find bits of valid information in the chaotic universe of the internet. Thanks for those very informative sites.

The downside of all that information is the time I spend discovering so many fascinating new species, wandering far from my original objective!

I will look for a copy of the Pachyforms book. Thanks, Baja.


Gardena, CA(Zone 10b)

I used to visit cactus and succulent nurseries in the Southern California area years ago, but the number has greatly decreased. I talked to many of the owners and workers at these nurseries and learned a great deal about plants and the habitants. I find that information is much more difficult to find even with the Internet because these people have passed away or moved to other areas. I purchase books and plants on the Internet, but I miss going to the nurseries and talking to people such as Frank Horwood, Ed Gay, Dave Grigsby, Loran Whitelock, etc.

Baja California, Mexico(Zone 11)

Madelyn Lee (of Grigsby Cactus Gardens) is still putting out some awesome plants and giving great advice. That place is definitely worth a stop. Maybe the old generation has mostly gone but there's still action out there, and I would advocate for getting out to connect with the real people in your area. Around San Diego I would recommend talking to Michael Buckner (@ Plant Man) or Jeff Moore (@ Solana Succulents) or Petra Crist (@ Rare Succulents) for some quality insight.

This message was edited Nov 22, 2015 9:03 PM

Sun Lakes, AZ(Zone 9b)

I would agree with Baja about the people he suggested. They are so friendly and very helpful. Jeff Moore and Petra Crist have been speakers at our Central Arizona Cactus & Succulent Society meetings and they are terrific. Since you luckily live in the general vicinity of where they have nurseries, you would surely learn a lot and can get there easily.

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