Sassy Succulents -Spring 2017

by: Hilary Newell

Some of the most majestic plants I’ve ever had the privilege to see up close are the kings of the desert, Saguaro cacti. Part of a broad family of plants designed to hold water in order to survive long periods of drought, these giants are evolutionary wonders.

The desert environment provides only an irregular supply of water through the year, and the Saguaro has adapted to be able to survive these periods of drought. A cautionary word before we go too far here. If a plant label says “can survive long periods of drought,” this does not mean it can survive without water. Just as when a plant tag says “Drought Tolerant,” it does not mean that plant can survive without ever being watered. It will need water eventually.

So it is with most cacti and succulents, their close cousins. Thirty years ago the word succulent brought visions of that old-fashioned garden stand-by called “hens and chicks,” or that scraggly jade plant that was escaping its pot in the kitchen window. Once confined to rock gardens, Sempervivum hens and chicks have broken out of their typical habitat, and they brought their extended family of Kalanchoes, Agaves, Crassulas, Echeverias, Sedums and more along with them. Jades are still part of the mix, but succulents of many more shapes and sizes are available commercially and they are oh so fun to grow and display.

Succulents come in a vast array of different shapes, sizes, growth habits and flower types, as well as foliage and flower colors. Hardiness zones vary as well, and trying to distinguish which ones will work in Nantucket’s zone 7 isn’t too difficult.

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