These days, succulent plants seem to always be in the public spotlight. Newspaper articles, books, blogs, magazines, TV spots, social media all regularly promote succulents as easy care, drought resistant, varied in color and form. Usually these small pieces show a cacophony of diverse types, often jammed together into small spaces for an instant show (kind of like arranging flowers). Seldom do these ‘arrangements’ last very long, either because they weren’t sustainable in the first place or because the owner knows little of the true needs of these plants. But no worry, one can just go out and create another, using fragments of the original (most succulents root easily from casually planted cuttings) or by purchasing from the vast array of plants regularly available from retailers (succulents can be easy and inexpensive to produce en masse).
Seldom do any of the media examples showcase the mature form of a particular succulent plant or explain its native habitat and growing conditions. ‘Succulents’ is a man-conceived grouping (one of the least natural) and include species from a variety of places around the globe, representing various climate zones and conditions. Yet the cultural instructions offered by many experts do not include these details. Because the plants we are talking about are generally tolerant of neglect or less than ideal circumstances, they continue to grow. But if you are familiar with what a given species can look like when grown under optimal conditions, you can see the disparity.
Now there is a definite horticultural sub-cult of succulent fanciers whose main aim often seems to be growing as many different species, forms, or types of a certain group, or growing the only most rare or difficult and eschewing the common. This is another thing entirely and can lead to an equally skewed horticultural practice. Plants are grown as part of a collection, often for shows, and seldom allowed to mature to express their natural ways. Species are made to conform to some fairly rigid concepts for keeping collections healthy or cultivating them for shows. Consider the difference between an image of dogs playing in a dog park and those at a dog show to see what I mean. While I have nothing against any of this, it is not why I am interested in succulents.
(to be continued)