By Ingrid Hoff
Not many people think about the flower potential of succulents, it’s their hidden potential if you will. I love it when people first discover that their amazing succulents, prized for their colourful fleshy leaves, actually produce amazing long-lasting flowers as well.
When I start to talk succulents most people's thoughts immediately turn to the amazing/stunning/cute indoor planters, but the “elephant in the room” is succulents are a huge and somewhat variable grouping of plants. There are a number of succulents that thrive outside in our gardens (depending on your climate) and delight us with blooms. Others will only survive coddled in the warm stable conditions of our homes, and others (depending on where you live) can do a little of both. This ambiguity does not sit well with my nerdy inner botanist who wants to constantly classifying and group everything, but for my inner gardener I appreciate the fun of breaking rules. So, here is my list of some of the best succulents to search out (from all the groups) that have amazing bloom potential.
Stonecrop (Hylotelephium sp.) are dependable garden plants that will settle into the garden and reward you yearly with spectacular displays of vibrant dome-shaped flower clusters. The flowers which arrive in August and keep going until November, invite a up close inspection to see masses of star-shaped flowers that come in a range of colours from muted pink to vibrant scarlet and even a calming white. Growing 60cm (2’) tall and wide they are easy to fit into most gardens or even containers. Plant in full sun, they are drought resistant (it’s a succulent) and are loved by butterflies and bees. There are many different cultivars available some with grey-green leaves and others chocolate/wine-burgundy leaves. Some award winners to look out for are ‘Autumn Joy’ (it’s technical name of ‘Herbstfreude’ does not roll off the tongue as nicely), ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Matrona.’
Ice plants (Delosperma sp. and Lampranthus sp.) are succulent-leafed garden plants that make great groundcovers (some can grow to bushy sub-shrub status) that are capable of blooming all season. Their aster-like flowers are bright and cheerful, ranging in colour from pinks, purple, yellow and even orange. Great in containers and hanging baskets, they quickly spread to be a carpet of colour. They range in hardiness from Zone 4 through to Zone 9, and in mild climates some are even evergreen. Ever wondered how they got the name ice plant? It’s from tiny hairs on the plant that reflect light and give it the appearance of being covered in ice crystals.
Echeveria are iconic succulents with dainty rosettes of grey/blue/green succulent leaves that look like someone just dropped a flower on the ground. It is also one of those plants that’s hard to classify. I’ve seen it overwinter in mild climates and it enjoys growing outside in warm, sunny, dry spots for the summer. But will not tolerate frosts or wet feet, so include it in the summer garden or just keep it safe inside. The selection of colours and shapes of this plant are what people are mostly after until they see one bloom and then they are hooked. The flowers emerge on a tall stem high above the rosettes, and are dainty bells is shades of pink/apricot/orange colours that pairs so well with the leaves. And speaking of the leaves, there is so much selection. Search out some of the more unique types such as the fuzzy ‘Doris Taylor,’ wavy edged ‘Ballerina,’ and/or black-burgundy of ‘Black Prince.’
Kalanchoe (K. blossfeldiana) are the queens of the indoor flowering succulent. They are unapologetically in-your-face and full of colour. Absolutely proficient bloomers and the colour range seems boundless, white, red, pink, purple, coral, yellow, orange, and every shade in between (I think blue, green and black are the only colours you won’t find). The flowers last a long time and the succulent green scalloped-edged leaves are attractive on their own. This is a carefree and rewarding houseplant. Put it somewhere with bright filtered light and be careful not to overwater.
Lithops or living stone, I need to include because, well… they are just too cute and unusual. They look like a little stone with a cleft right down the middle. Or perhaps a better description is like an animal hoof, I’ve even heard them described as looking like a stone “backside” if you know what I mean. When they flower the stem comes out of the cleft in the most unexpected and amusing way. And soon you have a cheerful white or yellow aster like flower that you never expected. So, to add a little bit of something different and even some humour to your life and grow a lithops. I use it as a way to remember to not take myself too seriously.
So next time you see a beautiful succulent don’t forget that there is usually more to it than just beautiful leaves. So, search out some hidden potential and try not to be too surprised when your succulents reward you and bloom.