Come Any Time

Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino (Pasadena), California. MB Maher and I visited on Saturday, May 28, 2011.

As I wrote here, one of the reasons we visited on Saturday was to catch some puyas in bloom. But there’s always something more than you anticipated at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Much more. Tons more.

Puya venusta



Photos by MB Maher bear his watermark

As we veered around a gaggle of visitors at an impatient trot, hoping to take advantage of fleeting overcast skies for mid-day photography in the Desert Garden, I overheard the docent telling this large group blocking the main path that there’s something in bloom at the Huntington year-round. So true. No need to time visits with anguished accuracy. (Which month? What week? Doesn’t matter. Come any time.)

For emphasis, the docent paused before a bank of these in bloom, Bromelia balansae, ‘Heart of Love,’ from South America:


The desert garden never disappoints. 10 acres of plants possessing a tactile code of extravagant colors and undreamed of shapes that only insects and nonhuman animals truly comprehend. The adaptive strategies of the plants to low rainfall, avoidance of predation, enticement of pollinators — the mind reels then sensibly shifts to focusing narrowly on what it can absorb. Such as this euphorbia with wine red bracts. And here I thought chartreuse bracts couldn’t possibly be improved upon.

Euphorbia atropurpurea.


True, Euphorbia milii and the poinsettia, E. pulcherrima, have red bracts, but this looks like an E. lambii with stunning maroon bracts and a pearly cast to the leaves. Another wonder from the Canary Islands. If a nursery offers it for sale, it’s somehow never come to my attention, and I’ve been a euphorbophile for ages. At least for the herbaceous euphorbias.


This Euphorbia ambohipotsiensis is very similar to E. milii, the Crown of Thorns.


More surprises. An aeonium with pink flowers, not the typical yellow flowers. Aeonium percarneum.


Me stopped in my tracks, pondering whether this agave is the Huntington’s A. franzosinii. I’m pretty certain it must be.


Whale’s Tongue Agave, A. ovatifolia


Canopy of Cussonia spicata overhanging ocotillo.


Another puya in bloom, Puya spathacea from Argentina.


The dyckias were either close to or at their peak.



With barrel cactus and Echeveria agavoides.


This looks more like a hybrid Agave attenuata, possibly ‘Blue Flame.’


Anchor plant, Colletia paradoxa. (So exciting to read of this plant on James Golden’s blog A View From Federal Twist, which he encountered during a visit to Uruguay, where colletia is native.)


The Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society Plant Show and Sale takes place June 11th and 12th at the Sepulveda Garden Center, Magnolia Boulevard, Encino, CA. For information email:

The San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society Summer Show and Sale takes place June 4th and 5th at Balboa Park, Room 101, San Diego, CA.
For information call (858) 382-1797.

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10 Responses to Come Any Time

  1. James says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on the San Diego show and sale. I don’t need any more plants of any sort but that’s never stopped me! And thanks for the Huntington tour. Last trip I saw a few euphorbs that looked a little like lambii, but I wonder if they were atropurpurea instead. Their flowers look amazing.

  2. Too much beauty! And nice to see a picture of you, with a monster agave no less.

  3. Denise says:

    James, I really want to attend the San Diego show, which is unlikely but you never know. Maybe I’ll see you there.
    Loree, my job was to provide scale to that giant agave. I had to restrain myself from quoting Jaws dialogue: “Go to the end of the pulpit! I need something in the foreground for scale!” I need to comment about your tetrapanax — I’ve found two runners and pulled them both up, and it’s been pretty quiet, but this plant is getting scary…

  4. Pam/Digging says:

    Ahoy, the white whale! See, now I’m quoting Moby Dick. That’s a beautiful Agave ovatifolia, and blissfully free of tree debris, unlike my own. Yes, like Loree said, nice to see a picture of you too.

  5. James Golden says:

    And the Colletia is a pioneer plant! Who would have thunk.

  6. Megan says:

    OMG!!!!! Gorgeous pics! I’m so jealous of you right now 🙂

  7. Denise says:

    Pam, I had to restrain myself from name-dropping in relation to this agave. I consider it your signature agave!
    James, I love that account of your visit to Uruguay. Who would have thunk indeed.
    Megan, it truly was a fine day — not too hot yet, because that Desert Garden can really cook.

  8. laguna dirt says:

    your timing was perfect! everything was showing off! hard to believe it will ever heat up, but you are right–now’s the time to visit!

  9. Oh, it’s too much! I need a visit soon. I need a visit every month. I adore the Huntington, but there is just something special about the Desert Garden. That bed with the Golden Barrel cacti and the Agave parryii (I know you know the one) just slays me. Thank you for this gorgeous tour.

  10. Denise says:

    Janine, it was mobbed for Memorial Day weekend. Nice to see so many people enjoying it.
    Jane, I know exactly the spot! Took some photos but didn’t like how they turned out.

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