Chasing Plants

Post-Internet I’ve noticed plant desire has turned into a thinner and weaker strain now that it’s so easily satisfied. The really big desire, the kind that used to build up unrequited for years and years, is as analog as a manual typewriter. So now when a plant proves to be unobtainable, it’s kind of thrilling to yearn like years past. Oh, to pine again! A novelty emotion, so to speak.

I first saw the particular desirable plant in question on Loree’s blog, Danger Garden, Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea,’ and made a mental note to make this yucca mine the next time I ran into it, which seemed inevitable. So goes plant desire in the age of the Internet. Ebay, plant swap, mail order, seeds and bulbs from all over the world — relax, somehow you and the coveted plant will be united. And I’m not complaining, mind you, just noting the difference while it’s still within memory.

Photo found here.


Yet this yucca was simply nowhere to be found. (I now know it also goes by the name Yucca aloifolia ‘Blue Boy,’ and Cistus Nursery in Portland, Oregon, carries it. See Plant Lust here.) The first time I saw it “in the leaf” was in a display garden last spring at Annie’s Annuals. I grabbed a salesperson, led her to the yucca, and tried to keep my voice from trembling when inquiring as to where in their nursery an offset of this plant would be waiting for me to take home. They didn’t carry it. But she kindly directed me to The Dry Garden in Oakland, California, the source of their specimen, helping out with map and directions. Victory was at hand, a mere 30-minute drive away!

Except The Dry Garden wasn’t currently carrying any stock of this particular yucca either. Rather disconsolately, I wandered around the nursery but perked up almost immediately, as promiscuous plant collectors are wont to do when surrounded by an extraordinary selection of plants. It was this day, in wild pursuit of that elusive yucca, that I found a plant I’d given up on ever seeing, let alone acquiring. Mathiasella bupleuroides. A dream plant, like angelica crossed with a euphorbia. The owner, Richard Ward, told me that as far as he knew, his was the only nursery in the country currently with stock of this plant since it was so touchy to propagate.

Photo from The Dry Garden.


At home the mathiasella was planted in shade under the smoke tree, but the soil proved too thin and dry, and it languished all summer. Near death, it was emergency transplanted into a shady location with deeper soil, but it seemed the wrenching relocation mid-summer might be too much. Mercifully, just a few days ago I noted new leaf growth, so a photo may be forthcoming soon, if the recent onset of high temps doesn’t do it in. (Another personal link to this plant is the amount of time I used to spend in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at UCLA, except I learn from the San Marcos Growers site that although named in her honor, the plant’s discovery is not credited to her.)

The trail of the yucca once again grew cold until this August, when I visited Digging Dog Nursery in Mendocino, California. In preparation for the trip, I checked their catalogue before the visit to become familiarized with their current offerings. Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea’ was not listed in their catalogue, yet there it sat before me, in a flat of 4-inch pots at the nursery. I was told that they were propagating the entire flat for the upcoming San Francisco Flower & Garden show in 2012 and that it was not generally for sale to the public, but I could take one home anyway. A little more sun will hopefully bring out the purpurea in him.


Digging Dog has also been the first U.S. nursery to offer Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum,’ a thistle that’s been fluttering hearts at successive Chelsea Garden Shows of the last few years. However, Digging Dog is currently sold out. And apparently this thistle can’t be grown from seed.

Image found here.


And so it goes. But a little yearning never hurt anyone.

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5 Responses to Chasing Plants

  1. So glad you got your Yucca purpurea, even if he isn’t terribly purpurea at the moment. And that thistle!!!! I’ve been dreaming of it ever since I spied it on a garden tour…you’re right of course, a little bit of yearning is a good thing.

  2. ks says:

    Sometimes I purposely avoid nurseries that are likely to carry the yearn candidate. Just out of reach..the joy of longing.I’m going to DD’s Oct plant sale, and am taking a giant list-you never know what they might have.

    I remember the olden days when the only place you could find Moonbeam Coreopsis was the White Flower Farm catalog.How exotic it seemed, and how disappointingly floppy it turned out to be when acquired many years later.

  3. hb says:

    Nice looking Yucca, with that graceful curve to the leaf, not only the purple cast.

    I’m sure unfulfilled plant desire is still as strong, because there are always other reasons for not getting that special plant besides unavailability…no money or no room, no sun or no shade, wrong zone–okay, that one usually doesn’t stop people–but those other reasons will always be with us. And now there’s just so much more to want, and with tissue culture and mass near-manufacturing, one can confidently wait for the variegated version, or the chartreuse variant.

  4. Denise says:

    Loree, I hope it’s the purpurea!
    Kathy, so long ago when WFF seemed the only game in town. What a fun read the early catalogues were. DD in Oct. should be marvelous.
    Hoov, true, there will always be plenty of angst for a multitude of reasons. Tissue culture would seem to be the answer except that it’s almost prohibitively expensive. Or so says the nice man at Rancho Soledad.

  5. yardsnacker says:

    Yes well, I ordered these thistles from diggingdog two days ago and now they are sold out again, leaving me pining away, since they are not taking my order now. Sigh…I’m in love with this thistle!

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