Spectacular Succulent Flowers

– Posted in: Garden Adventures


Is it any wonder I’m such a fan of succulents? In addition to being easy care, low-water and having architectural shapes, they send forth spectacular flowers. Some of the most amazing are those of aloes, most of which bloom in midwinter (in temperate climates). Shown above is Aloe x ‘David Verity’, in Patrick Anderson’s Fallbrook, CA garden.

These Aloe striata grow en masse at Rancho La Puerta fitness spa in Baja California.

And this incredible Aloe marlothii is at Desert Theater nursery in Escondido, CA. In bloom the plant is 5 feet tall!

Aloe flowers come in shades of red, cream, coral and yellow. Ice plants produce neon-bright, satiny, daisylike flowers in all of those hues, plus lavender, magenta and purple.

Although ice plants are generally thought of as ground covers, they also serve well as fillers and cascaders for pots. In this composition, the designers at Chicweed (Solana Beach, CA) combined lavender ice plant with deep purple tradescantia.

Lithops and other living stones are ice plants, too. You can tell by the flowers.

Here’s another one — Pleiospilos. Pleis don’t ask me how to pronounce it.

Kalanchoes also produce flowers that make you stop and stare. Some, like this bryophyllum (a type of kalanchoe that produces plantlets on its leaves), have airy clusters of tubular flowers.

Others, like this assortment of supermarket kalanchoes (K. blossfeldiana) are small and star-shaped. Because it blooms profusely and repeatedly with masses of long-lasting flowers, the species has been hybridized extensively.

There even are multipetalled varieties (“calandivas”).

Agaves aren’t known for their flowers—in fact, you don’t want an agave to bloom, because they’re monocarpic (die after flowering), but fortunately it can take years for that to happen. When it does, it’s an event—as you can see by these Agave vilmoriniana (octopus agaves) that decided to go off together (they probably were litter mates). For more on this topic, check out my earlier post, “Uh-Oh, My Agave’s Blooming.”

Aeoniums also are monocarpic. The rosette elongates into a conical flower spike. But not all rosettes in a cluster bloom at once, so it’s not a great loss. I pick aeonium flower spikes like those shown here and plunk them into a 3-foot-tall terracotta vase in my home’s entryway. They look good for several weeks…without water. (Hey, they’re succulents. Even the petals are waxy and store moisture.)

A favorite succulent for containers, echeveria, resembles a flower AND produces wonderful blooms.

Calandrinia flowers resemble satiny purple poppies and are held aloft on slender stems. I think they look best when grown in mass.

But when it comes to vivid colors and exquisite blooms, the type of succulent that does it best is (drum roll): Cactus!

Yep, those spiny plants that you swear you’ll never have in your garden—and I don’t blame you—produce satiny, translucent flowers so lovely they’ll make you gasp.

But you have to catch them on the right day. Cactus flowers don’t last long—maybe two days at most. But they’re worth planning your vacation around.

 An update: Since posting this, I’ve added a fourth photo CD to my line: Succulent Flowers. 370 photos of succulents in bloom, each labeled according to genus and species. Like my other three CDs, it’s available through my website. — Debra

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified.  www.debraleebaldwin.com 

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications. www.debraleebaldwin.com.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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Elephant's Eye September 1, 2011, 5:55 am

marlothii – thank you, I had forgotten what that one was called, and mine is blooming now.

Interesting. You’re in South Africa, where aloes come from. Here in Southern CA, the peak bloom time for them is January (that’s when I took the photo). — Debra

Cathy September 1, 2011, 7:31 am

Although most of these won’t grow in the gardens in our climate year round, you’ve introduced us to some intriguing varieties. I’m inspired to try an arrangement of some of the more tender varieties in a large pot that we can bring indoors during the coldest winter months. Those calandivas are beautiful! The colors of all of the varieties you featured are so vivid and cheery. They’d definitely brighten a dreary snowy day.

I generally don’t give most succulents a second look as I don’t often think to look beyond my back yard garden. You’ve inspired me to think outside the box (okay, beyond the garden) to other ways in which we can enjoy these colorful and attractive blooms. Thanks!

Hi, Cathy — You’re very welcome! You’re thinking outside the box and inside the container. Supermarket kalanchoes are often where people start with succulents. Soon you’ll be enjoying others with leaves that resemble fleshy roses, like echeverias, and still more with fascinating geometric shapes. Haworthias, for example—and they do well as indoor houseplants worldwide. — Debra

elaine rickett September 1, 2011, 7:38 am

As you so rightly say – spectacular.

Not an exaggeration, is it? — Debra

Gaia Gardener September 1, 2011, 9:01 am

That is a stunning array of photos. Thanks for sharing.

I love succulents in a desert or other arid setting; I’m just not a big fan of them in moister climates, where they usually look out of place to me.

True, but they look good anywhere in containers, especially if there’s a grouping and the succulents give it continuity. That’s one reason I wrote “Succulent Container Gardens.” Those that are rosette-shaped resemble flowers, and don’t look anything like cactus. And they bloom beautifully, too! — Debra

Verdure September 1, 2011, 10:38 am

So vibrant and beautiful!
Aren’t they? I see you’re in England. Thanks for stopping by! — Debra

Sheila Schultz September 1, 2011, 1:59 pm

When we were last in San Francisco I stumbled upon Aeonium’s in bloom and they were simply breathtaking. I’m hoping to order some aloes that I can’t come by in Denver soon… you’ve given me the bug.

Aloes need full sun (minimum 6 hours a day) in order to bloom. They’ll grow indoors, but unless that light requirement is met, you won’t get those spectacular flowers. — Debra

Paul Riddell September 1, 2011, 2:14 pm

Every time I think I’ve seen all of the permutations of succulent blooms, I’m shocked out of that complacency. (Now, for an additional bit of fun when viewing blooms, go out at night with a UV flashlight. You’ll be amazed at how many succulents have extensive ultraviolet patterns on their flowers. For instance, Euphorbia flanaganii flowers are a vague light green in visible light. Under UV, though, they glow in a brilliant chartreuse.)

Paul, not only did I not know about the UV patterns of succulents, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a UV flashlight! Thanks for a fascinating bit of info. — Debra

Lee Nora Regus September 1, 2011, 5:19 pm

Where can you purchase a UV flashlight and calandivas? Love your books Debra, I am about half way on a 5′ succulent tree which I plan to wrap with white lights for the holidays. Thanks for all your inspiring ideas!

I’d love to see a photo of your holiday tree! What a great idea. — Debra

Fern @ Life on the Balcony September 1, 2011, 7:48 pm

Oooh, the calandivas look like roses! And I love the Lithops in a pot with real pebbles. Very cute. But I *always* kill those plants.

I know. It’s a joke among succulent enthusiasts, whenever someone mentions lithops, someone else invariably says, “I’ve killed those!” — Debra

Candy Suter September 1, 2011, 10:18 pm

Beautiful succulent flowers! Wonderful shots Debra. That first aloe bloom is tasty. Here in the Sacramento Valley the aloe bloom time is about June. I do have one that is blooming now though. You never know.

Hi, Candy — It does indeed depend on the aloe. Some of the new cultivars are repeat-blooming, too. Btw, it was fun meeting you at the Succulent Extravaganza. Your posts are definitely worth reading, especially for anyone who’s into succulents. Love your enthusiasm, Sweetie! — Debra

Dixie September 1, 2011, 11:56 pm

Lovely photos! Aloe striata looks great when the flowers are massed together.

Doesn’t it? No wonder it’s one of the most readily available aloes. — Debra

David Feix September 4, 2011, 3:20 pm

I doubt those aloes in the Mexican spa are pure Aloe striata, as them rarely clump vigorously. More likely a hybrid wit A. maculata.

Good point, David. Aloe striata is not as vigorous as the hybrid. — Debra

David Feix September 4, 2011, 3:41 pm

I doubt those aloes in the Mexican spa are pure Aloe striata, as they rarely clump vigorously. More likely a hybrid with A. maculata. Also, the Calandrinia spectabilis in your photo is most likely not a mass planting; each individual mature plant can easily get 5feet wide and have 100’s of bloom stalks, people may be mislead into planting this too closely. Kalanchoe blossfeldiana are not reliable rebloomers here in the SF Bay area, I seldom get them to continue blooming for more than six weeks, and they are extremely recalcitrant about blooming the following year even though not harmed by our wet chilly winters. Probably best promoted as relatively brief annual color here in northern California.

Nice article and photos otherwise, aloes and succulents are favorites of mine as well, but as you may recall from your visit here, lush succulent plantings can look good with more water-loving/appearing plants. I like them in combination with bromeliads and subtropicals in Mondrianesque color blocks, and as overflowing hanging basket sculptures below oaks and other broadleaf evergreen trees such as Maytens.

The summer blooming species of Aloes are also well worth seeking out, with the sculptural A. tomentosa with the 4foot tall candelabra of fuzzy green flowers blooming for the past month a personal favorite, along with@ the year round blooms of A. x deleatii.

Wow, David, thank you! You are a wealth of knowledge in addition to being a brilliant designer. I’m very glad I was able to tour some of your Berkeley gardens and include them in Designing with Succulents. I agree that fuzzy-flowered Aloe tomentosa is intriguing. I especially like it backlit, so the flowers glow. It’s a bit hard to come by. Hopefully that’ll change as demand increases. — Debra

small garden love September 8, 2011, 10:42 am

How beautiful. Succulants are my favorite plants and it’s amazing how they have such beautiful flowers.

I’m very glad to have introduced you to them, Jacky! — Debra

solana beach waxing September 11, 2011, 2:37 pm

thanks for this nice info. will be waiting for the next article from you. good job.

Hey! You’re located in the epicenter of all things succulent: Solana Beach, CA. You’re near Jeff Moore’s Solana Succulents and Chicweed (across the street from Frost Hardwood). — Debra

Linda Morris August 12, 2015, 12:13 pm

epiphyllum produces beautiful cactus blossoms without the thorns. Why are capital letters not allowed in your comment section? and why is my text centered? please fix your formatting.

Saxon Holt August 12, 2015, 8:51 pm

Thanks for commenting Linda. Yes that capitalization glitch can be frustrating. Just ignore it and keep coming back – Saxon

carlotta stellato June 3, 2016, 11:05 am