May 26, 2022
We removed the green-house plastic from the screened in porch last month and the summer growing succulents have really responded. We had several very hot, dry days that tricked the plants into thinking summer was here and then shifted to cooler weather that is sparking rain that seems to make them think it must be fall. The result is many of our late summer bloomers are bursting into flower. What makes this special is that none of the porch plants flowered last year. We initially had trouble with Zena as she thought the funny looking plants were put on the lower shelves for her to play with. It seems their only hindrance now is when Zena gets excited and knocks them off the shelf. Last week Melissa called me out to the porch to see the flower on the pendens that is cascading out of its pot.
When I looked online, I found cliff cotyledons (Cotyledon pendens), are a succulent native to South Africa and Namibia. The “cliff” designation is derived as they tend to live on rocks during summers and retreat into crevices of the same rocks in winters. The “pendens” comes from its pendulum-like growth of leaves. The plant has a thick, fleshy stem that can grow up to 18 inches (7.2 cm) tall. This stem then produces multiple branches which are filled with many thick, fleshy leaves used for storing water. Each pistachio-colored leaf is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size with pointed ends. The leaf edges are pinkish or reddish in color. Instead of growing up, the plant first spreads across the pot and then hangs downward. Flowers bloom on the tips of branches that hang down from the pot. Flowering starts around midsummer and the bell-shaped flower ranges from orange to red, depending on the amount of light received (more light, darker flower). It seems despite being on a Sun Porch, our pendens flower does not get a lot of light.
Like many succulents, the web site selling pendens mentioned they “can easily be cared for by beginners who have no prior experience of growing succulents.” While that may be true, it is counterintuitive that you need to ignore them most of the year (dormant) and then watch them closely (growing season). The species is susceptible to over-watering, and that is especially true during winter dormancy, when it is advised they only be watered monthly. Pendens are also susceptible to frost and need to be protected during winter. They need good drainage to protect from root rot and planted in soil that is specifically designed for succulents. Easily cared for seems to have gotten harder when you add the specifics.
THOUGHTS: The pendens flower is only one example of Melissa’s succulents taking hold. After the shock of being uprooted and sent across the country in the mail they needed to adjust to a different climate, as most came from Florida or California. We lost many of the outside aloes that first winter and then more of the inside plants when Melissa was unable to care for them last summer. Now they have stabilized in their new environment and are producing flowers. The attempt to grow succulents began at the same time as the pandemic began to take hold. We have struggled with the stresses of the virus but now seem to be settling. That does not mean there will not be times when we get knocked off the shelf, but at least now we know how to pick ourselves up, replant, and keep going. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.