By Lynn Langley.
It is always a pleasure to listen to someone talk about their passion. Their excitement and enthusiasm is infectious. SDHS members were treated to just such a presentation at our August meeting when Al Klein, owner of Botanic Wonders Nursery in Vista, shared his experiences with, and love of, “fat plants” (Caudiciforms). His fascination began when he first saw a Dioscorea elephantipes. Today, a true plantaholic, his incredible collection continues to outgrow any display area that he constructs.
Caudiciforms are plants that store water in their stems or roots, making them appear fat or swollen. Roots, stems or vines can grow from this swollen caudex. Caudiciforms may be grown in a pot or in the ground. For potted plants, Klein uses close to 80% pumice and 20% peat. Then he adds a slow release fertilizer; his choice is Nutrico. It is important to dampen the mix and combine it thoroughly. If cactus mix is used, cut it with about 50% pumice or perlite to improve drainage. After planting, add a top dressing of gravel to increase the air temperature around the plant while keeping the roots cool. Caudiciforms prefer bright, diffused light as direct sun can burn a caudex growing on top of the soil. Water needs are determined by the plant’s exposure (whether windy or calm), the type of soil, amount of light, time of year and temperature. Close observation is the best way to determine the care required. For caudiciforms, wet and cold is the kiss of death.
New growers often neglect fertilization. Caudiciforms need fertilizer to promote healthy growth. Klein feeds his plants twice a month with a water-soluble fertilizer; twice a year he applies an inorganic fertilizer like fish emulsion.
Caudiciforms recommended by Al include Ficus palmeri, commonly known as Rock Fig, Operculicarya decaryi (a natural bonsai), Bursera fagaroides or Fragrant Bursera, Euphorbia stellata, Plectranthus ernstii or Bonsai Mint, Trichodiadema bulbosum or African Bonsai, Euphorbia horrida or African Milk Barrel, and Dioscera elephantipes.