If nurseries were to develop a group of plants perfectly suited to the lifestyle in the 21st century, they could not do better than nature has done over hundreds of years, in creating the succulents and its fellow cacti plants. They can thrive because their stems, leaves and roots can store water over long periods of time. With water becoming scarcer over much of Southern Africa, water wastage is no longer an option for gardeners. Although it is not correct to say that succulents and cacti thrive on neglect, they do require less water and care than many other plants. A characteristic to be admired in today’s busy world where few people can devote as much time as they would like to garden maintenance.
WHY INVEST IN SUCCULENTS
An increasing awareness of the fragility of our planet led to indigenous plants and water-wise succulents being planted both in public spaces as well as domestic gardens, aiming at limiting water wastage. The capacity to save water makes these plants an ideal plant for every homeowner.
Succulents come in all shapes and sizes. They range from trees, such as the tree Aloe to miniature soil-huggers, like Bulbine sp. Their spines and tough skin make them highly resistant to pest and predators. They need less pruning and fertilizers because they tend to grow slower. Feeding with an organic fertilizer once a year and a prune to keep them neat is all it will need.
THE VERSATILITY OF SUCCULENTS
Fortunately, for those with limited outdoor space, many cacti and succulents need only a place in the sun to thrive – even a narrow window sill will do. One succulent that will grow well without any direct sunlight at all is the Mother In Law’s Tongue, making it a good indoor pot plant. Succulents can also provide a blaze of colour at various times of the year, such as Crassula Campfire with its bright red foliage, or with their flowers, like the Aloe arborescent. With their architectural shapes, succulents combine well with modern domestic dwellings and office buildings. They are also good container plants, from a small teacup to a large cement pot. Succulents also make great cut flowers – alone or bunched with other blooms.
Some succulents are cultivated for their juice-filled leaves, roots or stems which are a natural medicine, like the Aloe Vera. Portulacaria afra (Spekboom) is also a good food source and one of a kind as a carbon-sequestration (binding atmospheric carbon) plant.
Succulents and cacti are among the most useful and strikingly beautiful plants of the Southern African landscape and quite often we are unaware of the botanical jewels around us.
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