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The Coastal Gardener: Plant fascination can be addictive

March 11, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • There are about 35 species of aeoniums in the world. After collecting 26 of the species, it's time to move on. What's a plant collector's next compulsion? Who knows.
There are about 35 species of aeoniums in the world. After… (Ron Vanderhoff,…)

What's wrong with me? I just dumped another horticultural ambition.

Four years of hard work gone in one afternoon.

Is there anyone else out there with a similar diagnosis? Four years ago I became fascinated by a rather small group of succulent plants, known as aeoniums. Several of you may know a few of the common versions. One day, while pondering aeoniums, I somehow concluded that I would set out to see how many different species I could assemble.

I even briefly considered a collecting trip to the Canary Islands, where several grow. Yikes! Is this a disease?

Depending upon the authority, there are about 35 species of aeoniums in the world. Two or three are pretty readily available, and most of you have probably seen them. These two or three, and their hybrid selections, are about all most gardeners might know about this interesting group of plants. Another six or eight species can be acquired with a credit card, an Internet account and a lot of blind faith. The next 25 species are obscure and essentially unobtainable.

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As of this week, I've obtained 26 aeonium species. If there was a gold medal for aeonium collecting I might own it. Unfortunately, nobody really cares much about aeoniums. A big collection is about as impressive as a big collection of lint or maybe a world class assemblage of tongue depressors.

I've been fascinated by plants since I was about the size of an aeonium undulatum. My first significant obsession was with fuchsias. By 17, I had built a lath house in the backyard, joined the National Fuchsia Society and had begun amassing a huge collection of hybrids, each carefully labeled.

By my mid-20s, I was already in my addictive spiral of transitory plant cravings. Not sure how these interests germinated, but somehow I would become drawn to a particular group of plants. Within weeks, I would become so engrossed in these plants that I would be up late at night reading every catalog and searching every book possible, learning all I could. I would join societies devoted in some way to these plants, visit arboretums, write letters and consume every scrap of information I could unearth.

Meanwhile, my plant assemblage would begin.

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