Let’s Go to South Africa (in the Botanical Gardens)

South African Succulents

By Tamara Blett

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Where can you find rugged Mediterranean plants, a world-famous wine region, scenic train routes, rugged rocky coastlines, and abundant birds and wildlife? The answer is BOTH the Central Coast of California and the southern-most country on the continent of Africa; South Africa. The San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens specializes in plants native to the world’s five Mediterranean regions, including the South African Mediterranean area. You don’t have to travel on a long plane ride to view some of the spectacular plant life native to the African continent, just pack your camera, and walking shoes and take a short trip to the SLOBG.

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South African native plants have relevance for us here in the Central Coast, because they can survive and thrive in our local Mediterranean environment, increasing the repertoire of plants available to both the SLOBG and to gardeners at home. South African succulents are low maintenance, drought tolerant, fire resistant, and help prevent slope erosion. But perhaps their most appealing characteristic for gardeners is that many of these plants are winter bloomers, providing a welcome splash of color in January and February.  Maintaining a good selection of South African plants here at the SLOBG or at home is one of the best strategies for ensuring year-round blooms in a diverse and bountiful garden. Hummingbirds also visit the tempting flowers from the South African natives at the Botanical Gardens all winter long, and compete with each other for the best access to their sweet nectar.

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Most people are familiar with succulents as plants that store water in their stems, roots and leaves, making them feel fleshy or juicy. A common species of succulent plant contains the aloes.  The “juice” or sap of the aloe plant is well known as a remedy for scrapes and minor burns, but use caution (!) not all aloes are created equal, and some of them are NOT recommended for those uses. The two types of aloe plants most commonly used for medicinal or cosmetic purposes are Aloe vera and Aloe ferox.  Aloe vera has long been an ingredient in lotions and gels intended to soothe minor burns and moisturize skin, and Aloe ferox is valued as a commercial ingredient in many cosmetic products.

You’re invited to join us here at the Botanical Gardens on Saturday January 12, 2019 from 1-2 pm for a fascinating talk about South African succulent plants, including the aloes, presented by John Trager, the curator of the world-famous Huntington Desert Garden in Southern California.

There is no need to pack your suitcase for international travel just yet, the SLO Botanical Gardens has a little sample of South Africa just waiting for you to come and experience.