Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Sphaeroid Institute revisited...A real botanical garden!

Dictionary.com defines  "botanical garden' as  a noun: a garden for the exhibition and scientific study of collected, growing plants, usually in association with greenhouses, herbariums, laboratories, etc."  If that's so.., the Sphaeroid institute*--(a small portion of which I shall be sharing with you in this post) has to be one of the best: it comprises many thousands (I'm not sure if the Master, shown above, even knows himself just how many) of wonderfully grown succulents (with a few exceptions) which constitute one of the best assemblages of their sort.  Each pot has a tag with as much pertinent data written upon it--and this collection has supplied specimens to every fellow researcher on the planet--and formed the basis of dozens of scholarly articles and a half shelf full of definitive monographs--and counting! I've been lucky enough to visit this institute every few years in two states, going on forty years: its one of the 

Othonna sp. ex Bloukop
Of course, this is the exception. One of very few non-succulents at Sphaeroid, included because its relatives are all succulent of course. But everything at this institute is exceptional!

A bevy of Argyroderma framesii
Here you can see one corner where various "living stones" (there is a Lithops in there, but mostly other pebbly cousins) are grouped--sometimes similar sorts together for comparison or study, but mostly separated distantly, often with a dedicated paintbrush to pollinate each pot separately, in order to keep the genetics straight: It would take a lifetime to untangle the threads of study and relationship among these thousands of pert pots--which is what the scientist and artist who manages these plants is up to.

Lithops otzeniana 'Cesky granat'
Here he's showing off a pot of seedlings from a Czech collector--awfully ruddy don't you think?

Here's a corner with germinating seedlings...

Greenhouse after greenhouse, filled with glowing, succulent treasure. A very polymath Harpagon in the middle...

For those of us enchanted by Mesembs, this is rather like circling the Masjid al-Haram for a lucky Muslim...

Acrodon sp. from Rooivlei
Of course, any mortal, or infidel even will enjoy these when they are in bloom: I was surprised how many were blooming just a few days before Christmas this year. They had good rains shortly before my visit--which doesn't hurt!

Bulbine Lolita
Since my favorite writer is Vladimir Nabokov, you can imagine how delighted I was to see this wonderful Liliad in blossom, named by Steven for its inspiring concupiscence for its pre-pubescent charms in Horticultural Humberts, no doubt? Or just because it's small and cute.
Conophytum regale
It is always a treat to see Conos blooming in this garden of Dumpling and his wife...If you click on that link you will discover that Steven's books have become modern classics, and command very high prices.

An errant Aloe rubbing "shoulders" with a bevy of bubbles....

Fenestraria aurantiaca cvs.
Here is a little ghetto filled with a variety of Fenestrarias, just going past bloom. There is a story here--a bunch of stories more likely...
Glottiphyllum spp.
The various forms that mesembs take is astonishing...I love the muscle like rosettes of glottiphyllums (tongue-leaves: what a concept!)

Lithops galore...
Even with few or no flowers, the lithops are always a delight...

Eriospermum unguinopsis
I tried to look this one up on Google--it wasn't there. The Internet isn't big enough to accomodate the data contained in this Institute! I tended to focus on the mesembs, but Steven seems to be just as enamored of the Liliaceae (sensu very lato), particularly the amazingly variable Eriospermum genus, this one with that seductive, hyaline margin.

And MORE Lithops galore
I do love Lithops. But then, who in their right mind wouldn't?

More lovely flowers--and one of the ubiquitous paintbrushes...

Argyroderma framesii et al.
This genus was in fine fettle during my visit--blooming all over the place. Lowermost right is one of my favorite Stomatiums, which we had a great chat about...

Oxalis are well represented here and there throughout...and many were blooming.

Another shot from a different angle--with Stomatium agninum giant form at right center.

And even a cactus!
I would have loved to hear the story of why THIS was here--there is a story (and a good one) for everything you see--every single plant. Hell--there's sometimes two or three or more stories!

Massonia sp.
The label says Ledebouria cooperi--which is just coming up in the pot--was this a rogue or a multiple planting? The incredible fragrance of this, by the way, filled the whole greenhouse.

Your generick schmuck would look at this and yawn. For us plant nerds, this is Heaven!

And it goes on and on and on

With the occasional flower

Quite frequent flowers...
I've visited the Sphaeroid institute in autumn when the flowering is surreal. And also in the spring--when much more is blooming. But I enjoy it just as much in these slower seasons...

A pot of selected seedlings Steve was growing for their red coloration...getting very red indeed!

Had we but world enough and time--although Steve has been distilling those stories into his monographs and articles for years--no reason to fret! Not to mention all the plants he's shared: each year he puts out a list: http://sphaeroidinstitute.com/
Click on that link and you can sample his wonderfully witty style (which I'm inadvertenly mimicking) and get a sampling of what he's ready to share. If you order regularly, you could sample most of what he grows over time and have your own treasure trove of gems with stories.

I'm having a hard time stopping: I love that svelte leaf on Cheridopsis peculiaris bottom center...

Yet another Oxalis...

Just realized I hadn't mentioned Haworthia or Crassulaceae--two more of Steven's gems--both represented above...
Haworthia is probably Steven's bread and butter: the demand for these (and willlingness to pay a premium) among collectors exceeds that of Mesembophiles...He noted that hybrids have captured the market (and I noticed a number of pots of hybrid Haworthias here and there...)

What a color!

I had to revissit the Massonia (in a different light this time)--I can almost smell it! Can you?

One last glimpse of this astonishing collection...

On my way out I had to admire the trunk and bark on this Melaleuca tree...we don't grow Australian trees in Denver--but there are enthusiasts who are sold on the medicinal potency of this group of flaky barked Myrtles--and even a company named for them. Can we be blamed for worshiping plants when they give us everything that matters? Oxygen, carbohydrates, medicines, shade, beauty? They purify our water and clothe us and our planet. They have been berry berry good to Steven and to me as well!

*A caution: the Sphaeroid institute is open on very rare occasions (national Succulent conferences in nearby cities). A very few can wheedle their way in if you have serious business to transact--or if you happen like me to have an rich history of mutual association and dealings (he named a plant out of my collections a quarter century ago after all). This collection has been photographed and blogged ad infinitum: you can enjoy at leisure it in a dozen books or myriad websites.


  1. Thank you! That was amazing!

  2. It is an amazing collection. I just wish the plants were located in a garden instead of pots. There is something about having plants show cased in natural looking surroundings that makes them look even better.

  3. It is theoretically possible for someone to grow many plants in this collection outdoors in Southern California--the problem would be containing plants that grew too quickly then, and the possibility that self-sown seedlings would overwhelm: containing them in pots not only keeps accessions discrete, they are effectively bonsaied--allowing them to live more compactly and longer--it would take an army to keep ten thousand accessions contained, weeded and maintained in the open ground! And a good many South African succulents like Lithops would not tolerate excessively wet winters (which can happen there some years)--hence the control provided by greenhouses.


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