Six on Saturday #3: Pachypodium

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Pachypodium horombense

I thought for today’s Six on Saturday I’d stick with a single theme.  I haven’t photographed many plants from the greenhouse lately, so here are six specimens from my little collection of pachypodiums.

I started growing pachypodiums on the windowsill of my student apartment, long before I had any outside space to garden, and some of the plants have been with me for more than twenty years.  These days, they spend the winter in the greenhouse and sit on shelves on our deck during the summer.  My wife keeps making noises about wanting to reclaim the deck for human activities, so at some point I suppose I need to build some benches in a sunny spot (that isn’t already a flower bed) and move the pachypodiums (and minibog pots, and citrus trees) there.

Cactus and succulent growers, in common with bonsai growers, value plants that give the appearance of great age and have the form of wild plants.  With some plants (e.g. semi-succulent trees such as Boswellia and Bursera) it is very difficult to replicate the effects of decades of wind, sun, and drought, so unfortunately there is still a market in wild-collected plants.  Pachypodiums, fortunately, are fairly simple to grow from seed, and even small seedlings are very charismatic.  If grown hard, they will produce a reasonable facsimile of a wild specimen in 5-10 years.

“Hard” in this context means growing the plants in bright light, as close to full sun as you can manage, in small pots with restricted fertilizer.  It is very important to keep the plants in consistently bright light when in growth.  Once the shrubby forms etiolate, it’s all over.  The signs of less-than-ideal-light levels will be visible for decades.

Some of my plants have, perhaps, been grown too hard.  The reponsibilities of family, job, home ownership, and a growing outdoor garden have resulted in some neglect of the pachypodiums.  Some of these plants are years overdue for repotting and are starting to show it.  Maybe this blog posting will inspire me to take care of them better.

So, without further ado…

1.  Pachypodium horombense

As seen at the top of this page, P. horombense is a shrubby species with stout spines that comes from southern Madagascar.  Relatively large, bright yellow flowers with an inflated corolla tube are produced on a long inflorescence in spring.  I purchased this plant as a small seedling in 1999.

2.  Pachypodium bicolor

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Pachypodium bicolor

Another shrubby species, this one from central Madagascar, that has yellow flowers with a white throat.  I photographed the flowers for my very first blog posting.  This plant was also purchased as a small seedling in 1999.

3.  Pachypodium brevicaule

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Pachypodium brevicaule

I purchased this plant as a pea-sized seedling in 1996.  My second-largest plant is seventeen years old and about half its size.  Offspring of the two old plants are ten years old and various sizes.

P. brevicaule is basically a shrubby species with the branches telescoped down until they form rosettes of leaves.  The inflorescence is also shortened, and the bright yellow flowers are produced more erratically than in the other Madagascan species. In old specimens, the branches form small bumps, giving the plant a lumpy appearance, and when leafless it resembles a chunk of quartz rock.

P. brevicaule grows slowly and a cursory scan of google images will, sadly, show many large specimens that were certainly dug from the wild.  Ironically, this is one of the easiest to grow from seed into a “wild-looking” specimen, although you do need patience.  The compact form is under very strong genetic control, so it is less likely to etiolate in less than perfect light.

Since it is hard to see much of this plant when it has leaves, I’ll cheat and show you another photo taken in 2013 when it was a bit smaller.  Consider this Photo 3b:

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Pachypodium brevicaule flowering

4.  Pachypodium (eburneum x bicolor).

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Pachypodium eburneum x Pachypodium bicolor

This is my own hybrid, a ten-year old plant grown from seed.  The pollen parent was the P. bicolor shown above.  The morphology of the plant is strongly influenced by P. eburneum, but the flowers have the white throat of P. bicolor.

5.  Pachypodium inopinatum

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Pachypodium inopinatum

A white flowered species from north central Madagascar.  I purchased this plant as a one or two-year old seedling in 1999.  In wild Pachypodium specimens, the old spines often erode away, leaving the swollen stem smooth. The same process is occurring in this cultivated plant.

6. Pachypodium ambongense

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Pachypodium ambongense

In form, this species is intermediate between the shrubby, generally yellow flowered species and the tree-like, generally white-flowered species.  It is from northern Madagascar and has white, narrowly tubular flowers in autumn and winter.  Purchased as a small seedling in 1998.

Second #6.  Pachypodium saundersii

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Pachypodium saundersii

I know this is Six on Saturday, but I can’t resist.  This was my first Pachypodium, grown from seed that I planted in September, 1996.  P. saundersii is from South Africa and has white flowers, flushed with purple pigment, in the autumn.  This big guy is starting to look a little sad.  Needs repotting and some fertilizer, I think.

There are more pachypodiums that I want to show you.  Maybe another Six on Saturday?

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