Growing succulents in the Northwest

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by David Selk, Aug 2, 2007.

  1. David Selk

    David Selk Member

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    Here at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle we are in the early stages of designing a new Humboldt penguin exhibit. They breed along the Peruvian and Chilean coasts in the fog belts of the Atacama Desert and that is the zone we are attempting to replicate. We try to be as authentic as possible with our landscapes but this is a particular challenge. Ideally we would like to grow the succulents and other plants native to that area but we are prepared to compromise if it still gives us the right look and feel of the place. Does anyone have experience growing those plants in our maritime Northwest climate? Or are there succulents that simulate the South American plants but are more appropriate to our climate?

    Thanks for any advice.

    David Selk-Horticulturist
    Woodland Park Zoo
     
  2. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Ah, this post caught my attention while I was on vacation, but I was on vacation, so I didn't reply...

    Anyway, I think it's great you're doing a new Humboldt penguin exhibit - the current exhibit doesn't compare well to the many other exhibits at Woodland, which I like for exactly the reason you're describing - the horticulture and the attempt to replicate natural habitats with as-open-spaces-as-possible for the animals.

    Is the plan to replicate the fog, soils and rainfall regime (i.e., one of the driest deserts on Earth) as well? If not, I suspect you won't have a hope with native plants. That being said, there will at least be some plants in the same families that will survive, though with succulent diversity being what it is, the ones that come to mind may not be actual physical mimics of the native plants.
     
  3. LPN

    LPN Well-Known Member 10 Years

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  4. M. D. Vaden

    M. D. Vaden Active Member 10 Years

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    Just what do the native succulents look like?

    Have any photos?
     
  5. Ian

    Ian Active Member

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    I rode a bus from Lima north along the coast of Peru. Hardly anything grew there, just a few ugly, diminutive species of Haageocereus, Copiapoa and Puya. The exceptions of course were anywhere that a river came out of the mountains, and even there species diversity appeared pretty low. Once you get up to about 3,000' in the foothills of the Andes the climate is moist enough to support columnar cacti and more Puyas. Between the coastal fog belt and there is literally no vegetation whatsoever as far as I could tell. I haven't been south of Lima along the coast but I imagine with basically the same climate for quite a ways south along the coast into Chile the vegetation or lack thereof is probably not too different. I am sure there must be a few more species but I wouldn't know what those are.

    Plants native to that region can be expected to be frost intolerant, so I think the best you'll be able to do is find species that are hardy and replicate the native flora. Even that is a tall order. Low growing, hardy cacti could include our native Opuntia fragilis and O. columbiana, O. clavata or Maihuenia poepgii. M. patagonica might be even more appropriate since it is uglier and darker (and Maihuenia actually comes from South America). For groundcovering bromeliads, hard to say what would work that you would actually be able to find - maybe Cistus Nursery's high altitude collection of Puya venusta would be a place to start. Or a mass planting of Fascicularia bicolor. Or bromeliads could be substituted with Sempervivums or something - not nearly as authentic, but much easier to grow. For columnar cacti, there is nothing worth trying that really looks like the ones I saw (Haageocereus and a couple unknown species). Trichocereus terscheckii or T. pasacana could be tried although both are a hardiness risk for Seattle.
     
  6. David Selk

    David Selk Member

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    We frequently use simulators in exterior exhibits where we can not grow the actual plants as on our African Savanna, and Tropical Rainforest exhibits. I don't see this as forbidding the same license. I also anticipate that drainage may be at least as important as cold hardiness. Cacti are fairly easy to move and we could dig them and move them in when hard frosts are threatened. Another option would be to container grow them and plunge them into the landscape and remove them with frost threats. The space is tight so I do not anticipate a lot of landscaping so it needs to choice.
     
  7. David Selk

    David Selk Member

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  8. David Selk

    David Selk Member

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    Great information, Ian - thanks much. As I am a novice on SA succulents any information is welcome. Again, in talking with the folks designing the exhibit it may be more practical to try to use some hardy material as the base and have authentic stuff as the show pieces and as interpretive elements. These would be brought under glass for the winter.
     
  9. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Many kinds of hardy cacti grown in PNW for years, all that is needed is to provide sun and good drainage. Dry beds along south sides of buildings with overhangs seem nearly ideal, however a retired King County extension agent has had his front entry garden near Kent, WA planted to multiple kinds of cacti for some years - at one time he was supposed to have been growing 88 kinds. (Propagations of this collection were recently made by Colvos Creek nursery, Vashon, WA - a source that Ian also trades with, providing two local sources for such plants. In addition, local garden centers have been stocking small assortments of more or less frost tolerant cactus species and similar plants. For additional potential sources see The Plant Locator - Western Region sourcebook from Black-Eyed Susans/Timber Press). I have three kinds I keep outside all year in pots by my front door. A wall along the Children's Hospital, Seattle had a collection going decades ago - perhaps the plants are still there. Most recently I noticed mats of several kinds of prickly pears along the south side of a house I pass by occasionally on Camano Island (have not gone in for a closer look - yet).

    Maybe the most interesting story is that some golden barrel cactus were supposedly once being featured in a garden near Lake Washington, I cannot vouch for this myself but the source of the tale was reliable.
     
  10. David Selk

    David Selk Member

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    Great information. Thanks so much. Another challenge will be finding larger material - probably as large as practical. Getting large plants grown locally would be ideal but it may also mean bringing succulents vfrom someplace south - like Arizona or S. Cal. Any thoughts on how this material would adapt to our climate?

    David
     
  11. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Well, except for seasonal climate variations resulting in southern source stock being in too advanced growth when brought north early in the year what matters is the genetics of the plants and not where they were produced. The ingrained, inherited hardiness remains the same wherever a specimen is located, a plant will not become more or less hardy with a change in location. Choose suitable kinds and get them from wherever the size, price etc. are right. I suspect you will find PNW vendors can meet all of your requirements, once you identify who has the kinds you are looking for.
     

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