Tom Karwin, On Gardening | Naming your succulents – Santa Cruz Sentinel


Care for your garden

Two recent experiences have turned my attention to plant identification, particularly succulents.

One event was a recent webinar by the Cactus & Succulent Society of America in which Elizabeth Sarnes spoke about her visits to a region of Argentina. After watching the webinar, I commented on how such reports from plant-hunting travelers add to our garden world by introducing us to new plants in exotic settings that are not very different from our own.

More recently, I’ve been on a Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society virtual garden tour where Roger Lane, one of the Society’s members, presented photos of plants in his home garden and commented on their sources, ages, and properties. He’s been growing succulents for around 40 years and has developed a remarkable collection of known and (to me) unknown plants, many of which are fairly mature.

Both sessions impressed me with how these avid collectors of cacti and succulents could easily name numerous plants that were unknown to me despite years of related plants growing in my own garden.

You could demonstrate this expertise based on a variety of factors including plant information provided by guides in exotic countries, breeders at cactus and succulent shows, and knowledgeable breeders who are members of local plant communities. You could also take formal studies in botany, horticulture, or plant taxonomy, or self-directed reading of books in these areas.

Good memories and records are also important for developing this expertise.

Home gardeners who grow and enjoy a wide variety of plants can be most successful if they know the botanical names of their plants. These names are the gateway to complete information about a plant’s properties and growth needs, beyond the brief expressions found on commercial plant labels.

In this context, let’s look at ways to identify the plants in your own garden.

To learn how to identify cacti and succulents, link to “3 ways to identify your succulents” ( This article quotes Facebook groups, websites, and a forum for cacti and succulents, but doesn’t mention any of my favorites: the National Gardening Association’s Plant ID Forum ( which responds to requests about plants of all kinds

If you need help identifying other plants in your garden, search the internet for identification information [your plant]”To discover the resources available.

Several national gardening associations maintain websites with databases of plants of particular interest. Examples include the American Iris Society’s free iris encyclopedia, organized by many iris groups (, and the American Rose Society’s Modern Rose subscription database, which stores more than 37,000 registered roses ( ).

Expand your gardening knowledge

For a brief introduction to succulent names, see the Tricky Names video at Annie Schreck provides an informal introduction to Latin botanical and / or plant taxonomy (you may want to watch this fast-paced talk more than once). She also links to a lot of succulent plant information at, the “ultimate succulent store”. This is an information age gardening resource that shares knowledge without having to buy anything.

The Cactus & Succulent Society of America will host a webinar on epiphytic cacti on March 6th at 10:00 am. This is an interesting topic that might be of interest to even experienced succulent gardeners. Further preparatory information can be found on this website: For information on the CSSA webinar, see the date and column for the next week.

The San Francisco Succulent & Cactus Society has announced the following webcasts:

March 16: Rob Nixon “Succulents of the US border with Mexico”.
April 20: Yucca – Brian Kemble.
Further information can be found at

Enrich your garden days

Much of the joy of gardening comes from direct contact with plants and the soil they grow in. This is known as “dirty hands”. We can expand this enjoyment through lifelong learning about plants, including reading, plant identification projects, and attending webinars on esoteric topics.

Another important way to enrich your garden days is to join the local gardening society of your choice. You could join the company of your choice now, expecting face-to-face meetings in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy your garden.

Tom Karwin is a past president of the Friends of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and a lifelong UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Today he is a board member and garden trainer of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. At you can view daily photos from his garden. Visit to search an archive of previous On Gardening columns.