Black Orchid - Fredclarkeara Black Lace ‘Baker’s Dark Angel’ 

In nature, black flowers are rare. The reality is that there is almost no plant in the world that is truly black in color. Most are shades of deep blue or reds or purples. This is also true about orchid flowers. Growers and hybridizers have tried many different orchid plants and hybrid orchid varieties to try to get to a truly black flower.

Among the most notable hybrids (since 2010) with truly black flowers (currently commercially available from Sunset Valley Orchids) you can find Fredclarkeara (Asparagales - Orchidaceae), an intergeneric hybrid between the orchid genera Catasetum, Clowesia and Mormodes. (Ctsm. x Cl. x Morm.).

The Fredclarkeara breeding produces flowers that are fragrant, have lots of color and are long lasting. As you can see on this one in the photo, the Fredclarkeara Black Lace 'Baker’s Dark Angel’ is indeed black.

References: [1] - [2]

Photo credit: ©Brent Baker | Locality: cultivated (2013)

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Farges’ Cypripedium - Cypripedium fargesii 

Cypripedium fargesii (Asparagales - Orchidaceae) is a bizarrely attractive dwarf slipper orchid. This species is very rare, uncommon and with a very restricted distribution, confined  to south Gansu, west Sichuan, west Hubei and north Chongping, China.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, mainly due to habitat loss (it has a rather narrow range) and illegal collection for the orchid trade.

This particular plant is grown from laboratory-raised seed in Europe. It has very specific needs and is difficult to grow over the long term.

Reference: [1]

Photo credit: ©Steve Garvie | Locality: cultivated (2014)

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Albuca spiralis

My own personal Albuca spiralis was something I very much sought out after seeing pictures of this mystery plant on the internet, that was actually labeled as a Crassula, with these CRAZY spirals for leaves that grew in a small bunch. I INSTANTLY knew I needed to know what it really was and where I could find it. And then about a year and a half later I was out at a small nursery in a different part of town and found Albuca spiralis. It may not have been the exact species that I originally saw but I was still very excited about finding it and adding it to my collection. 

General Info

Albuca spiralis is a bulb, meaning that it has a short stem at it’s base covered with thick fleshy leaves that retain food and moisture for dormant periods. Albuca spiralis’s bulb is one that actually typically grows under the soil and is a large green baseball sized sphere that can only be seen from the very top that peeks out of the dirt. Albuca spiralis also grows curly, spiraled succulent leaves that grow vertically at first and then can droop over with age or when the plant flowers. These leaves are the most impressive feature, with Albuca spiralis’ flowers being green and yellow and quite unimpressive in my opinion. They also have the strange feature of  having a gooey mucus inside of them, giving the Albuca family the nickname of ‘slime lilies’. Albuca spiralis is also known to be hardy to both cold and drought, being able to tolerate lows in the 20s and having the ability to go up to a few months with no water because of the nutrients and water stored in its bulb. Although in both of these cases it should be noted that the leaves of Albuca bracteata would not survive, with them melting (the term for plants killed by exposure to cold temperatures) and dying off in those low temperatures, and with the leaves being dried up and having their moisture stolen to save the bulb. It would come back after the conditions improve, but the easier way to keep Albuca spiralis healthy to to not put it through those extreme conditions. I would whole heartedly recommend Albuca spiralis to anyone wanting a very unique and feature  plant, especially to keep potted indoors. 


Native to: South Africa

Height: 1-2 foot max

Spread: 2 foot max

Hardiness: to 20°F+

Light Requirements: Light Shade to Bright Sun

Water Requirements: Moderate (light to average for succulents)

Flowers: large unimpressive flowers in late spring to summer that are sticky to the touch

Other: Drought friendly, annual dormancy cycle, succulent bulb, impressive leaf shape.

Species Classification

Kingdom: Plantae

Clade: Angiosperms

Clade: Monocots

Order: Asparagales

Family: Asparagaceae

Subfamily: Scilloideae

Genus: Albuca

Species: A. spiralis

Ixia versicolor 

These strikingly beautiful flowers are from the species Ixia versicolor (Asparagales - Iridaceae), a South African endemic with only two small, severely fragmented subpopulations remaining, which are declining due to invasion by alien grasses. It has white or purple flowers with a dark center and exserted stamens. 

References: [1] - [2]

Photo credit: ©Jeffs Bulbesetpots | Locality: South Africa (2013)

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Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa

My own personal Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa is my favorite shade loving succulent. I received it as a large cutting when I was working at a greenhouse awhile and it has been an interesting and very low maintenance that only needs attention every once and awhile. The hardest part about Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa is that I want to keep it with the rest of my succulents outdoors in the summer, but it is actually summer dormant and prefers being kept in shadier conditions. Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa is usually kept in a shadier spot that most other succulents but if I decide that it needs a bit of sun I usually keep it with other fenestrate leaved succulents like Senecio rowleyanus and Senecio herreianus, or other shade lovers like Gasteria ‘Little Warty’ or Haworthia armstrongii.

General Info

Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa is a clumping small rosette shaped succulent with bright green small boat shaped fenestrate (transparent tipped) leaves. It also looks extremely similar to another species: Haworthia cooperi var. truncata, BUT they are not identical and Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa has less transparent leaf tips and a bit different leaf shape, but at first and maybe even second glance they look identical. Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa is a very easy to care for plant, mainly because they enjoy less light than most of their other succulent companions. Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa actually seemingly does the best when it is in a bright spot that receives little to no direct light, because bright direct sunlight actually turns the leaves a miserable shade of brown instead of keeping them their natural green color. During summer especially Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa like being watered a bit more frequently than some other types of succulents, but still doesn’t want to be sitting in standing water or have constantly damp roots. Although in winter it  enjoys being let dry completely and going longer periods between watering. I usually wait until the leaves just barely start to wrinkle. Because they have large fleshy leaves with relatively thin epidermis, Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa doesn’t enjoy cold temperatures too much, but apparently being able to survive a light frost. I personally would protect mine from anything below 36°F out of fear of leaf damage. I would recommend Haworthia cymbiformis var. obtusa as a very attractive little clumping potted plant that is easy to care for and great for beginners and masters alike.


Native to: South Africa

Height: 4-6 in max, grows slowly.

Spread: <1 ft max, offsets easily but slowly.

Hardiness: to 30°F+

Light Requirements: Full Shade to Partial Sun

Water Requirements: Moderate (Moderate to Heavy for succulents)

Flowers: Pink-coral colored and on long stems

Other: Drought friendly, low maintenance, shade loving.

Species Classification

Kingdom: Plantae

Clade: Angiosperms

Clade: Monocots

Order: Asparagales

Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae

Subfamily: Asphodeloideae

Genus: Haworthia

Species: H. cymbiformis

Variety: obtusa 


Spiloxene capensis

As is typical in the family Hypoxidaceae (Asparagales), the flowers of Spiloxene capensis have six tepals, six stamens, a three-chambered, inferior ovary, and a three-branched style. Flowers are uniformly star-shaped, white, cream, yellow to orange, or rarely pink, and have dark spots or ‘eyes’ at the base of the tepals. These spots are generally blackish and occasionally iridescent blue-green.

In fact, the name Spiloxene is derived from the Greek spilos, meaning a spot, and xenos, a host or a stranger, which emphasizes the dark spots commonly found in the centre of the flowers of S. capensis.

This species is native to the Cape Region in South Africa, where field observations have shown that monkey beetles are the primary pollen vectors of the dark-centered flowers of Spiloxene capensis.

References: [1] - [2] - [3]

Photo credit: [Top: ©Nhu Nguyen | Locality: not indicated, 2013] -    [Bottom: ©Jacob Uluwehi Knecht | Locality: not indicated, 2013]

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Aloe vera

My own personal Aloe vera is one of, if not the most disappointing plants in my collection. I purchased this Aloe from a superstore to save it from a slow terrible death in the poorly lit indoor gardening section in a pot that was ten sizes too small for it, but to my displeasure it hasn’t improved and if anything has gotten less healthy over the 2-3 years that I’ve had it in my care, but I know for many this is the most iconic of all succulent plants and is very to easy to keep for everybody except me apparently. I am honestly so annoyed with how fussy my Aloe vera is that I keep it inside and alone.

General Info

Aloe vera, also less commonly known as Aloe barbadensis, is one of the most important succulents to humans, because of it’s economic and medical values. Everybody has heard of the healing properties of Aloe vera gel and can be turned into juice to be consumed, or put in a variety of medical items. There is also the Aloe vera latex, that is a different part of the plant that is used in laxative medications that may or may not actually be harmful to humans when consumed, like many other succulent latexes. But considering the Aloe vera plant, it is a very short stemless plant that grows a rosette of long slender green leaves that have a tooth running along both edges. It’s leaves are often extremely succulent and are filled with the gel that is where it stores it’s water. Aloes are known for living in the roughest and most water deprived of terrains and also often have much tougher and stronger roots, and have been known to even break their terracotta pots over time.  On the other hand, Aloes traded the ability to tolerate any cold at all for their drought tolerance and tolerance for the absolute brightest sun. Aloe vera gets damaged by cold very easily and need to very much be kept indoors. It is also important to note that while Aloes, including Aloe vera can handle intense sun, most of then turn an unpleasant brown-grey-orange color in bright light that isn’t as pleasing as their normal green. Despite my obvious preference against Aloe vera, for most people it’s an easy to keep succulent that can handle whatever you throw at it besides low temperatures and flourish, maybe even saving you from the pain of a burn one day.


Native to: Northern Africa

Height: 1-2 ft

Spread: <1 ft, offsets easily

Hardiness: to 35°F+

Light Requirements: Moderate Shade to Bright Sun

Water Requirements: Moderate (average to heavy for succulents)

Flowers: Large and tall stems with orange-coral colored flowers in summer

Other: Drought friendly, sun loving, healing properities. 

Species Classification

Kingdom: Plantae

Clade: Angiosperms

Clade: Monocots

Order: Asparagales

Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae

Subfamily: Asphodeloideae

Genus: Aloe

Species: A. vera