Alien Cacti at Grigsby


I saw many strange plants on recent visit to Grigsby Cactus Gardens in Vista, CA. This one seems to be greeting a fellow citizen of another planet.

Perhaps they’re from a galaxy far, far away.

And visit earth in this space ship.

This is how they communicate with their home planet.

Why are they here? I suspect, seeking brains.

But this stopped them in their tracks: a bromeliad monster that eats everything in its path. Munch, munch, slurp, gulp.

I can’t seem to come up with a caption for this one. Can you? (It’s Euphorbia horrida.)

Or this one…Pilosocereus pachycladus

The Mohawk of the cactus world.

Half plant, half pooch.

This almost looks edible.

A tarantula relative?

Yikes, more have arrived, and  they’re chattering in high-pitched, squeaky voices.

Care for cactus and fat euphorbias: These plants are from arid regions. Cacti, from the Southwest US and Mexico. Succulent euphorbias are old world plants, mostly from South Africa. Like all succulents, they are highly efficient at storing water to get through long, dry spells. The fatter the plant, the less water it needs, and the less it should be given. They need lots of light, but protection from scorching summer sun. Young cacti in habitat are protected by “nurse plants” from harsh conditions, until mature. The smaller plants shown here are in greenhouses beneath light shade cloth. The columnar cacti are outdoors in full sun.

Water lightly, but regularly, during the spring-summer growth season. Soil that dries out completely can desiccate fine root filaments. The plants will be fine, but they may not grow. A light feeding of dilute fertilizer is fine at this time. Grigsby’s soil mix is mainly pumice—from the look of it, I’d say 70 percent pumice and 30 percent potting soil. Pumice is a crushed volcanic rock that makes soil coarse and crumbly, and provides excellent drainage. If these plants sit in water, their roots may rot, which is fatal. Don’t water at all during winter dormancy.

Grigsby is in Vista, CA. The nursery has been there for decades, and they have a big following with collectors. They sell mail-order. Follow the link above to request to be on their email list.

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified. 

About Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin gardens on "an inhospitable half acre" in Escondido, CA, near San Diego. She is an award-winning photojournalist and artist with hundreds of articles and columns to her credit. Debra's books are Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified.

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7 Responses to Alien Cacti at Grigsby

  1. Linda Jones June 4, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    Careful! Before you know it, you’ll be taking one of those aliens home to your personal planet. Euphorbia horrida was inappropriately named. I didn’t think it was horrid at all. Liked the food one, too.

    Hi, Linda — The “food one” also is a type of euphorbia, maybe suzannae. I agree, I think Euphorbia horrida is lovely! — Debra

  2. greg June 4, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    On the Euphorbia Horrida, what types of soil
    and sun light do they need and also just general care for these type of spieces of cacti or succulent.
    Thank you Greg

    Hi, Greg — I added that info for you and others. Thanks for stopping by! — Debra

  3. Cathy June 4, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    I’ve never been overly fond of cacti (my taste runs more to the kinds of things you can cut and stuff into a vase) but these are unique and very unusual… a refreshing look at what else is “out there”.

    The spaceship is quite unusual… I am intrigued by the color especially.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Hi, Cathy — The “spaceship” is a caudex, a water-storage organ that enables the plant to survive long, dry spells. It will sprout a vine from its top during part of year, then die back. Some collectors are really into caudiciforms. I’d be hard pressed to come up with any container full of water that I could put out in the garden in hot sun, that wouldn’t disintegrate or get super hot or lose its contents to evaporation. And yet a plant can do it?!– Debra

  4. Mary June 4, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Your photos remind me on of the fascinating aspecs that I just love about cacti. Their
    strange and alien textures and growth patterns.
    Thanks, Mary

    Hi, Mary — And these are only a few. Lots more strange stuff out there! Cactus & Succulent Society of America shows and sales are the best places to see them. — Debra

  5. Susan from Vista June 4, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    How timely that your photo shoot fits right in the time line of the San Diego County Fair opening on Friday, with a theme of “Out of this World”. They are emphasizing the alien experience. Can’t wait to see how the garden designers have interpreted the theme.

    Hi, Susan — I agree. I just hope they don’t do a lot of silly stuff. There are a lot of otherworldly plants that are bizarre enough on their on, without having to put goggles on them. — Debra

  6. Candy Suter June 5, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    Hahaha! Great post! Your captions were pretty darn funny. For the Horrida I would say, “They were doing the wave”. The next one reminds me of one of the muppets! Can’t remember the name but he had a fluff of hair on top of his head! LOL Silly! Great information afterward Debra! Looks like a fun place but don’t take the name tags off to take photos!

    Hi, Candy — Yes, the owner told me that she’d had a problem with photographers removing tags because they got in the way of their photos, and that if I did so, I’d be asked to leave! They don’t seem very interested in creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere there, but on the other hand, it’s pretty cool that they open the place to visitors at all. They do most of their sales via mail order. I bought a notocactus that was in bloom as a gift for a friend. It was in the sales area, which is set up really well, in a greenhouse, with everything labeled. I should have taken a photo of it. It had lots of offsets, and I think I paid around $15.– Debra

  7. Capital Gardens June 6, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    I think the Horrida is lovely too! Reminds me of the sea, with all those waves down the side. Can’t say the same for the tarantula style cactus top – gross!

    I know. Who names these plants, I wonder? Horrid?? — Debra