Botany for the Willfully Ignorant: Why I Don’t Grow Succulents
Let me start with a few acknowledgments. First, I know almost nothing about succulent plants. However, this does not prevent me from exercising my rights as an American to have opinions about them.
These opinions may not be based on fact. However, I feel that they are true. Therefore, while they may not be accurate, they have (to use the phrase coined by Stephen Colbert) truthiness. And that’s good enough for me.
That said, I don’t grow succulents for the same reason I wouldn’t have a lizard or snake as a pet. Succulents strike me as cold-blooded plants.
I like plants that are more like golden retrievers or maybe a well-behaved cat, Plants that would cuddle up to you as you watch TV on the couch. Plants that are warm and lovable.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I have this reaction, but here are a few possibilities.
Succulents tend to have sharp pointy bits. Of course, roses have thorns and so on. That makes roses more like the cats of the garden, still cuddly but with sharp claws that will strike when there’s been enough petting.
Admittedly, many succulents have nothing pointy going on whatsoever – for example, Sedum spectabilis. However, I prefer to avoid even the non-pointy succulents just to be on the safe side – because you don’t know when they might turn on you. You say guilt by association? I say reasonable prudence.
Succulents have weird leaves. At best, leaves of succulents have a waxy outer coating that makes them seem standoffish, plus they tend to be relatively inflexible. At worst (as with cacti), the leaves are actually spines, or is it the other way round?
Succulents look like sentient beings from another planet. Some of them, anyway. They just do.
If I lived in a hotter, drier climate I would no doubt have a different attitude towards succulents. Their presence would seem more comfortable and familiar, I would probably be grateful for the niche they fill in more arid ecosystems.
Also, there are only a limited number of succulents that will grow here in Chicago. So perhaps the succulents have the last laugh. I may not want to grow them, but most of them wouldn’t want to grow in my garden anyway. Probably best that we each go our separate ways.