"Highly Variable"

Some botanical descriptions include the term "highly variable": our beloved native oak, Quercus agrifolia, is one such plant so described. The foliage can vary so dramatically, and inter species hybrids are so common, making exact identifications is difficult or impossible.

Consider, however, another plant that can be "highly variable":

"Now wait!" you say. "I see four different plants--a Sedum, a Euphorbia, and two Echeverias, probably E. 'After Glow' and possibly an E. imbricata hybrid."

Nope. According to the plant tags, all these plants are exactly the same. Genus "Succulent", Species: "Assorted".

I've been buying a lot of succulents lately. I've always liked them, but it wasn't time to own them again, until now. The first plant I ever grew, when my age was still in single digits, was a Graptopetalum paraguayense pup I was able to root, a gift from the elderly widow across the street, who had some enthusiasm for gardening. She had a cloud of snowy white hair, a canary named Tweety, and a desert tortoise named Speedy (and, okay, maybe not a lot of imagination where names for pets were concerned). She and her husband had driven out to the desert one day in the 1930's and picked up a desert tortoise and brought him home and he was their pet for forty years. Back then you could do that--drive out to nowhere in the California desert and dig up plants and catch tortoises and bring them all home to plant in the garden or make a pet of. And elderly widows had white hair, not blond. Back then.

I did not know the plant as "Graptopetalum paraguayense". It was simply "my plant". I had only the one, so a name was unnecessary. I'm unsure what happened to it, but I had it for years. I know I didn't kill it. It probably ended up planted in the ground, and when we moved it got left behind. I still have another plant that elderly widow gave my mother, a Sedum that is not quite S. dasyphyllum. I haven't been able to identify it. It is a frosty blue variant of S. dasyphyllum, and I've never found it for sale.

Between those two plants and today are decades of a non-succulent way of life. I wish that the nurserymen of Southern California would tag their Sedums, Echeverias, Sediverias, Graptopetalums, Graptoverias, Euphorbias, and such with the correct name, but I deduce they know I would buy them anyway, so why bother?

Succulents are again in my life, mostly all highly, even wildly variable Succulent assorteds. In future decades perhaps I will have only one plant again. I've bought a lot of Succulent assorteds, but not yet a Graptopetalum paraguayense. I'm holding off. Maybe that will be my first plant and also my last. Symmetrical, rather than highly variable. And the only name needed will be just "my plant".


  1. Interesting story! That nice lady (I think she was nice since she was sharing her plants)couldn't imagine that people ever will learn about her and her desert tortoise and her plants. I know that some people still go to the forest/desert/montains and dig out plants.
    As you, I am wondering why all the different plants in some stores are named Tropical Plant, for example. Maybe, they cut the costs that way? Thanks for this nice post! Good luck in searching for Your Plant!


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