Calandrinia grandiflora is an utterly nondescript grey-green clumping succulent from Chile--the bit of Chile that is like California, as opposed to the bit of Chile that is like New Zealand. No one would pay much attention to the plant itself were it not for the spectacular flowers that shoot up 3 feet from those non-descript clumps. Each flowering stem produces intense magenta bells for weeks and weeks, and the clumps produce dozens of these flowering stems. The show continues for months. Given a little summer water, the show continues nearly year round. I have it in my property's version of the "death strip" or "hell strip"; it is next to the street, where the heat and aridity of the adjacent asphalt is lethal to most plants. The Calandrinia has done well, though I must give it some water in the worst of summer's heat. My plant was tagged as Calandrinia spectabile, which appears to be an incorrect name. It's Calandrinia grandiflora. Yet another misnamed succulent.
There's another Calandrinia I would like to grow simply for the charm of the common name, which is apparently "Seaside Fuzzy Paws", which may be unusual enough to avoid confusion with another plant. Though I avoid common names so scrupulously, "Seaside Fuzzy Paws" is darling, comparable in charm to the old China rose I've often thought about growing for the name alone: 'Tipsy Imperial Concubine'. What gardener can resist that? A garden without whimsy is incomplete.
I've noticed that Australians are the kings of charming common plant names, which seem Shakespearean in their expressive imagination. Most people know Anigozanthos as "Kangaroo Paws", charming enough. But there's Acmena: the common name is "Lilly-Pilly". Though like all common names it can create confusion, since a plant in the genus Szygium is also called "Lilly-Pilly". And the thousand or so Australian Acacias are "Wattles", a chewy, masticated kind of old Anglo-Saxon word that is also that thing than hangs down from a turkey's neck. Black Wattle, Gold Wattle, Tan Wattle, Silver Wattle.
Then there is Craspedia globosa, which has a string of charming names: "Billy Buttons", but also "Billy Balls", "Woolly Drumsticks" and "Woollyheads". I grew it, loved it, and killed it, damn it. I want to try that one again, and not just for the name. Sometimes I enjoyed the thought of getting visitors over to see it by calling, "Hey, want to see Billy's Balls?", but I never did do that. After all, I don't want to create confusion.
But I digress from Calandrinia grandiflora. A lovely plant, grab one if you can find it. For such an easy plant to grow it's not all that common--it's not usually in the mass groups of succulents for sale at the big box stores. Pity.
5/9/10 UPDATE: I just see on the San Marcos Growers website that the Botanical Nomenclature People, who seem to live to confuse people, as if we are not confused enough as it is, have decided that maybe Calandrinia grandiflora should really be called Cistanthe grandiflora. Just so you know.