I took a picture of my little Senecio barbertonicus a couple of days ago and couldn't remember the name of the thing. Googling around I found the name and some pictures, and after reading various pages realized with some horror that I need to move my little plant before it becomes 6'x6' (2 meters x 2 meters) or even 3'x3' (1 meter x 1 meter). The size estimates vary on this one. It is similar in some respects to Senecio vitalis, Senecio serpens, and Senecio mandraliscae: a succulent with foliage that resembles a lot of curved fingers.
S. vitalis is a lighter green sub shrub. Some summer water is mandatory for good looks, otherwise leaves dry up leaving bare stems to sunburn. Mine are about 2' tall and wide (60 cm) after three years in the ground:
S. mandraliscae and S. serpens are common yet wonderful dull blue-grey ground covers, with S. serpens being a dwarvish, frail version of the vigorous S. mandraliscae.
Senecio barbertonicus (easy to remember: think "barber tonic") differs in being a rich medium green color--valuable in a xeriscape where silver, blue, and greys may predominate--and it also differs from the other similar succulent Senecios I have mentioned in that it has reasonably attractive flowers. The flowers are not only bright yellow and daisy-like, they are also fragrant and said to attract butterflies--if we have butterflies around here in winter, which is when this plant blooms.
However valuable Senecio vitalis and Senecio mandraslicae may be, however much we like them, there is no doubt that the flowers are dismal. Even "dismal" is being somewhat generous:
I would call these Senecio flowers "b*tt-ugly", but this morning I saw a billboard advertising Lord-knows-what--a sugary drink?--with the word "b*tt" in letters 6 feet tall, and then there are those couple of TV commercials advertising--was it shoes?--that consisted of close-up shots of...buttocks, and so I decided I need to raise my standards above that of advertising agencies and middle school lunch hour tweets. If I can. Our culture is hurtling downhill faster and faster. Or maybe it is already there. But I digress.
I obsessively nip off all the flowers of Senecio vitalis, mandraliscae, and serpens as they appear--they are not worth bothering with even fresh, and dried they are worse. Since they are a food source for bees, I should leave them, but the bees here can make do with lots and lots of lavenders. I hope S. barbertonicus does not disappoint, but if it feeds butterflies...that will be sufficient.
I did not even mention Senecio rowleyanus or Senecio radicans, "String of Pearls" and "String of Bananas" respectively, or "Dusty Miller" S. cineraria, and then there is another little one that is like a starfish that has been sunburnt and is now peeling. Must find the tag for that one. Different beasties: plants for pots. Then there are a group that actually has attractive--even beautiful--flowers. It's a big genus with over one thousand species. I've hardly begun.
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