Useful Plant Collections

For those of you with some arable land (or in some cases, poor “sterile” land, depending on the genus) and preferably a modicum of disposable income—and time—here is a hobby that can give you more bang for the buck than almost any other.

I refer here especially to collections of “multi-purpose” or “useful” plants that offer something practical as well as aesthetic, mostly in the form of wildlife habitat and/or food for humans.  Any living collection offers an infinity more in sustainable interest, learning, and potential real, substantial contribution to science and society, posterity, and the present—than does any number of “static”, non-organic collections like coins, postage stamps, money, marbles, works of art*, etc. some of which collections are pursued for nothing better than financial investments, social status, or simple, selfish acquisitiveness.

This is collecting in the service of primitive competition, not cooperation, and it is signally unsatisfying compared with the joy you can have through sharing the knowledge, experience (and often the plants) you have acquired with others.  So what is most worth collecting?  Some plants are obviously more “useful” than others.  Some of the least useful kinds of plant collections (i.e. plants with little or no wildlife or food value) are among the following (coincidentally or not, nearly all of these happen to be evergreen):

Ferns; topiary hedges; bonsai, dwarf conifers, in fact most conifers except pines, junipers, and a few others; rhododendrons and azaleas (__ spp. and thousands of cultivars and hybrids); camellias (ditto); African violets, orchids, and other house ? “foliage plants” or greenhouse plants; euphorbias; peonies; narcissus, clematis; hydrangeas; crape myrtles; rose?? (__ spp.   and many hybrids and cultivars); magnolias; begonias; hebes (__ spp.) and oddly enough, most other New Zealand plants; banksias and proteas . . . ?

This, however, is a very short list compared with the many collectible plant families, genera, and species that do have values other than simply aesthetic ones.

*To me, ironically enough?, the ultimate in “sterile” collections, of no value whatever to man or beast are—pardon me, you birding fanatics everywhere—personal “life lists” of birds (or whatever) the collector has accumulated over a gas-wasting lifetime.  This to me is the sick end of nature study, something that serves no earthly purpose at all except to inflate the ego of the collector.

Among the more useful collectible plants, there are multitudes to choose from.  Most major “collectible” plant groups consist of a fairly large number of forms, usually at least a hundred and often up to a thousand or in a few cases several thousand; or for those with more modest ambitions or means, there are plenty of eminently collectible groups consisting of only a dozen or so forms.

Here are some examples of worthwhile collectible plants for California.

Bamboos are increasing in popularity in California—it’s about time—even though our winters aren’t quite warm enough for the tropical ones and our summers aren’t rainy enough for any of them.  Bamboos are put to hundreds of uses in Asia and other parts of the world.  Edible shoots are produced by many of them, the best possibly being Phyllostachys dulcis (sweetshoot bamboo) and P. edulis=pubescens=heterocycla (moso).  There are scores of genera and hundreds of species, but they fall conveniently into two main groups: the tropical clumping species (in the genus Bambusa and may others) and the temperate, cold-hardy, running species (mostly in the genus Phyllostachys).  It is one of the latter, golden bamboo (P. aurea), whose aggressive spreading tendencies have given all bamboos a bad name to many gardeners.  Provided you have room, there is little more elegant you could grow than a grove of timber bamboo.  The largest of the running (rhizomatous) species is moso, with stems up to 8” or so in diameter and spaced far enough apart to allow you to stroll easily through the grove without bumping into anything.  The largest of the tropical (and all) bamboos are in the genus Dendrocalamus, a clumper with stems up to a foot or so in diameter, but requiring more winter warmth, wind protection, and summer humidity than most of California can offer.

The Rose Family is undoubtedly the king of collectibles; more accurately, it is a collection of collectibles, containing among many other collectible groups the two largest of them all: roses and apples, with several thousand named cultivars each.

The family is divided into three major parts.  From smallest to largest in number of species, these are:  the so-called “drupes” (with one-seeded fruits—mainly the single, large genus Prunus), the multi-seeded “pomes” (including apples and pears and many related genera like the hawthorns, pyracanthas, and loquat), and finally the huge, catch-all group containing the roses, strawberries, blackberries, etc. and many other shrubby and herbaceous species starting with the drupes.

The big, scrumptious genus called Prunus could be a collectible group in its own right, containing about __ species.  But it is probably more realistic—less unwieldy—to focus on a particular species or group of species within the genus.  For example:

  1. The flowering cherries.  Several East Asian species and their hybrids have given rise to scores? Of cultivars, of which a reasonably small number are available in the U.S.
  2. One or more of the cultivated species, each having a great many named cultivars: sweet cherry (P. avium), pie cherry (P. cerasus), apricot (P. armeniaca), peach/nectarine (P. persica), prune/greengage/damson/bullace/European plum (P. domestica), Japanese plum (P. salicina?), and almond (P. dulcis).
  3. Miscellaneous ornamental and fruiting species including cherry-plum (P. cerasifera and cultivars), Japanese or flowering apricot (P. mume and cultivars), sloe or blackthorn (P. spinosa), bird cherries (P. padus and P. chaleb), flowering almond (P. glandulosa).
  4. A large number of wild species, some in common garden use and some not, some even evergreen such as P. lyonii, P. ilicifolia, P. laurocerasus, P. lusitanica, and P. carolina.

Onto the pome fruits.  This includes many of the very best wildlife-attracting species as well as several of the most important fruit trees (apple, pear, Asian pear) and some lesser-known fruiting species (loquat, medlar, mountain ash, quince, Juneberry, mayhaw, chokeberry, etc.).  Collectible groups include:

  1. Cultivated apple varieties (Malus pumila) in their thousands.  This is a hobby bordering on obsession for many aficionados. 
  2. The genus Malus contains not only the orchard apples but a great many wild species, hybrids, and ornamental “crabapple” cultivars.  Nearly all species have beautiful flowers and small, colorful bird-attracting fruits.
  3. Pyrus communis (European pear) and P. salicifolius? (Asian pear) both have numerous cultivars, especially the former.  Also, as with the apples, there are many wild species of Pyrus as well.
  4. Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica), quinces (Cydonia oblonga) and even medlar (Mespilus germanicus) each have enough cultivars for a modest collection.  
  5. Flowering or Japanese quince (Chaenomeles spp.) is a dense, short to tall, early-flowering , edible- (but sour) fruited, bird-friendly shrub with numerous cultivars of many flower colors.
  6. Sorbus is a sizeable genus of small, deciduous trees with showy flowers, big clusters of variously colored, bird-attracting fruit (some larger and/or edible for humans as well), and often gorgeous fall color.  The various species and selections of Sorbus would make a wonderful subject for a collection.
  7. Amelanchier (serviceberry) is another very collectible genus of ___ species.  Deciduous shrubs or small trees with showy white flowers and small, early-ripening, blueberry-like fruits that are quickly gobbled up by birds (just as well, since they aren’t quite as delectable to most humans, even though they once were one of the principal ingredients of pemmican, a sort of Indian power-bar.
  8. Crataegus (hawthorn) is a genus that is far more valuable and more diverse than its relatively puny representation in California would lead you to believe.  A genus of at least ___ species (plus many cultivars) of mostly deciduous shrubs and small trees, most of which have just about everything possible going for them:  perfect nesting cover for birds, delectable food for birds (and in some cases good enough for humans, for example the candylike mayhaws), and beauty in all seasons—showers of tiny white flowers in spring, loads of red or sometimes black berries later on, often stunning fall color, and intriguing branch structures in winter.  Considering the huge number of species and confused taxonomy, there could be little better subject for a serious collector.

Lastly, roses and their mixed bag of relations.

The genus Rosa, to judge from its popularity from time immemorial, has got to be collectible of collectibles.  Not only is it a large genus in number of species (ca.___), but a few of those species and their man-made hybrids have given rise to a staggering plethora of named varieties in terms of their usefulness beyond the more aesthetic (and no one would argue that the aesthetic dimensions, both visual and olfactory, are not by themselves adequate justification for love in this case) different rose species differ considerably.  The group of roses with the least (in fact almost no) wildlife value are the so-called “hybrid tea roses”, a modern invention and, by some corollary of Murphy’s Law by far the most commonly grown of all roses today.  (The same logic seems to apply here as for the fruitless olives, fruitless mulberries, fruitless crabapples, fruitless honey-locusts, fruitless ginkgoes etc. that are so ubiquitous now—the Law of Sterility.)

The other end of the spectrum is occupied mostly by the big climbers, in whose fiendishly thorny tangles many a brood of birds has been fledged and many a flock taken refuge from darting accipiter or pouncing kitty.  The species with numerous and relatively juicy hips are good if secondary as food for various birds—those of R. rugosa (and probably quite a few others) are even decent fare for humans.

I would hope that those of you with a penchant for collecting roses might take these things into consideration, and go mainly for species roses and those cultivars and hybrids with the above-mentioned qualities.  In the end, you go with what you like (personally, I’m a sucker for ‘Cecile Brunner’ every time).

Apart from the nominate genus of the huge Rose Family, there aren’t a lot of very collectible groups in this third subfamily, except possibly for the genus Rubus, the various blackberries, raspberries, cloudberries, wineberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, etc.  Mostly a prickly and short-lived lot, some quite invasive, and more-or-less all requiring more annual fuss and bother than you might want to give them.  It is, nonetheless, a large and tasty genus, enough so that it has spawned a multitude of named varieties, many of which occupy thousands of farm acres in California.

Among the many dry-fruited shrubs belonging to the rose subfamily, one comes to mind as a worthwhile subject for a collection:  Spiraea (bridal wreath), a deciduous shrub with masses of tiny white or pink flowers, and occasionally good fall color as well.  Beautiful, but wildlife value is minimal.

The Legume or Pea Family (Fabaceae) is a sort of sister-family to the Rosaceae.  Both are huge, containing vast numbers of species including everything from trees to tiny annual herbs, many with great ornamental value and many with even greater economic value (many of our staple crops are legumes).

The two families are even closely related to each other, believe it or not.  The main difference for our purposes is that the family Rosaceae is chiefly north-temperate and therefore most of its members are quite cold-hardy, whereas the Legume Family is centered in the tropics; it does, however, contain a goodly number of cold-temperate species.

Like the Rose Family, the legumes are divided into three groups: the Mimosa subfamily has flowers consisting of colorful “powder puff” balls of stamens (this includes mostly tropical genera like Acacia and Calliandra, but also a few temperate species like the silk tree, Albizia julibrissin).  The Caesalpinia subfamily is also tropical, with a lot of showy flowering trees and shrubs like the cassias, poincianas, and caesalpinias, and the hardy genus Cercis (redbud) as well as the Mediterranean carob tree.

The largest subfamily, the Papilionoideae, has the typical sweetpea-shaped flowers.  Unlike the other two groups, this one contains not only trees and shrubs but also many annual and perennial herbs including such familiar items as the clovers, lupines, locoweeds, vetches, alfalfa, peas, peanuts, lentils, and beans of every sort (my own collection mania is the clovers, of which there are well over 1,000 forms to choose from).  There are also of course, a great many woody plants in this group as well, with glorious flower displays in every conceivable color.

Collectible legume trees and shrubs include, in the Mimosa group:

The acacias—a big genus of ___ species with showy and/or fragrant yellow or white flowers.  The thorny African species are the largest and (to me) most interesting.  These are the trees that give the East African savannas their distinctive character.  As a whole, however, the wildlife value of acacias here is extremely limited, and a couple noxious invasive Australian species (A. dealbata and A. melanoxylon) have given the whole genus a bad name.  Others, like the Hawaiian koa (A. koa) and North American ________  (A. farnesiana) are justly treasured.

In the Caesalpinia group, the collectible genus par excellence is Cercis (redbud).  About ___ species are scattered across Eurasia and North America, and all have masses of attractive little flowers in shades of hot pink before leafing out in spring.  One of the best-known is the Judas tree of southern Europe (C. siliquastrum).  Again, however, wildlife value is minimal. 

The papilionoid group contains enough cold-hardy flowering deciduous trees, shrubs, and vines to make a large collection or any number of small ones.  Most of these have their flowers arranged in pendant racemes or “trusses” like Wisteria.

Those with yellow flowers include:

Laburnum spp. (golden chain tree),Caragana, Sophora.

White- or pink-flowering genera include:

Robinia spp. and cultivars (locust), Gleditsia spp. (honey-locust), Gymnocladus (Kentucky coffee tree), Cladrastis (yellowwood), and Lespedeza.

The several species and many cultivars of Wisteria come in blue to violet or white, and nearly all of them are glorious, although, like most of the other woody legumes, they have little to offer, wildlife-wise, other than cover.

One wonderful large, collectible genus of mainly tropical trees and shrubs is Erythrina, the coral trees.  Most have brilliant red or orange flowers in racemes.  Some examples are E. crista-galli, E. humeana, E. caffra , E.           Also Maackia.

The following tree genera would make wonderful collections.

Quercus—Deciduous and evergreen, __ spp., circumboreal.  Vastly important to man and beat, more so formerly tha now in the case of man, as much as ever in the case of beast.  Sme have good if fleeting fall colors. 42 spp. and cultivars in 2002 Forest Farm catalog (50+ spp. being grown there)

Acer—All deciduous trees and shrubs, ___ spp., circumboreal.  Maple syrup from many species including bigleaf.  Fall color is legendary.  Huge number of cultivars in A. palmatum (44 in Forest Farm catalog for 2002), although less wildlife value than the larger species.

Betula—All deciduous trees and shrubs, ___ spp., circumboreal.  Birch beer, finch food, bark color.  (28 spp. and cultivars in 2002 Forest Farm catalog).

Salix and Populus—All deciduous shrubs and trees, ___ spp., circumboreal.  (57 Salix spp. and cultivars in 2002 Forest Farm catalog).



 (both smaller genera than the preceding but very important economically and very majestic and beautiful as well)

Ilex—big genus, but hate it, except deciduous

Magnolia—no wildlife value?

Pinus—trees and shrubs, ___ spp., circumboreal.  The quintessential conifer.  Huge commercial value (wood).  Seeds for birds and rodents and people.  [Say something about the ecological partnership of oaks and pines.]  Some species already have many ornamental cultivars, e.g. P. strobus and P. densiflora, and P. parviflora and P. sylvestris.  

Other coniferous genera have enough spp. to qualify as collectible (especially Abies and Picea), but our climate in lowland California is not montane enough for most of them, and their wildlife value is limited compared with the pines (33 spp. and 42 cultivars of Abies in 2002 Forest Farm catalog, 35 of Picea).  5 spp. and 42 cultivars of Chamaecyparis.

Sequoia sempervirens—an example of a “single-species” collectible.  So far a dozen or more selected cultivars, but there promise to be many more.



Smaller collectible deciduous tree genera:

Aesculus (buckeyes)

Platanus (sycamores)

Fagus (beeches)

Carpinus and Ostrya (hornbeams)

Celtis (hackberries)

Ulmus (elms)

Tilia (lindens)

Larix (larches)

Fraxinus (ashes)

Shrubs and vines for smaller spaces:

Syringa spp. and cultivars.  A great old favorite, with good reason.  To really shine, need colder winters than most of lowland California can provide.

Ribes spp. and cultivars.  Mostly deciduous.

Rhus spp. (17 in Forest Farm catalog)

Sambucus species and cultivars.

Or better, Viburnum species and cultivars (the deciduous ones are vastly better than the evergreen ones for wildlife) .  Fruit and fall color.

Lonicera species and cultivars.

Weigela species and cultivars.

Elaeagnus species and cultivars.  Great for birds (and people).

Vaccinium species and cultivars.  Also great for birds, people, and f.c.

Berberis species and cultivars—a wonderful enus of some 450 species, almost all of them attractive.  So many variations on one basic theme: small, bright-yellow flowers (also bright-yellow wood and roots!) followed by red or black berries; small, thick, often prickly leaves on slender prickly stems. (No less than 52 species and cultivars listed in 2002 Forest Farm catalog.)

Arctostaphylos—elegant evergreen, 60+ more “variations on a theme”—if you don’t live closer than a mile of a native stand!

Ceanothus—short-lived but very fast-growing and colorful; most evergreen.

(California’s two signature shrubs: as Erica and Protea are to South Africa.  As Banksia and Grevillea are to Australia.)

Some non-rosaceous “orchard tree” collectibles:

Morus spp. and cultivars.  One of the best for birds.

Ficus carica cultivars.  One of the best for birds.

Diospyros species and cultivars.  One of the best for birds.

Zizyphus species and cultivars.

Punica granatum cultivars.

Actinidia species and cultivars.

Castanea species and cultivars.

Olea cultivars.

The Mint Family (Lamiaceae) has a wealth of collectible genera, nearly all fragrant, most great bee-attractors and many excellent for hummingbirds also.  Most of the culinary herbs are in this family.  Some of the best are:

Rosmarinus officinalis cultivars (rosemary)

Salvia spp. (sage)

Thymus spp. and cultivars (thyme)

Origanum spp. and cultivars (oregano, marjoram, etc.)

Lavandula spp. and cultivars (lavender)


Southern Hemisphere shrubs and trees, many well-suited for the warmer parts of California, but only one (Grevillea) particularly good for our wildlife, and that mainly for hummingbirds (although they are crazy about it).

The other major genera are:

Banksia (like Grevillea, from Australia) and Protea (from South Africa)

Both have interesting bold shapes and outlandish, ornate flowers.  Grevillea is a large genus (___ spp.) with tubular flowers in warm colors, and leaves of every imaginable shape.


The other—and even more important—major Southern Hemisphere family with center of diversity in Australia.  A huge number of species, falling roughly into two groups:  a smaller group, with opposite leaves and fleshy, non-showy flowers and often edible fruit and the main group, with alternate leaves, showier flowers, and dry, woody capsules instead of soft frui.  Within the large alternate-leaf group, the major (and most collectible) genera are:

Eucalyptus—the king of dicots.  A huge genus of some ___ spp., including some really show species like E. ficifolius (a dense, round-headed tree with masses of flowers from white to pink to orange and scarlet to carmine); some delicate, open, airy, small trees with thin little leaves; and at the big end, the world’s tallest non-coniferous trees, E. regnans being the champion in this regard.  Obviously you need a bit of space for such a collection.  Like Acacia etc., the reputation of this genus is tainted by one or a few weedy “renegades”, in this case the ubiquitous Tasmanian blue gum, E. globulus.

Callistemon—great for hummers, and great nesting cover for many birds.


An assortment of others like Baeckia, Melaleuca, some of which are absolutely unbeatable as attractors of all sorts of native pollinator insects: bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies mainly.

The opposite-leaf, fruiting genera of the Myrtaceae could make a good subject for a collection as a whole, or could be broken down into several smaller, “specialty” collections.  These include:

Feijoa sellowiana (pineapple guava)—an attractive ornamental that produces not only one of my personal favorite fruits, but also has edible flowers.  A one-species collectible, with quite a number of admirable cultivars.

The true guavas (genus Psidium)—more tropical than Feijoa, but OK for warm parts of California.  P. guajava (tropical guava), P. cattleianum and lucidum (strawberry guavas, red and yellow).

The eugenias—Eugenia aggregata (cherry of the Rio Grande—tasty single red fruits), Eugenia uniflora (Pitanga or Surinam cherry), and many more tasty and interesting eugenias—at least 49 in all, including rose-apple (E. jambos), jambolan, pitomba (E. luschnathiana), clove (E. caryophyllata), and grumichama (E. dombeyana). 

A miscellaneous assortment of other genera and species, including Luma apiculata, Ugni molinae, Myrtus communis (the only European myrtle, fruit is bitter, scarcely edible), Syzygium spp. (the so-called “brush-cherries”), Acmena smithii (lilly-pilly tree), Myrciaria cauliflora (Jaboticaba, a choice shrub producing tasty concord-grape-like fruits on its trunk and branches).

Grasses [put near bamboo blurb?]—Always interesting , often beautiful, but a lot of work, often the plants are short-lived (and some are too “successful” and become noxious pests) and not, unlike the bamboos, usually making much visual impact, nor among the major wildlife attractions.  (All this seems a bit ironic, considering that grasses and their seeds feed most of the people—and most other large animals—on earth.  A major collection could be built from one single grass species—Zea mays.

Composites—(the sunflower or daisy family).  These and the Grass Family and the Pea Family and the Orchid Family (believe the latter or not) are four of the largest plant families on earth in terms of the number of species they contain.  The grasses and legumes provide most of the world’s food, the orchids and composites are grown mainly for ornament.  Most of the composites are herbs, although there are also quite a few shrubs and a handful of trees.  Wildlife values consist mainly of seeds for birds (sunflowers, thistle, safflower, etc.) and nectar for butterflies.  Among the two most collectible groups are dahlias and chrysanthemums, both very showy and delightful, but subject to the same difficulties as the grasses.

In “banana belt” areas, a lot of people have taken to growing a variety of borderline-tropical fruits.  Some collectible tropical fruiting plants include cultivars of citrus*, avocado, white sapote (Casimiroa edulis), black sapote (Diospyros digyna), macadamia, cherimoya, banana, guavas of several kinds and other myrtaceous fruits (see under Myrtaceae), lychee, various palm fruits (qv), passion fruit, tree-tomato (Cyphomandra), pepino dulce (Solanum muricatum), starfruit, papaya, various cacti; cerinam (Monstera deliciosa), even mango (in the most favored spots), and a host of lesser-known others. [Expand on some or all of these, especially large groups like Passiflora.]

This sort of gardening can be addictive (as any kind of collecting can), having the added challenge of beating the odds of climate, coming through those killer frosts by the skin of your teeth (or not), learning every trick of microclimate and how to squeeze every extra degree of warmth out of that weak winter sun.  At worst you learn just how much cold is one degree too much for each kind of plant to take.  I often look at all the giant new houses being built without so much as a solarium, and think how easy it would be to make the house just a little smaller (or even not) and add on a sunny enclosed courtyard instead, or better yet, a modest-but-adequate greenhouse attached to the south side, where the residents could grow their own supply of lychees and papayas and winter vegetables.  We could make our personal surroundings so much richer, more interesting and more comfortable by spending the same amount of money just a little more imaginatively.

Other tropical and subtropical collectibles:

Palms—including some edible ones:  Jubaea chilensis (coquito, wine palm) with its tiny, perfect little coconuts and massive gray pillar of a trunk; elegant Butia capitata (pindo or jelly palm) with arching gray fronds and giant clusters of orange “apricots”; Washingtonia and Sabal spp. and Brahea spp. (hardy fan palms with round black, more-or-less edible fruits if the summer is hot enough); Phoenix dactylifera (date) if the summer is super hot; possibly even coconut in the balmiest corners of southern California.  Many other genera and species can be grown here.

*Of all the subtropicals, the citrus fruits are in a class of their own in terms of sheer numbers, not only of cultivars but of species and hybrids.  Unlike most of the other well-known fruits, they comprise not just one species but a whole genus—or two genera if you include Fortunella (the kumquats).

Cacti—of the fruiting kinds, the easiest and most reliable are the genera Opuntia and Trichocereus.

The prickly pears (Opuntia ficus-indica, robusta, lanceolata), all big, bulky things that come in spiny or spineless forms (but beware—all opuntias have glochidia, those nasty, irritating, tiny, barbed prickles that look like a little tuft of fur in each areole on the pad and fruit).  The fruits are very juicy, rather blandly sweet but refreshing, and come in colors from whitish through yellow and orange and red to deep purple (my favorites are those with whitish, yellow, or orange pulp).  The young pads of prickly pears are also a big item in Mexican cuisine, although I think an acquired taste.  The genus Opuntia also contains the beautiful but vicious “cholla” cacti, such as jumping cholla, teddy-bear, pencil cholla, and many others.  These all differ from prickly pears in having cylindrical rather than flat pads.  Either form of Opuntia contains more than enough species to make a respectable collection in its own right, and nearly all of them have brightly colored flowers in spring.

Trichocereus is a big South American genus of mostly goldish-colored columnar cacti with huge white flowers that open at night.  The big, round, furry fruits split open when ripe to reveal a solid white rather watermelony refreshing pulp peppered through with tiny black softly-crunchy seeds for texture and protein.  Fruit flavor varies from OK to good, depending on the species.  The plants grow in clumps, from short and squatty to tall and sleder to very tall and fat (T. terschockii is the granddaddy).  A few are really spineless like the more-or-less hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus (T. pachanoi).  All are fairly cold hardy and can tolerate our wet winters.

If you live in better-than-marginal cactus country, be sure to try some of the really choice, delicious-fruited species, especially the various kinds of Lemairocereus and Hylocereus undatus (queen of the night), but also others like Myrtillocactus (with small, blueberry-like fruits), Machaerocereus, Acanthocereus, Helianthocereus, Cereus spp., Echinocereus spp. (rainbow or strawberry cacti), Espostoa, Escontica, even Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea).  Make sure to have at least two genetically different plants of each species so that the flowers will set fruit.  A great many other cacti, small and large, have edible fruits, and nearly all have beautiful flowers and often equally beautiful spination.

In Spanish, the larger cactus fruits are called pitayas or pitahayas.

A different sort of cactus altogether are the epiphytic “jungle cacti”, the two main genera of which are Rhipsalis and Epiphyllum, both eminently collectible, especially the latter.  The wild species epiphyllums are chastely white-flowered, but the many hybrid cultivars have huge, glowing flowers in every neon shade of red and magenta-purple.

Unfortunately, the fruits of the domestic forms hae a somewhat nauseating taste, putting them into the realm of the “strictly aesthetic” collectibles.  In fact, if you are not a true cactophile and your interests are practical, the only cactus that is productive enough to devote the necessary space to remains?? our old friend Opuntia ficus-indica.  Find a nice yellow or orange-fruited, disease-free plant, break off a pod, plant it and wait.

The following “succulents” are not technically cacti (they belong to the Lily Family, in fact), but they are each worth collecting and also have practical and/or wildlife values as well.

Yucca—American, ___ spp.  Banana-fruit of Y. baccata.  The fleshy white flower petals are good.  Asparagus-like shoot.

Agave—American, ___ spp.  Like yucca shoots, the newly emerging inflorescence stem is roasted.  Pulque and mescal are fermented from the sap, which is collected when new stem is cut out.  Hummers and orioles gorge on the overflowing nectar.  Needle and thread.

Aloe—South African.  From small clumps to succulent “trees” to 10 feet or more.  Tubular yellow, orange, or red flowers are favorites with hummingbirds, and some, like A. arborescens, bloom very early (January and February) when not many other hummer flowers are available.  Total ca. ____ spp.

Other South African specialties make good collectibles also, for example:

Kniphofia—various species and many cultivars.  Like the aloes, these have big spikes of tubular, yellow-to-red flowers almost throughout the year (season depending on species), and they are as well-loved by the hummers.

Iceplants—the ubiquitous and weedy, coarse Hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), the “freeway iceplant”, has given a bad name to a diverse and eye-popping assortment of succulent plants.  The many small-leaved iceplant species and color forms would make an interesting and blinding collection.  No other plants have such dazzling intensity; their many-colored flowers seem to glow by their own light.  Looking at a slope covered with iceplants in flower is like staring at the sun—it almost hurts.  Colors range from yellow and orange and red to various shades of pale to deep pink to magenta and purple.  Plants either grow in clumps or, like the purple Drosanthemum floribundum, spread rapidly to form a low groundcover.  The biggest genus (and one of the best) is Lampranthus, but there are several others, like Carpobrotus, Sceletium, Malephora, Mesembryanthemum, and Drosanthemum.  Unfortunately, wildlife value is almost nil, and the only edible-fruited species are in the genus Carpobrotus (C. chilense is much better than C. edulis despite the name; C. deliciosus sounds better too!).  A few related plants, like New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia expansa) are used in some places for rather dubious greens.

South Africa is also full of beautiful and interesting composites (daisy-like flowers, e.g. Gazania), and beautiful and interesting iridaceous bulbs (like Gladiolus, Sparaxis, Freesia?, Babiana, Crocosmia, Bobartia, Geissorhiza) all quite worth collecting and all short on non-aesthetic values.  Several species of Gladiolus and Zygotritonia crocea have edible corms.  Crocosmia aurea flowers are a substitute for saffron.

Helichrysum serpyllifolium (Hottentot tea)

Erica is a South African specialty, with ___ spp.  Not ideal collectible?  Need excellent drainage and look rather sparse and scraggly for many tastes.  Hummers? But little wildlife value otherwise, if any.

The genus Pelargonium is another major South African specialty, containing three collectible groups:

  1. the so-called “scented geraniums” (Pelargonium spp.)
  2. the so-called “geraniums” (also Pelargonium spp.)
  3. the so-called “pelargoniums” (also Pelargonium spp.)

One last, mainly tropical, hummingbird-friendly plant family well worth collecting, if only for its ornamental values, is the Bignonia family (not Begonia, which is nice also).  It includes a few hardy temperate species like Catalpa, Paulownia, Chilopsis, and Caryosis (trumpet vine), plus many less hardy but well-loved genera like Jacaranda, Distictis, Bignonia, Tecoma, Tabebuia, Pandorea, Clytostoma, and Macfadyena.

Other kinds of plant collections cut across taxonomic boundaries.  “Theme gardens” are endless in their possibilities.

Fall-color “woodlands”

Bird and/or butterfly gardens

Color-theme gardens, e.g. white gardens, blue gardens, etc.

“Regional” gardens, e.g. “native”, Mediterranean, desert, Japanese, tropical, Australian, South African, alpine, etc.

Low-maintenance or drought-tolerant gardens

“Found” gardens (this is as “clean” and environmentally flawless as it gets) created by simply tidying up the natural, native shrubby or woodland vegetation surrounding your house—if you live in such a place. [Devote a chapter to this.]

“Edible gardens”, including “rare-fruit” and subtropical fruit collections as well as the standard orchard fruit and nut trees, and/or annual vegetable gardens.

Shade gardens

Herb gardens

Scent gardens