Mount Lemmon, with an elevation of 9000 feet, is stuated in the Santa Catalina Mountains. It is located in the Coronado Natural Forest, north of Tucson, Arizona. To get to the the Agaves you can drive some of the way to a base point, and once parked there is a very obvious trail to follow up the mountain side. Following a circuitous trail for an hour you should have your first glimpse of the Agave parryi species at around 7000 feet, delicately perched on ridges, and encircled often by oversized rocks. There weren’t many of them, but more than enough to make the journey worthwhile.
Mount Lemmon was named for the botanist Sara Plummer Lemmon who trekked to the top of the mountain with her husband. In the winter there is a Mount Lemmon Ski Valley on the northeastern side, which receives around 200 inches of snow.
For some, Aloes are far away plants, and that means southern Africa. For others, aloes mean Aloe Vera, the most popular aloe plant around the world. For me, aloes are plants I grow, and plants which offer me a gateway to understanding a significant species collection of our succulent family.
The title is the name of a video which I have on YouTube, but for the purpose of this blog I will offer a different justification for my chosen ten. Obviously, like most plants, aloes come in many sizes and although most species will be selected for their aesthetic considerations, there are other limitations to what we all can manage. I shall split my collection into three groups based on size, from petite to large, and that should allow any specie newcomers a very different vantage point from which to start.
You may be asking what is a small aloe. To me, in this particular survey, any plant where the main stems are below one foot as in A sinkatana, A bellatula, and the numeous diminutive hybrid aloes which are gaining in popularity. Of course, I exclude the flower spikes which can be quite arbitrary, and sometimes much longer than the actual stems. The large aloes are the tree aloes, as in A trashkii, A marlothii and A excelsa, which usually grow above five foot tall and which are perfect specimens in any landscape setting. I deliberately avoided naming the center group preferring to fit four species in between the small group and the large tree specimens. Not surprisingly, there are lots to choose from, and my aim is to avoid popular names.
Are Aloes worth growing? Definitely yes, and I would add they present you with an incredible choice. In fact seeking out new plants to grow offer you an education, as you will find lots of uncommon species readily available. Even if you are are unsatisfied with what comes up, you may also go the longer route by growing from seeds. Either way, the experience earned is truly rewarding.
SMALL ALOES Aloe bellatula Aloe sinkatana Aloe cv ‘Christmas Carol’
LARGE ALOES: Aloe speciosa Aloe marlothii Aloe barberae
Now that you have seen my final ten, I should offer that even in a temperate London climate, I am able to grow all of these. Of course you have to be selective at the start, but I will place a lot of emphasis on the right soil and genuine protection from the weather elements. If you choose to winter your plants outdoors you will need a kind of greenhouse protection, but a practical alternative is to do like me and move them to a cool basement with a few fluorescent bulbs. And that works adequately for what I need.
The Aripo Valley is like a guardian of the northern range in Trinidad, and in many ways is a significant stop on your way to the main mountain peak, El Cerro del Aripo. Any time I visit the island, I make an effort to do some exploration within the area. These photos demonstrate my love affair with nature especially as described in these tropical habitats.
Trees are always fascinating, and become much more so when you encounter and experience the intricate going ons of the tropical jungle. Lianas which are very prevalent are more than a curious surprise. Trying to work out where vines start or end is quite difficult. Also interesting, at this level, is the way most other plants manage to survive without being intimidated by the numerous vines.
The ginger flowers and heliconias are always conspicuous in this setting, as the climate and humidity makes it easy for them to flourish. It is not a valley that orchids and bromeliads show off their bloom in great abundance, but the species are there to be observed. Of course, the birds are everywhere, and without compromise make their music for us to hear. Sometimes I feel ashamed that I am not able to identify the species as they flutter around. But, I do know the humming birds, and that’s a start. Below, two photos from the Asa Wright Centre, which is great introduction to the Aripo Valley.
Sometimes the elements get the better of us. It is almost the start of March, and I am returning from my Brazilian holiday, and literally flew into a snowstorm. London was very cold, and I was absolutely unprepared for this extreme kind of weather. At Miami Airport where I usually make the connection, I had inadvertently left my only coat which would have insulated me somewhat, from the freezing weather. I decided to tough it out, and avoided committing myself to any quick or hasty purchase to solve the situation. Somehow I managed to make my way home in spite of the many stated delays of the usually reasonable London Underground, as the snow pelted down around me.
Once inside, there was the usual chaos, and placing my case to one side, I headed to open the back door, to survey the damage. Unusually for London the snow was building, my two greenhouses appeared fine, but all the transient plants which were haphazardly placed close to the house for protection were enveloped with snow. Normally, there would be a corrugated plastic covering to prevent any real damage, but today most of it had been blown away by the wind.
You must appreciate that I am a plant lover, and also a plant seller; and it is very important to prevent further damage as the weather prediction had offered minus five Centigrade by evening time. Some quick action was needed to avoid total destruction as far as the outdoor collection is concerned. Yet the snow kept falling. A quick investigation of my greenhouse confirmed that I was right, and that most of the plants inside were in a good order. Surveying the freeze outside, and noting the frozen tap, it was the group that were outdoors that posed the problem. Using layers of plastic bubble I tried to add extra cover on some of the plants to prevent further damage from evening lows, even though I fared the worst.
Preparing for winter is not a very easy task for us plant lovers, and it often takes a certain degree of subtlety, as you want to avoid dragging all your specimens in a dark basement in the middle of October. At the same time, you also have to utilize as much of the good weather that is possible and that is the reason we always take a few risks. Also, timing is very important, as on numerous occasions, you may fail because of this. To put it bluntly sometimes you are ill-prepared when it is absolutely necessary to be on focus, or simply be present. This is one of these occasions, and the photos say it all. Of course, later after the thaw, I will insist on new arrangements in place which must prevent the same things happening again. But it does not always work, as nature has a way of subverting life when you least expect it.