UACES Facebook Succulent craze

Plant of the Week: Succulent craze

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Each week since 1997, Dr. Gerald Klingaman has offered readers a unique window as he chronicles of the social history of plants.

"What always interested me was the background of the plants and how they got there and the people involved in bringing them forward," he said.

Klingaman, a retired extension horticulturist who is now operations director for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, Arkansas, has created is a library of hundreds of plant histories that run in newspapers across the state and have become a favorite of gardeners in Arkansas and beyond. We hope you'll enjoy our extensive archive of his works and return each week to see what's new. 

Plant of the Week: Succulent Craze
 

Succulents are hot and trendy. Every time I see one, I think of that Barbara Mandrell song that goes “I was country when country wasn’t cool.” On my first meeting with a succulent collection back in the mid 1960’s, I was hooked and have remained so to this day. Now the world is catching up and the newest generation of gardeners – the millennials – are embracing succulents as their interface with nature.

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SUCCULENT CRAZE -- Succulents in their many and varied forms are hot items amongst the newest generation of gardeners.
Photo by Gerald Klingaman

Succulents represent an array of beautifully bizarre plants that typically hale from dry places and store extra moisture in their fleshy tissue. Succulent, drought resistant plants are found in at least 25 plant families. Cacti are technically succulents, but the current succulent craze has mostly passed by plants with thorny stems such as cacti and the tree like Euphorbias from Africa, instead focusing on succulent-leaved plants such as the Aloes, the Agaves, the Echeveria and a number of other smaller, fleshy plants.

Many succulents have showy flowers, but flowers are not the main attraction. With succulents it is all about the foliage and the form of the plant. Most plants have a sculped look about them that reminds one of modern architecture and sparkling jewels, not the rounded edges and misty ethereal feel of a Thomas Kinkade painting.

Succulents have been grown for centuries but mostly ignored by mainstream gardeners who were after a more flowery look. But that seems to be changing as a new generation of gardeners born between about 1985 and 2000 and popularly called the millennials, picks up a trowel and starts playing in the dirt. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying a trend, let us look at some of the reasons for the increased appreciation of succulents amongst this group.

Millennials are a part of the connected generation that came into adulthood about the time the economy collapsed in 2007. Many put on hold the things previous generations considered a rite of passage – marriage, home ownership and sometimes even a car – while they hunkered down and waited for the storm to pass. Many embraced the grow-your-own-food movement, bicycles, tiny homes and stripped-down lifestyles.

But time marches on, conditions improved and the millennials started their own, somewhat delayed and slightly modified, pursuit of the American Dream. The stripped down, easy to care for nature of succulents made them a good fit for millennial gardeners who valued ease over effort.

Because they are a plugged in, linked up generation they were at home with Facebook and Instagram where sites like @succulove or @succulentcity displayed the trendy glamor of these easy to care for plants. A 2015 survey found that five of the six million gardeners who took up a plant related hobby that year were millennials. In 2016 Amazon began offering succulents as a part of their bottomless chain of supply.

Succulents – especially aloes – began catching on in California as landscape plants in the 1990’s as a good mirror of trending modernistic architectural styles. With the severe droughts that plagued the state in the first decade of the new century and the passage of tight water use regulations in 2011, succulents made even more sense. Between 2012 and 2017, succulents enjoyed an almost two thirds increase in sales. In 2014 the USDA added a data line for their agricultural census report that reflected the increased significance of cacti and succulents as a commodity.

The succulent craze is a worldwide phenomenon and just this year several busts have been made in Norther California where unscrupulous plant collectors have dug succulent Dudleya species from the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean and attempted to ship them to Korea and China where they sell for high prices.

For more information about horticulture or to see other Plant of the Week columns, visit Extension’s Website, www.uaex.edu, or contact your county extension agent. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture. 
 
By: Gerald Klingaman, Retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - May 11, 2018