Ok, so I know everyone likes plants. But plant people…people who are really into plants, and think about them a lot…they are kinda weird. There are a few things plant people do that separate them from mere enthusiasts. They might be guilty of taking cabinets intended for dishes, and instead force bulbs or grow mushrooms in them. They overwinter large specimen, frost tender plants in their living rooms. They spend an obscene percentage of their income on plants, and decide not to have a car because cars take up too much money that they COULD spend on plants. These are the kinds of people that often get into collecting caudiciforms.
There are a few traits that qualify a caudiciform, but let’s just say right off the bat: they are weird plants. They often look like bodies. They generally have a fat base, like a perennial swollen caudex, bulb, stem, rhizome or other sort of succulent base. They often, but not always, are arid-land plants. They are great for people who grow bonsai because they accomplish an aged look rather fast. The caudiciform lover is comparable to the enthusiast for big juicy butts, though in all honesty, who doesn’t love a big, well-formed butt?
The grouping “caudiciform” is not strict when used amongst enthusiasts. But there are 4 basic categories of this group:
Phanerophytes are those plants that have an above-ground caudex and a growing center substantially (25cm or more) raised above the soil level. These can also be huge trees, like the famous baobob trees of Africa.
Chamaephytes are plants with above-ground caudices but in which the growing centers are significantly closer to the ground. Both phanerophytes and chamaephytes can be planted naturally, without any un-earthing.
Hemicryptophytes are caudiciform plants with a below-ground caudex, but the growing center is above ground.
Geophytes are plants that have both the caudex and the growing center underground, or as the name denotes, emerging from between rocks or cracks in rocks. Both geophytes and hemicryptophytes need to be raised up above the soil like. This also makes them a bit more work (though it’s not hard) for the horticulturist that wants to show off the gorgeous base.
Growing instructions vary from species to species because caudiciforms comprise a huge group of unrelated plants. Pay attention to growing season of each species you take on as a specimen: some are cool season growers and some are warm season growers. If you water these guys too much when they are dormant, they can be prone to rotting. Some drop their foliage (even some with succulent foliage) and can make you think they are getting sick, when they are just merely going to sleep.
Most of them want well drained soil, and a nice top dressing of rock. Most of these species can live as long as you do, or even longer if taken care of. Almost all of them are, to some degree, frost tender. Luckily, the winter-dormant plants can be stored indoors easily during the cold times since they aren’t requiring a lot of light when not growing. You will have to be creative with the winter-active, summer dormant plants. However, with many, it’s just a matter of bringing the plants in for the evening on the cold days.
Warning, these plants are addictive. Once you start collecting them, you may find yourself in trouble…financial trouble. It is best to get your significant other into growing them too, or you could end up in a break up. You think I am kidding? I literally know people who went into divorce because their spouses could not take the plant-growing habit. But hey, if your significant other doesn’t get it, then good riddance. Who needs someone like that anyway? Let them go find some asshole who likes to collect cars instead.
There are many nurseries in Tucson where you can find these guys. In fact, we happen to live amongst some of the best growers of such plants in the world. Local nurseries that carry such plants include Plants For The Southwest also called Living Stones Nursery on 50 East Blacklidge Drive, Bach’s Cactus Nursery 8602 North Thornydale Road, B & B Cactus Nursery and my personal favorite, Arid Lands Greenhouses 3560 West Bilby Road. Arid Lands has, perhaps, the best selection of caudiciforms. All these local nurseries are a wealth of knowledge. The people who run them and many who work at them are lifetime plant freaks who have lots of experience and are almost always more than willing to share that knowledge. Many caudiciforms are easy to grow but some are difficult, and if you really want to figure out how, utilize this resource. We are lucky to live in a town with so many world-renown growers.
I also suggest getting to know other freaks who love to grow such plants. One way to meet such freaks is by joining the Cactus and Succulent Society of Tucson and going to monthly meetings. There is a subgroup of this group, the super-plant-freaks, called the Xerophyte Study Group. This groups meets sporadically and discusses the cultivation and taxonomy of such plants as discussed in this article.