Fat Plants from Madagascar, Mexico & Africa

Fat Plants from Madagascar, Mexico & Africa

Part of Ep. 1904 Around the World in Wisconsin

Learn about a unique and strange looking group of plants called Fat Plants.  Many of them hail from Madagascar, Africa and Mexico.  Some look like they came from outer space!

Premiere date: Jun 29, 2011

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:
I’ve always wanted to combine my two favorite loves, science fiction and gardening.  Well, I’ve gotten my chance.  I’d like to introduce my new friend from outer space.  This is the fat plant.   I’m with Dan Mahr, entomologist and collector of extraordinary plants. 

Dan Mahr:
Hi, Shelley. 

Shelley Ryan:
Hi.  You have some really strange looking plants in your collection, Dan. 

Dan Mahr:
Yes, I’ll take that as a compliment. 
Shelley Ryan:
Okay. 

Dan Mahr:
Fat plants are really popular now amongst collectors of succulent plants. 

Shelley Ryan:
That’s what these are?  Fat plants?  F-A-T. 

Dan Mahr:
We just call them fat plants because they’re fat. 

Shelley Ryan:
Doesn’t it hurt their feelings? 

Dan Mahr:
No, I think they’re smiling.  Fat plants are plants - these are all desert plants.  They’re all succulent plants.  The succulents come in the base, in the stem.  And that’s where they store their water during wet periods, so that they can use that water during the dry periods.  And usually that’s in the base of the stem, or the trunk area. 

Shelley Ryan:
Or this bulbous thing right here. 

Dan Mahr:
That’s right. 

Shelley Ryan:
So, what am I holding? 

Dan Mahr:
What you’re holding is a Mexican species.  It has no common name.  The scientific name is Pseudobombax.  It’s just beginning to leaf out and so this will have typical leaves on in another couple of weeks. 

Shelley Ryan:
He is very cool.  I think I’m going to adopt.  So, none of these can come out until after the last frost? 

Dan Mahr:
That’s right.  These are all very frost tender.  In fact, they don’t like temperatures much below about 50 degrees. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay, whereas I don’t like temperatures much above, but that’s another story.  So, tell me about the one you’ve got. 

Dan Mahr:
This is actually another Mexican species.  This is a fig, a Ficus. 

Shelley Ryan:
Oh, okay. 

Dan Mahr:
People grow Ficus as houseplants.  This is a different species.  It’s called a Mexican rock fig.  It grows in rocky areas or well drained soil. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay. 

Dan Mahr:
When they’re young in particular, they store water in their trunks to get them through the dry periods.  Many of these types of plants naturally grow in rocky areas, and so they kind of grow as natural bonsai.  We kind of do that in cultivation as well.  If we keep them a bit pot bound and do kind of bonsai-like techniques with them, we can keep them small and we can keep them more interesting, keep the base nice and fat on them. 

:
Well, and easier to fit in the house cause if it turns into a tree, you got a problem. 

Dan Mahr:
Absolutely.  That’s right. 

Shelley Ryan:
So, all of this is completely natural to this ficus? 

Dan Mahr:
That’s right. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay, well then, what about this one?  I assume they don’t all flower, but this one is. 

Dan Mahr:
Yes, this is flowering right now in May.  It’s actually been flowering for probably about two months, on and off. 

Shelley Ryan:
Beautiful. 

Dan Mahr:
This plant is from Madagascar.  It’s in a genus of plants that we call Pachypodiums.  Pachy means thick.  Pachyderm, the elephant, means thick skinned. 

:
That’s what I was thinking. 

Dan Mahr:
Pachypodium means thick foot. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay. 

Dan Mahr:
The thick foot refers to the fat base on them. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay.  Is this a young plant or an old plant? 

Dan Mahr:
This plant is about 25 years old from seed. 

Shelley Ryan:
Wow. 

Dan Mahr:
This is another Pachypodium.  This one is about 30 years old from seed. 

Shelley Ryan:
I love the gray bark on this. 

Dan Mahr:
It’s a different species.  This one has yellow flowers.  In fact, this one is done blooming.  It’s bloomed earlier, in late winter or early spring.  But it will put out another flush of flowers in the summertime, as well.  So this will have yellow flowers on it through much of the summer months. 

Shelley Ryan:
Something like this has just got such architectural interest.  It’s fascinating. 

Dan Mahr:
Yes, that’s why people are interested in these, because they have such strange shapes to them. 

Shelley Ryan:
They’re a showpiece.  What about that strange one next to you.  That’s still a fat plant? 

Dan Mahr:
This is still a fat plant.  Again, a totally different family.  This is in the grape family. 

Shelley Ryan:
Really? 

Dan Mahr:
This is from Southern Africa.  It’s in flower right now.  If you were to look at it, you’d see that the little tiny flowers look like grape flowers.  And the insects will pollinate this, and it will get little purple fruit on them that look like grapes. 

Shelley Ryan:
Can  I eat it? 

Dan Mahr:
No. 

Shelley Ryan:
Oh, okay. 

Dan Mahr:
Totally inedible.  But it shows that it is related to grapes. 

Shelley Ryan:
Related to grapes, okay.  This one to me looks like it’s related to some of those maples with the beautiful exfoliating bark. 

Dan Mahr:
The bark characteristic is similar, but totally unrelated to maples. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay. 

Dan Mahr:
This is actually related to frankincense and myrrh. 

Shelley Ryan:
Oh, wow. 

Dan Mahr:
Frankincense and myrrh are from  plants from the Old World.  This is the New World equivalent.  These are in the genus Bursera.  We have different species of Bursera extending from the Southern United States, all the way down into Northern South America.  And just like the frankincense plants that have the fragrant resin, these plants have a fragrant resin as well.  In fact, the local people do use it as incense. 
Shelley Ryan:
Okay, well this is also a good spot.  What are these things grown in?  What should a fat plant be
grown in? 

Dan Mahr:
What you have there is actually my soil mix, which is a very, very loose, rocky soil mix.  Again, these are succulent plants.  They do not like to have wet roots. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay. 

Dan Mahr:
They like to have well drained soil.  And so a lot of drainage material, a little bit of conventional potting soil is fine in it, as well. 

Shelley Ryan:
Just a little bit, okay. 

Dan Mahr:
These plants also like bright sunlight.  They don’t mind rainfall.  They like to be watered during the summertime, which is their growing season. 

Shelley Ryan:
As long as it passes though. 

Dan Mahr:
As long as the water passes through quickly. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay, so full sun, lots of water, but not sitting in the water. 

Dan Mahr:
Not sitting in the water. 

Shelley Ryan:
And the first sign of frost, they come in the house to bright windows. 

Dan Mahr:
That’s right.  Any bright room is a good place for them.  Many of these are leafing out now.  They’re totally leafless during the winter time, so you don’t have to worry about an awful lot of
light. 

Shelley Ryan:
But it’s fun to have lots of things to look at when our growing season is over. 

Dan Mahr:
That’s right. 

Shelley Ryan:
If I’m bringing these in at the first sign of frost, I should ask, Dan, how many are you bringing in? 

Dan Mahr:
More than you want to know. 

Shelley Ryan:
So you have a problem here! 

Dan Mahr:
That’s right. 

Shelley Ryan:
So, I can start out small, I think. 

Dan Mahr:
You can start out small, small in numbers.  There’s a lot of different types to choose from.  We’ve only scratched the surface here.  These are available through specialty succulent nurseries, and you can get young seedlings of these. 

Shelley Ryan:
So small in size, too. 

Dan Mahr:
You can start small in size, even grown them as windowsill plants. 

Shelley Ryan:
Okay, and we’ll have more information on our website.  Thanks, Dan. 

Dan Mahr:
Sure, Shelley. 

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