In our summer months, we appreciate our cacti and succulent plants for their resistance to drought and for their easy care. Here are some species that do well in Bermuda and can add interest to rock gardens in particular.

  • Spanish Bayonet (Yucca aloifolia)
  • This succulent is very common in Bermuda, especially in coastal habitats. Its green, sword-like leaves are especially attractive in the evening as the sun goes down and they retreat into spiky silhouette. Come late June, July, its oval spikes of white flower bells, tinged with mauve, are spectacular. At night they can glow in the dark. If you have security issues, a hedge of Spanish bayonet offers effective protection against intruders. In 1829, visitor Susette Harriet Lloyd noticed a fence formed from it in Somerset.
  • Tips
  • To propagate cut off the growing tops of stems, and plant.
  • Plant in any location with full sun. Spanish bayonet likes very sandy soil.
  • In the summer, water every fortnight during periods of drought. Overwatering can turn the leaves yellow.
  • Did you know?
  • Spanish bayonets can only be fertilised by the female yucca moth (Pronuba yuccasella), which uses the plant to feed her young. During the evening, she collects pollen from the plant’s anthers and makes a ball. Carrying it as she climbs onto the pistil of another flower, she deposits it onto the new flower’s stigma while releasing her eggs into the blossom. When the eggs hatch, they eat seeds from the pod, and falling to the ground, spin a cocoon and eventually become an adult moth.
  • Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii splendens)
  • Native to Madagascar, this succulent shrub is also called Christ plant or Christ thorn. Legend associates it with the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion. It does carry large thorns and also red bracts said to symbolise Christ’s blood. Outdoors, it can grow up to six feet tall.
  • Tips
  • Wear gloves when handling plants to protect hands from sharp thorns and sap.
  • Propagate by cutting tips. Dip each cutting into warm water, letting it sit for a couple of minutes before removing it. Lay cuttings out to dry for a few days before planting. Plant in a location with full sun.
  • Water regularly, especially in drought. Allow the plant to dry out between waterings. Do not over-water or the roots will rot.
  • Fertilise three times a year during spring, summer and fall. Supplement with bone meal to promote more flowering.
  • Warning
  • The sap is a skin irritant, and all parts of the plant are toxic to pets.
  • Century Plant (Agave americana)
  • This agave species was dubbed a “century” plant because people mistakenly thought it takes a hundred years to bloom. While it’s true that in colder climates than ours it can take over forty years to flower, in Bermuda it can take as few as eight years. After flowering, it lives for up to five years, then dies. But it produces seedlings at its base which become new plants. It’s unknown exactly how long it has been on the island though Susette Harriet Lloyd certainly saw it here in 1829, giving a detailed description of it in Sketches of Bermuda.  According to her, Bermudians “by an unaccountable perversion” called it “a bamboo, to which it has not the slightest resemblance.” A tall, striking plant, like the Spanish bayonet, it can also act as a protective hedge because of its prickles and spines.
  • Tips
  • Detach seedlings and pot them in a mixture of sandy loam and well-drained soil.
  • Water sparingly. Allow potting mixture to dry between waterings to avoid root rot.
  • When well rooted, plant in a location with full sun.
  • Did you know?
  • -“Agave” derives from the Greek word agauos, meaning “illustrious” or “noble.”
  • -Hummingbirds are attracted to the century plant.
  • -Bermudians once used fibre from the plant to make fishing lines and rope.
  • -In Mexico the sap is fermented to produce an alcoholic drink called pulque, which in turn can be distilled to produce the more potent mescal.
  • Cochineal Plant (Opuntia cochenillifera)
  • In his journal of 1630, Richard Norwood, Bermuda’s first surveyor, wrote of the cochineal plant’s commercial possibilities in Bermuda since the cactus hosts an insect which when crushed makes a brilliant red dye. Native to Mexico and Central America, where it contributed significantly to the economy, it has reddish flowers and fruit. He noted its similarities with our prickly pear. It’s often found in old Bermuda walled gardens.
  • Tips
  • Propagate from seed or cuttings.
  • Plant in well-drained soil and a sunny location.
  • Did you know?
  • -The red jackets of British soldiers were dyed with cochineal.
  • -Michelangelo used cochineal dye in his palette.
  • -It takes about 70,000 cochineal scale insects to make a pound of dye.