Succulent plants are able to store water in their fleshy leaves or stems and are therefore able to survive in arid conditions. Given Bermuda’s climate, no wonder they have become an important part of our island’s landscape. Of course, they are particularly appreciated in our hotter months when rainfall typically drops and water conservation is an issue. There are innumerable varieties of these virtually indestructible plants. Here are some that grow well anywhere in Bermuda, provided they’re not overwatered. Most are salt tolerant.

Did you know?
“Succulent” is derived from the Latin sucus for sap or juice.

Aloe (vera or barbadensis)
Many varieties of aloe flourish all over Bermuda because on the whole they tolerate salt, thus thriving in coastal areas. But aloe vera, otherwise known as true aloe or Barbados aloe, has the most history as it has long been valued for its medicinal properties. Aloe gel has been used as a topical medication for skin problems, such as burns, wounds and psoriasis. Indeed, during the early nineteenth century John Walker, who built Wistowe in Flatts Inlet, cut a canal to make use of the tidal race in and out of Harrington Sound for powering a gristmill to grind aloe. He exported the juice to North America for soldiers during the war of 1812 because it was thought to prevent gangrene.

True aloe has grey-green serrated leaves and grows one to three feet tall, six-inches to one-foot wide. Mature plants produce spikes of yellow flowers during late spring to early summer. They are an ideal addition to rock gardens but also grow well in pots.

Krantz Aloe (arborescens)
Krantz aloe’s Latin name means “treelike,” an accurate description since it can grow to the height of a nine-foot tree. “Krantz” is accurate, too, since this South African word means “cliff” or “rocky ridge” where these aloes often like to live. Other names include candelabra aloe, torch aloe and mountain bush aloe. Like its cousin, true aloe, it also has medicinal properties. Its leaves are green with a hint of blue. It offers bright colour to the garden during the winter when its red-orange flowers bloom like candle flames, attracting birds, bees and butterflies.

Tips for Growing Aloes

  • Plant in well-drained sandy soil and cover only the roots.
  • Propagate from suckers or pups during the spring.
  • Do not water in winter. Water in summer but let soil dry between waterings. Avoid overwatering as too much moisture can rot the plants.
  • Note: Leaves are toxic to humans and animals.

Did you know?
“Aloe” is from the Greek word meaning “sea” or “salt.”

Succulent Bush Senecio (Senecio barbertonicus)
Also known as lemon bean bush, this low maintenance species is perfect for a rock garden but also thrives in pots. Native to South Africa, it is named after the South African town Barberton. Its scientific name senecio derives from the Latin senex for “old man.” With light green to olive green, cylindrical leaves resembling fingers, it has branched stems and can grow into a small tree over six feet tall if grown outdoors. It flowers in winter; its small, tufted yellow flowers producing seeds covered in grey hairs (thus, perhaps the name “senecio”).

Tips

  • Plant in sandy soil in an area receiving at least six hours of full sun.
  • Water only when the soil is completely dry.
  • Propagate from cuttings in spring for best results.
  • Succulent bush leaves are toxic to humans and animals.

Jade (Crassula ovata)
Jade grown as a house plant is a favourite for those influenced by the principles of Feng Shui. They believe jade brings good fortune and luck into the home and so it has also been dubbed money plant, dollar plant and lucky plant. However, jade is a good name because of the colour of its thick, glossy, green oval leaves, which eventually develop a red tint around their borders. Outdoors, in a container or pot, its bonsai-like appearance is perfect for a zen garden in a small space. Older plants definitely resemble small trees, thanks to their thickened trunks. In the ground they can grow from three to six feet.

Tips

  • Plant in sandy, well-drained soil in full sun.
  • Water only when the soil is completely dry.
  • Propagate either from a leaf, including its stem, or from 2- to 3-inch-long cuttings taken from mature plants. Water very sparingly.

Ice Plant (Carpobrotus chilensis)
Why does a succulent thriving in a hot environment have such a cold common name?  Apparently, some species’ leaves acquire a frosted appearance when they discharge crystals. Ice plant, also known as Chilean sea fig, is a popular ground cover in Bermuda because it grows quickly, needs little water and produces very attractive mauve-pink flowers. It can cascade over walls but is also a welcome addition to borders in gardens. Plant in full sun and, as with most succulents, do not overwater.

Redbird Cactus (Pedilanthus tithymaloides or Euphorbia tithymaloides)

This succulent is appealing for its bright red (though sometimes green or white) leaf bracts rather than flowers. The bracts are shaped like slippers—thus the alternative name, slipper plant. In fact, they have inspired many other names, including Christmas candle, fiddle flower and zigzag plant, the last name inspired by its crooked stems.

Tips

  • Plant in rich, well-drained slightly acidic soil in a bright location in indirect sun.
  • Fertilise every month to increase tolerance to salt.
  • Water regularly.
  • Juice in leaves is toxic to humans and animals.

Portulaca (grandiflora)
Otherwise known as moss rose, portulaca is a much appreciated annual in Bermuda from June through October since it blooms profusely when other annuals wilt in the heat. Whether planted in hanging baskets, pots or in borders, its double-petalled flowers in yellows, oranges, mauves, pinks and reds give vibrant colour to patios and gardens.

Tips

  • Portulaca likes lots of sun and little water.
  • Flowers close at night and on cloudy days.
  • Deadheading increases blossoms.
  • Honeybees love portulaca.
  • All plant parts are toxic to dogs and cats.