I went to a garden shop recently just to browse. I wanted to see some plants that were not heat- and drought-stressed. I didn’t intend to buy anything.
As I walked by the succulent area, I saw a plant I hadn’t seen before. It had short, chunky, wedge-shaped leaves that were wavy at the ends. These undulations are what caught my eye. They made the plant stand out from its typical succulent neighbors.
It was the standard succulent gray-green color. I teetered back and forth in my mind, trying to decide whether to buy it. On the one hand, adromischus cristatus had those wavy tips and it would use very little water. On the other hand, did I really want another succulent? Back to the first hand, I did have a nice spot for it in a shallow, partially filled planter at home.
Then my eyes drifted farther down on the plant label . . . also known as the key lime pie plant. That did it: Key lime pie is my favorite dessert. The plant went into the shopping cart, in fact I got two of them. The plant is also known as the crinkle leaf plant, but I like key lime pie plant much better as a name. Those undulations at the tips of the leaves did remind me of a crimped pie crust.
The plant comes from Cape Town, South Africa, and is a member of the crassulaceae family. The experts disagree on its lighting requirements – some call for full sun, while others say filtered light. It will only get to be 3 inches high and will grow in a rosette form. It has white tubular flowers with red markings.
This experience led me to think about how much of a role marketing plays in my plant purchases. Just like any other marketplace, I think plant breeders and sellers are well aware that a catchy name or gimmick will increase sales. Call a small tangerine a “cutie” and stress that it is a perfect size for a child’s hand: a brilliant marketing campaign. Sell tomatoes still attached to the vine to make the purchaser feel closer to the natural growing process: Marketing genius. One can also spend hours perusing an iris catalog with all the clever varietal names – “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Bewildebeast” or “Batik.”
I will admit to growing at my house a “tequila sunrise” calibrachoa, which has a lovely peach and rose coloration. I have a fiery red and yellow canna with the variety name of “Lucifer.” I also love the common name for centranthus ruber, which is Jupiter’s Beard. The names are all part of the attraction, along with the physical attributes of the plant. It just adds another element of enjoyment.
However, as much as I enjoy a varietal or common name, I will still assess the appropriateness of the plant for the particular climate or soil conditions that I have and the role I need the plant to play in my landscape.
If the plant doesn’t meet those criteria, then I won’t get it. It’s as simple as that.
Karen Metz is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.