ISSUE 97  |  Love Letter to the Houseplant

Obsessing Over Fat Plants

November 12, 2013 6:00 PM

BY Lindsey Taylor

Caudiciforms or fat plants, as they are also known, have been an obsession of mine since I was introduced to them in the late ’90s by a great gardener, Margaret Roach. I’ve had a few and killed a few, but I’ll always have at least one in my mix of houseplants. They’re basically a group of plants with a stem, trunk, or succulent root (more technically a caudex) that grows above the ground and is used for food and water storage, allowing these plants to go without both for some time (but not forever). There are so many plants in the category of a caudiciform it would be hard to name them all.

There is, for example, the tree form, including the intriguing baobab tree; vines; and even some pelargoniums, euphorbias, and of course cycads and succulents. My friend and nurseryman Dennis Schrader has an impressive collection (not for sale) so I went to his greenhouses, Landcraft Environments in Mattituck, Long Island, to shoot some of his favorites.

Photographs by José Picayo.

Above: Bowea volubilis; available for $4.95 from Fat-Plants.

Dennis shared a few care tips and sources for these odd and wonderful plants, which by the way are a bit costly–so learn as much as you can before you invest. Some are easier then others to grow. But as he says, “They make great houseplants on the most part. They like the same conditions as people, and if you forget to water it’s not instant death. They are living sculptures and add a bit of the curio to one’s plant collection.”

Above: Boophane disticha; available at The Jurassic Garden starting at $14.95.

Most are desert dwellers and want you to mimic those conditions for them indoors, so in Dennis’ expert words, “Water during their active growing time and then allow a dry period when they start to go dormant; this could last a few months. They enjoy full sun and warmer days with cooler nights. Keep them away from cold drafts. If you are pondering whether to water them or not, the answer should be no.”

Above: Ibervillea tenuisecta; a 7-pound bulb is available for $119 from Fat-Plants.

Above:  Cyphostemma currori (the tall one on the far left) is a rare caudiciform and tricky to find for sale; check back on eBay for upcoming sales. On the far right: Pachypodium, available for $24.99 from Cactus By Lin via eBay. In the middle: Stephania pierrei, available for $28 from Thailand Plant via eBay. The little one: Euphorbia francoisii, available for $65.14 from Cactus Plaza.

Above: Jatropha podagrica: For a the brave gardener, a packet of Jatropha podagrica Seeds is available for $4 from Onalee’s Seeds.

Just getting around to embracing the houseplant? Why not start with The New “It” Houseplant?

Need a primer on houseplant history? See 5 Houseplants That Changed History.