Friday, May 24, 2024

A visit to Huntington Gardens (Part 2, the Desert Garden)

My friend and I had only about three hours for our visit to the the Huntington Gardens last weekend so we focused on three areas, the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, which were covered in my last post, and the Desert Garden.  This post addresses the latter garden.

Leaving the Chinese Garden, we looped back past the Japanese Garden and the Rose Garden and wended our way through a pathway edging the Sub-tropical and Jungle Gardens.  We didn't linger but I snapped a couple of photos as we sped by.

Although in a relatively open area, I'm guessing this was part of the Jungle Garden.  I'm also guessing that the spectacular plant in the middle of the display is a giant philodendron of some kind, possibly a member of the Thaumatophyllum genus.

We also saw this plant, which I was surprised to find labeled as Cordyline stricta 'Soledad'

As we entered the Desert Garden, I was juggling two cameras, one being my phone, so when processing my photos I lost my sense of the garden's flow.  Backtracking here and there didn't help matters but I've done my best to give you a sense of the space.  For those of you familiar with the Huntington's Desert Garden, please note that the Desert Garden Conservatory and the surrounding area in the garden's upper section are currently closed for renovation.

I'm fairly certain this is one of the first plants I aimed my camera at in the Desert Garden.  It's a Myrtillocactus geometrizans.  I remember seeing a much smaller crested version of this plant recently, which grabbed my attention too.

I'm largely uninformed when it comes to identifying cacti but I was also intrigued by what may be a Trichocereus with another plant growing within its embrace.  The latter reminded me of Xylosma; however, this plant appeared to have a more vining habit.

Mixes like this always appeal to me.  A sign identified the upright plant in the foreground as Echinocereus viereckii.  There are a couple of Agave victoriae-reginae nearby (middle, left) but I won't attempt IDs for the rest of the plants shown here.

I won't try to identify the plants here either except to point out the huge Opuntias in the background

Compositions including what I assume are Echinocactus grusonii (aka barrel cactus)

I tried to get an ID for the colorful flowering shrub shown here but I couldn't find a label.  My phone's app identified it as Caesalpinia, although the flowers didn't look like those I'm familiar with.

I think the tortured-looking plant is a Stenocereus alamosensis (aka octopus cactus)

The last time I tried to identify an epiphytic cactus like the one shown climbing the tree here, I called it an Epiphyllum, only to later discover it was Selenicereus (aka dragon fruit).  Your guess is as good as mine on this one.

The ice plant in front was labeled as Lampranthus and the shrub behind it is clearly a Caesalpinia

I snapped closeup photos of some plants.

Clockwise from the upper left, Agaves I'm fairly certain I could identify include: a variegated (and very twisted) Agave americana, A. attenuata 'Boutin Blue', one labeled as A. macroculmis (which San Marcos Growers describe as a synonym for A. gentryi), A. parryi, and A. attenuata 'Ray of Light'

Agaves I couldn't identify include the toothy specimens on the left (which my phone app identified as a spiral aloe!) and the variegated specimens on the right, which at first glance looked like Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor'  but they exhibit a different growth habit than any 'Quadicolors' I've seen

There were more Echinocactus grusonii than I've seen anywhere else

Two flowering Echinopsis without cultivar names

A very large display of Echium wildpretii blooming en masse

I had to hunt online for an ID on the charming (if prickly) plant on the left, which I think could be Opuntia microdasys f. monstrosa 'Crazy Bunny Ears'.  I presume the one on the right is Opuntia santa-rita.

The Huntington is known for its Puya collection but it was no longer at its peak.  I think the first plant on the upper left is actually a Dyckia, possibly D. 'Tricolor'.  Clockwise from the middle of the top row are 2 unidentified Puya and P. spathacea (shown both in a closeup and a wide shot). 

Two tree-sized plants: Ceiba insignis (aka silk floss tree, left) and a Nolina (right)

Clockwise from the upper left, assorted other succulents include: noID Aloe (fronted by Portulacaria afra), some kind of Echinocereus, a colorful Haworthia, and Erythrina acanthocarpa

Hunting down genus and species names online is an educational exercise for me, although I look forward to the day when plant identification applications and similar tools can reliably do the job for me.  It seems harder to come by plant labels in botanical gardens these days - they're either missing, buried, or applicable to some plant since removed.  In a botanical garden as old as the Huntington Gardens, many of the plants have grown large enough to cover their original labels.  The tag underneath the Erythrina was labeled Lobiva, which I took at face value until I looked up that genus and went to work digging up the plant's true identity online.

As we headed toward the exit, we passed the California Garden.

Although called the "California Garden," it's planted with a variety of species suitable to a Mediterranean climate like ours.  The area shown here, bisected by a long water feature that empties into a small pool, is a sub-section referred to as the "Celebration Garden."  More information can be found here

I spotted a tree-sized Grevillea 'Moonlight' as we walked on.

This area was also part of the California Garden, which encompasses 6.5 acres

So that was our trip to the Huntington Gardens.  We didn't even set foot into any of the art museums, much less tour all sixteen of the themed gardens.  Even a full day wouldn't be enough to cover everything.

If you're in the US, best wishes for a happy Memorial Day weekend!  Safe travels if you're venturing out to celebrate our unofficial start of summer.

All material © 2012-2024 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party


  1. I can imagine seeing Echium wildpretii 'blooming en masse' is quite thrilling! I love everything about it.

    1. I was surprised by the virtual forest of Echium wildpretii, in the Desert Garden no less! I've blamed insufficient water for my 2 still stunted specimens but maybe they actually want more sun.

  2. 6.5 acres just for the California garden! I really need to plan a several day trip to visit. Thank you for a taste of it.

    1. The Huntington's gardens reportedly encompass 130 acres, not including the library and art museums. Of course, my local botanic garden is 87 acres but none of them rise to the caliber to the Huntington.

  3. "toothy" Agave looks like titanota. Yes there's a whole lot to see there. I've never spent the entire day there but it would be easy to do and still not see everything. Great photos!

    1. I've never spent the whole day there either, HB. There are some gardens I've never seen - I need to make a point of doing that one day, even if it's at the cost of skipping some of my regular haunts.

  4. It's been 5 years since I've been to the Huntington, I'm about due for another visit. That said I still could mentally place most of your wide shots along the pathways, that garden is so iconic. The Echium wildpretii in bloom must have been a sight, wow.

    1. I was really surprised by finding the Echium in the Desert Garden, Loree! And I've never seen so many of those plants in one place either.

  5. Thanks for such an interesting and intriguing couple of posts Kris. Just how big is the garden? The desert garden is filled with the weird and wonderful to my eyes Kris but my favourite has to be the tranquil Japanese garden. Lack of labels in public gardens is often an issue here too Kris and it is often the plants that I've fallen for 😂

    1. I understand that the gardens alone (not including the museums and other non-garden related structures) is about 130 acres in size, Anna. As I recall, the Japanese Garden alone is 15 acres.

  6. I love Huntington Gardens' Desert exhibit... truly outstanding. The barrel cacti are esp. memorable for me. Eliza

  7. I agree. Love, love, love those mixes with rocks, cacti, and succulents. Definitely the type of gardening I would focus on if I ever live in the desert again.

    1. A succulent garden can never have too many rocks! I can't tell you how much I envy the big boulders some of my neighbor's have.


I enjoy receiving your comments and suggestions! Google has turned on reCAPTCHA affecting some commentator IDs so, if you wish to identify yourself, please add your name to your comment.