11 Rare Succulents

You started with just one succulent you have received as a gift. Now, your house is filled with practically every kind of succulent. Where do you go from here? Maybe it is time to expand your collection to some rare succulents that are usually found only in the homes of true succulent aficionados.

1. Rose Pincushion Cactus

Rose Pincushion Cactus
Image: istockphoto.com / Kridsadar Sanyear

A native of Mexico, the Rose Pincushion Cactus is now listed by the IUCN as a threatened species due to the low number of specimens living in their natural habitat.

It is estimated that about 250 specimens can be found in the wild. The main reason behind this saddening news is because of poachers who try to meet the demand for this cactus.

Unlike red-flowering cacti, the Rose Pincushion Cactus produces pink flowers at a young age. 

Initially, the plant is solitary. As it grows older, it produces green, globular stems. This cactus has raised tubercles where the plant’s spines are located. 

These tubercles function as the plant’s water storage system and become raised when watered.

Despite its rarity and conservation status, the cactus is surprisingly easy to care for. It remains small for a long time but produces easily.

Although it can be kept indoors, it prefers the full sun and can tolerate afternoon shade.

2. Parodia rechensis

Parodia rechensis
Image: istockphoto.com / OllgaP

The Parodia rechensis is another rare cactus that is critically endangered.

According to estimates by experts, there are roughly 70 specimens that can be found in Brazil where this cactus originates.

This small number can be attributed to different reasons. One of the main reasons for the small population of this cactus is widespread theft by poachers.

It does not help that the original location of this cactus has undergone drastic changes that undermine the plant’s ability to survive.

Furthermore, the plant is notoriously difficult to grow. It can be propagated through the division of its rhizomes, offsets, corms, and tubers or grown from seeds.

If you are lucky to chance upon this rare plant from a reputable source, you can add it to your xeriscape.

Like most succulents, the cactus has an average watering need and thrives in partial shade.

3. Pachyphytum compactum ‘Little Jewel’

Pachyphytum compactum ‘Little Jewel
Image: istockphoto.com / Kridsadar Sanyear

The Pachyphytum compactum ‘Little Jewel’ is literally and figuratively a gem of a succulent. 

This rare plant is characterized by its tubular and fleshy leaves which look like cut gemstones. The leaves have angular facets that are caused by the compression of the other leaves.

Usually, the leaves are blue-green. But when the plant is subjected to heat stress or cool temperatures, the leaves take on a violet tinge.

Like most succulents, this rare plant requires well-draining soil and deep but infrequent watering. It should be placed in an area that can provide it with bright sun.

Take note that this plant cannot survive harsh winters.

The plant thrives in benign neglect. In fact, you should not fuss over and touch this plant unless necessary.

Touching the plant can cause unsightly marks to appear on the leaves.

4. Giant Quiver Tree

Giant Quiver Tree
Image: istockphoto.com / YolandaVanNiekerk

The Giant Quiver Tree (Aloe pillansii), also known as the Bastard Quiver Tree, is a member of the Aloe family.

This majestic tree, which can reach a height of close to 40 feet. The succulent has a base that can grow up to six feet tall and branches that can reach a height of 32 feet.

The tree is crowned by green leaves.

The Giant Quiver Tree originates from southern Africa where its population is believed to be below 3,000. This has led the IUCN to classify it as an endangered species.

The dwindling number of the plant’s population can be attributed to factors like poachers, climate change, the increase of livestock farming, and mining.

It does not help that the plant does not propagate easily.

Unlike other members of the Aloe family, the Giant Quiver Tree has no known medicinal properties. However, the locals revere the plant for its majesty and longevity.

5. Living Rock Cactus

Living Rock Cactus
Image: istockphoto.com / khuntapol

The Living Rock Cactus (Ariocarpus trigonus) is a succulent that can be found in parts of Texas and northern Mexico.

This low-growing cactus is also called Dry Whiskey, Star Cactus, Chautle, and False Peyote.

The plant is called the False Peyote due to its psychoactive or mind-altering properties. Native Americans have used the cactus as an alternative to Peyote. However, the Living Rock Cactus does not contain mescaline.

In the wild, it can be hard to find the cactus. Apart from its low growth, this spineless cactus’ lower half is almost completely submerged in soil. Its rosette is composed of wrinkled and triangular tubercles that have a dull color, similar to its surroundings of rocks.

The plant becomes less visible during times of drought because its leaves shrink even more.

But despite the plant’s seemingly lackluster appearance, it boasts of colorful flowers that grow on top of the plant between fall and winter.

The plant is protected by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES due to its dwindling population. The plant has been subjected to rampant poaching due to the high demand from rare plant collectors.

6. Variegated Hens and Chicks

Variegated Hens and Chicks
Image: istockphoto.com / PeterEtchells

The Variegated Hens and Chicks (Echeveria x imbricata ‘Compton Carousel’) is a rare succulent that was discovered in 2009 by David Sheppard, a garden designer.

Experts have yet to reach an agreement on the plant’s origins. Some say that the succulent is a cultivar of the Echeveria secunda. Others argue otherwise saying that it is a cultivar of the Echeveria x imbricata which is another hybrid.

This Hens and Chicks plant is currently sold under different names, including Compton Carousel, Serenity, and Lenore Dean.

The Variegated Hens and Chicks is characterized by its clumps that form tight rosettes, typically four to six inches wide.

The leaves have a blue-gray color and have cream margins that take on a slight pinkish hue when the plant matures and during winter.

The plant thrives in partial to light shade and can be kept indoors as long as there is sufficient light available.

Like other Hens and Chicks plants, the Compton Carousel produces offsets.

7. Vahondrandra

The Vahondrandra (Aloe helenae) is another rare Aloe plant that originates from Madagascar.

The IUCN lists the succulent as an endangered species. Estimates on the total number of species vary from 200 to 500.

The biggest threat to this plant’s survival in the wild is the decimation of its habitat, due primarily to mining and agricultural endeavors.

Although there are specimens kept in botanic gardens and private collections, the plant is considered a rare species. 

This succulent can reach a height of up to 12 feet and produces pale yellow flowers between spring and summer.

This flowering tree can be propagated through seeds and cuttings.

The Vahondrandra prefers the full sun and requires well-draining soil and deep but infrequent watering.

8. Discocactus subterraneo-proliferans

The Discocactus subterraneo-proliferans is recognized as one of the rarest and most expensive succulents.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN, the cactus is classified as critically-endangered.

The plant originally comes from Brazil. Unfortunately, it is believed that this succulent is already extinct in its native habitat due to cattle ranching and small-scale agriculture.

Today, it is believed that the total number of specimens is around 50 pieces, belonging to a handful of collectors who are working hard to propagate it.

Due to its rarity, not much is known about the Discocactus subterraneo-proliferans.

9. Aichryson dumosum

The Aichryson dumosum is another succulent that has been listed in IUCN’s Red List of threatened species.

This plant originally comes from Madeira, Portugal where the plant grows in a small area of over 1,000 square feet. 

Although there have been efforts to protect the plant’s natural habitat, its existence is still in peril due to a host of factors.

These factors include the presence of invasive species, landslides, fires, and drought. Apart from these natural causes, the dwindling number of this succulent has been attributed to the destruction of its habitat due to housing and road projects.

The plant is characterized by its long middle green leaves which have a brownish tinge. This succulent also produces bright yellow flowers.

10. Living Pebbles

The Living Pebbles succulent (Conophytum subglobosum) is a rare mesemb that originates from South Africa.

The plant is commonly found in areas with plenty of quartzite and shale rock crevices. In these areas, the succulent does not have too many competitors for water and space.

Typically, the succulent can be seen growing on rocky slopes along with other plants that prefer the shade, including lichens and mosses.

The Living Pebbles plant does not have stems. Instead, this slow-growing plant has two large leaves connected by a shallow fissure.

It forms clumps which develop into tight mounds. It also produces pea-shaped heads which can number to hundreds.

Each of these heads is comprised of a pair of leaves that will eventually be absorbed and regenerated annually.

The plant enters dormancy during the winter. During this period, the old body dies to make way for a new one. The new body absorbs the old body until the outer skin remains.

The skin protects the new body from both heat and evaporation.

11. Estevesia alex-bragae

The Estevesia alex-bragae is another rare and critically endangered cactus that originates from Brazil.

Little is known about this plant. Much of the available information about it comes from the German botanist named Pierre Josef Braun.

Braun has worked extensively with the Brazilian botanist Eddie Esteves Pereira in discovering new plant species in the country.

Most of what is known about the Estevesia alex-bragae comes from Braun’s 2009 research, describing the plant.

The plant is currently included in the IUCN Red List due to the low number of specimens currently living in the wild.

According to estimates, there are about 200 specimens found in Brazil. The main cause of this plant’s dwindling number is the conversion of lands for the production of soya.

What makes a succulent rare?

Why are some succulents considered rare?

Some of these plants are called rare because they are difficult to care for and propagate. 

Propagation, in particular, is one of the main challenges in rare succulents. Others do not grow roots as easily as most succulents. Some rarely produce seeds or offsets.

Some succulents that are classified as uncommon were previously available only to nurseries that specialize in rare species as well as a handful of collectors.

Advancements in tissue culture propagation have allowed many of these rare succulents to become more widely available.

Where to buy rare succulents

Itching to add one (or more) of these plants to your succulent collection?

Here are a few places that you might want to check out for that holy grail you have been searching for.

Succulent shows

Joining plant societies or associations is a great way to meet fellow enthusiasts and experts in your area.

And if you are keen on adding rare succulents, you will be happy to know that many succulent and cacti groups organize annual shows that showcase collectors and their plants.

Many succulent collectors, including those that specialize in rare ones, participate in these shows to sell plants and share their knowledge.

Some local groups even share their succulent cuttings to their friends. If you are lucky enough, you might chance upon a rare succulent owner who might give you a cutting of the rare succulent you have been searching for.

If you have not joined a local group, now may be the best time to search for one in your area. Social media is often the best place to start when looking for local groups.

Nurseries

Today, many succulent collectors get their plants from online sources. But if you rely solely on these sources, you might be missing a treasure trove of rare gems that may be hiding in plain sight.

Over the past few years, succulents have become more popular. And to cope with this increased demand, many local nurseries have expanded their collections to include rare plants.

The next time you pass by your local nursery, be sure to drop by and check their collections.

Public gardens

Another possible source of rare succulents that you might have probably forgotten about is public and botanical gardens.

Some of these institutions sell plants as souvenirs. Check out their collections. Who knows, you might find a rare succulent hiding in plain sight.

Online shops

If you prefer doing most of your shopping online, there are a few online stores that sell succulents, even rare ones.

Among the most popular platforms are Etsy and eBay. There are also a few brick and mortar stores that have established an online presence, allowing them to cater to customers outside of their local markets.

Expanding your collection

Whether it is comic books, stamps, coins, action figures, or succulents, part of the appeal of collecting is adding rare pieces that only a handful of collectors have. There is a certain pride in knowing that you have something that very few people have.

But in your search for rare succulents, make sure that you get plants from reputable sellers who procure their items ethically. The last thing that you would want is to get a plant that has been illegally sourced and contribute to the dwindling number of these plants found in the wild.

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