San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society Recap, Part 4

variegated aloe castilloniae cross

Written ByJen Greene

Posted: July 2, 2024

Read the Previous Recaps: 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Alright, we’re finally wrapping up the summer show & sale! Before I started, I thought this would be a nice little 2 post series to show some of the coolest stuff that I thought to take pictures of… but quickly realized just how many photos I took!

We’ll conclude the photo journey with some of the aloes that I know you’ll drool over, and any last cactus photos I haven’t already posted.

Here in San Diego, we’re super fortunate to have Kelly Griffin as a member of our club, as well as an active member of our club’s board of directors. If you’re new to aloe hybrids or don’t recognize the name, he’s one of the most well known aloe hybridizers in the US (maybe even worldwide), along with a handful of other talented growers, including Karen Zimmerman. Having been a member of club for several years, and collecting aloes for almost as long, it’s been fun to start recognizing trends or ‘styles’ of the more prolific hybridizers. The two I’m most familiar with are Kelly Griffin & Karen Zimmerman, although they’re far from the only ones. Kelly seems to really have a flair for striking, textured leaves with a star growth shape, and especially for aloes that have an almost mood-ring like reaction to sun exposure. Zimmerman, on the other hand, seems to love bizarre shapes, alien patterns, with color seeming to be more of a happy side effect than her sole focus.*

*These are entirely my own opinions from observing the hybrids, and neither KG or Zimmerman have commented anything about this directly to me.

Most of the hybrids we see in our local show are Kelly Griffin hybrids (often denoted by “KG” on the tag), but occasionally some others make an appearance.

We’ll kick off the aloe eye candy with a gorgeous hybrid I’d never heard of before (common at our shows) – Aloe “Aove”, a new KG hybrid. 

Even with my color-balanced 4k computer monitor, the color of my photo doesn’t do the subtlety of this particular aloe justice. The textured leaf edges and ridges on each leaf were a very attractive pastel peachy color, against a similarly pastel greenish-blue base. Growing the hybrids with such consistent color all over is a task in and of itself, but also hardly surprising given that this was probably brought in by Kelly himself…and who else would you expect to have a growing area set up to provide that perfect amount of sunshine and shade?

Aloe aove

Speaking of perfect sun exposure and pastel coloration, this insane plant below won “Best Aloe in Show” and honestly, are you at all surprised? 

This is Aloe “Amanecer”, an OG Kelly Griffin hybrid from the man himself. As I’ve learned trying to prep and grow my own hybrids to display for shows, getting such a consistent coloration of the leaves is hard, and I’m sure selectively crossing the aloes to get one that expresses such a matte purple and orange, yellow, and peach colors has to be challenging. 

It’s super striking and was definitely a favorite in the show! 

Aloe armenecer

Another plant brought in from Kelly Griffin, I think this was my favorite – even though the one that took best in show was cool, I’m borderline obsessed with the way this grows and looks like a starfish. 

The tag said “Aloe x Blue Cinder”, so that’s the best I can give you all, Gentle Readers. I’ll leave you as thirsty for this aloe as I am, as it’s definitely not available commercially. 

aloe cross blue cinder

Kelly continues to the eye candy with this Aloe x “Estrella Azul”. 

It looks like a relative of Aloe “Swordfish”*, but like the selection was aiming for almost a full, unbroken stripe of red on the outer blue base of the center leaves. Very very pretty, and I also really enjoy the way it has a flat, starfish-style of growth, rather than upright pointing leaf tips. 

*I have no idea what the parentage of this plant is, nor can I read Kelly’s mind, don’t @ me 

aloe cross estrella azul

The featured image for this post – a beautifully well striped and compact aloe. The tag read “Aloe x Castyx Var.” (maybe Casty x Var?). 

By now, Kelly’s handwriting is pretty distinct (similar to Steve Hammer’s) and hard to miss, so this is another hybrid from his own collection. 

variegated aloe castilloniae cross

Another Kelly Griffin hybrid, this time a named cultivar from his collection: Aloe cv. “Topaz”. 

The multiple heads and blooming while this is a relatively small plant is pretty nice, I bet this makes for a lovely container specimen for quite a while. Some of the other hybrids, especially the ones that have larger single heads, tend to really grow to fill their pots quickly within a couple years. Something smaller, tidier, and still strikingly colored would be fun. 

All that to say: yes, I want this one too. No, I don’t know how to get one. Whomp whomp. 

Aloe Topaz

I’m pretty sure this is the last of the beauties that Kelly Griffin brought in this year. This one, the tag says “Aloe ‘Radioactive (X)'” – which I’m assuming means it’s another one of his crosses to a named cultivar that hasn’t quite made it to its own named cultivar. 

I still prefer the funky “Estrella Azul” cross, but this has a crazy texture and more unique colors with the yellow, lime green, and reds. 

Aloe radioactive cross

Moving on from Kelly’s drool-worthy offerings, we see this exceptionally well grown Aloe “Flesh Gordon”. With the pale hybrids like this, it can be very challenging to grow them well without scorching or sunburning them. This one has been grown with just enough sun exposure and the right amount of water to keep the splayed, starfish-style growth and just enough pale pink and white to look very nice. 

Aloe Flesh Gordo

I lied. There was another Kelly Griffin plant in the photo library. 

Speaking of pale colors… this is Aloe “Pastel”. 

What I appreciate about this pot and this plant is being able to see some less perfectly sun-exposed little pups coming up under the shade of the central head. You can see the green and whites of the pups that haven’t come out from under the main leaves, and I like that contrast to the big, beautiful pastel colored leaves up top (gee, where did the cultivar name come from, I wonder?). 

Aloe Pastel

Aloe “Oik” is a cultivar that’s been available commercially for at least a few years, and on its own, it’s extremely attractive…but this variegated clump takes it to a new level! 

Personally, I like an “Oik” with more sun stress, where the green turns blue and those pink edges really get neon colored, but I’m not sure how that would impact the variegation. The grower of this plant likely made a calculated decision to protect the variegation, but still encouraged some stress coloration with decreased water (noticeable by the curled leaf tips, where the outer edges are touching). 

Aloe Oik variegated

The Cacti! 

And… I didn’t get any photos of the pure Aloe species, probably because I was so dazzled by hybrids. 

Let’s take a look at some of the incredible cacti I haven’t already posted: 

This Weingartia neumanniana is so, so nicely grown. The faint farina that’s developed provides a lovely contrast to the dark spines all over, and it’s clearly about to bloom. It’s also very tidy compared to some specimens seen in cultivation, minimal stretching, and all heads look like little clones. 

Weingartia neumanniana

This is a species you may find at your local nursery, and it’s super fun – a little Rebutia krainziana with the brilliant red flowers showing what makes these attractive. 

I really like the clumping Rebutia and have several, but they do need pretty direct sunshine and warm weather to be encouraged to bloom. These are a nice genus to grow to better familiarize yourself with sun exposure and the difference between enough light to prevent etiolation and the amount of light your cactus would prefer to really thrive. 

rebutia krainziana

A fairly cold-hardy little cactus called Puna subterranea, a species I don’t remember seeing at our show before. It’s a small, compact-growing species that doesn’t get as unruly as the larger Opuntia that it resembles. 

This one was clearly past the blooming stage, but they do produce big, pretty flowers with a pale pink color. Google indicates they can range from a more yellow shade up to a brilliant fuschia, but I’ve never grown one personally – I’d like to now! Opuntia and their relatives often get too big to show well or be manageable, and while I have some neat species, they’re just too unruly to make ideal potted plants (for me). 

Puna subterranea

Speaking of another dainty little clumping species, this Tephroactus bonnieae had OODLES of little blooms preparing to open. I have a couple Tephrocactus species of my own, and love the big, tissue-paper textured blooms they produce. The downside of Tephrocactus is that many species have tons of spines that are the type that really get stuck in your fingers and skin (glochids) and it’s deeply unpleasant to get stuck with them. 

This was a nice, compactly spined, densely growing little plant that’s been clearly grown with ideal light to encourage the dense new heads. 

Tephrocactus bonnieae

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour through show plants that drew my eye! There were dozens more that I didn’t take photos of purely because, well, I only have so much I can take photos of! 

If you’re at all like me, you also now have a dozen or more new species added to your “I need this” list of desireable plant species to hunt down. 

I’ll leave you with a strong, vehement reminder to check on the provenance of your plants before purchase, especially if you’re looking for the incredibly rare species! If it’s an endangered species, make a point to ask about where they were sourced. If grown from seed, where did the grower get the seed? If acquired from a wholesaler, where was that wholesaler located? How does the grower know the plant was ethically sourced? 

Be wary of plants originating in asian countries, especially China, as there’s a lot of known examples of poached plants being sold through exporters based in China, Philippines, and Thailand. Don’t misunderstand me – there’s TONS of ethical international growers. But you do need to be cautious, as the unscrupulous growers will lie through their teeth. 

The best solution is to buy local, buy from growers who can tell you about their plants, and to learn as much as you can about the plants you’re looking to find. Even Aloe hybrids can be susceptible to mislabeling from even the best intentioned growers! 

As of June 2024, to my best knowledge, none of the aloes I’ve shared photos of are available commercially or have been available for sale ever. I’m not the complete authority on every single plant Kelly sells, and he’s been speaking at clubs all over the California coast – so there’s a decent chance he’s brought some plants to local clubs! But…anyone selling aloes purchased that way should be able to tell you exactly where they got the hybrid from. There’s nothing wrong with buying a plant you think is gorgeous, but it shouldn’t be misrepresented as a named cultivar that isn’t confirmed. 

Thank you again for joining me on this tour of the show plants! I hope you enjoyed it. 

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