Avonia (2009)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (October 2009)

I don’t recall when an avonia first made it to my wish list, but I do remember it was at the very top of the list. I looked for about five years before I found one for sale. Ever since that first acquisition, which I still have, I have noticed that they are not that difficult to find.

A respected grower I know still, stubbornly in my opinion, has his Avonia labeled Anacampseros. You will find information and photographs of these amazing plants listed as anacampseros in Gordon Rowley’s Caudiciform and Pachycaul Succulents book and many other authors’ works. My plants will always be found with “Avonia” on their tags. I think I fell in love with the name as well as the plant.

Whatever name you choose, you won’t find many plants as endearing and quaint as A. alstonii or A. quinaria. You will likely find sources that have both A. alstonii and A. quinaria for sale, with the flower petals of the former white and carmine for the latter. As a collector, you can decide if you have two separate species or if you adhere to those who label them both A. quinaria with subspecies quinaria and alstonii.

These plants are primarily found in Namaqualand and Namibia. They are dwarf herbaceous perennials with root stock ranging from thin to caudex, topped by slender stems with overlapping white scales. Their leaves, which are completely covered by the white scales, are minute, green, broader than long and arranged spirally around the stem.

Flowers are solitary from 0.6 inches in diameter, in white, pink or carmine. Some report the plants are self-fertile, which is enough for me to buzz around the greenhouse with a paint brush in one hand and a cat whisker in the other, wishing I had a third just to cross my fingers.

I have yet to get seed to set on either A. quinaria or A. alstonii. I do have volunteers of A. papyracea, of which I am proud, even though I had nothing to do with them. If you acquire seed, you will need patience, as it will take some time between sowing and growing to a nice large plant with a 2-inch caudex.

The most impressive plants I have ever seen were grown by the late Lynn Wilson, who kept avonias near the very top of his favorites list. His collection boasted avonias with caudexes up 10 inches wide. I recall him saying he had been growing some of those plants for up to 30 years.

Wilson was a master at propagation and growing, and also had success with stem cuttings of A. quinaria. My suggestion is to take many pictures and have a good support network close at hand if you take a knife to any A. quinaria in your collection big enough to make stem cuttings.

The plants experience some frost in habitat, but in cultivation, I would caution against exposure to frost. You will also want to exercise some restraint with the watering can, as the plants can be sensitive to overwatering. A well-draining soil mix should be used.