Plant Highlight: Echeveria gigantea
Some Echeveria species are of the hen-and-chicks type, with tight flower-like rosettes of leaves. Others have a shrubby habit, with multiple stems which elongate over time. Still others have large paddle-like leaves and thick stems, and the best known of this latter sort is E. gibbiflora, whose parentage is prominent in the ruffly-leaved hybrids which resemble ornamental cabbages. A less commonly grown species in the large-leaved group is Echeveria gigantea, native to the states of Puebla and Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
Echeveria gigantea has leaves up to a foot long (30 cm), pale bluish-green in color with a red edge. The margins are often smooth, but on occasion they may be somewhat wavy. In time, the stout stem may reach a height of 20 inches (50 cm).
E. gigantea is winter-flowering, with a December to February peak blooming season in habitat. Our plant at the Ruth Bancroft Garden began sending up its flower stalk in September, but the first flower did not open until mid-January. Possibly it was delayed due to the cold weather in late 2013. This species has a tall erect flower stalk up to 80 inches tall (2 m), with short side branches bearing fleshy 5-pointed flowers about ½ to ⅔ of an inch long (12 to 17 mm). The flowers are reddish-pink within, but paler on the outside due to a powdery coating.
In cultivation, E. gigantea can take full sun in cooler coastal gardens, but prefers partial shade in hotter inland locations such as Walnut Creek. It is not difficult to grow, and can tolerate temperatures several degrees below freezing as long as these lows are of short duration. With its large rosettes of attractive leaves and its robust flower stalk, it makes a striking garden plant.