June 2015 Plant Highlight: Aeonium smithii

by Brian Kemble


Though various kinds of Aeonium are frequently seen in California gardens, Aeonium smithii has remained uncommon. It comes from the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and it is very much adapted to winter rainfall. After it flowers in late spring to early summer, it sheds its lower leaves and ceases growth until the fall. Plants can die if given too much water in summer.

Aeonium smithii branches to form a small shrub about 1 to 2 feet high (30 to 60 cm). Its stems have whitish bristly hairs, giving them a shaggy appearance, though older stems tend to lose these hairs. During the winter-spring growing season, the rosettes of leaves are from 2½ to 6 inches across (6 to 15 cm). The spoon-shaped or paddle-shaped leaves are velvety to the touch and glossy on the upper surface. They have wavy margins, with the waviness varying from slight to pronounced. The leaves also have lengthwise purple or brownish dashes, especially on the undersides, and these are thickened water-storing structures.

The flower stalks on Aeonium smithii are not tall, seldom extending more than about 6 inches (15 cm) above the rosettes of leaves. They bear yellow flowers about ¾ of an inch across (2 cm), which is on the large side for an Aeonium.

Though this species does not need full sun, it still needs plenty of light and good drainage. Care should be taken to give it a dry resting period after it comes into flower.

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The mission of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, Inc. is to preserve this exceptional example of garden design and to continue to develop its collection of water-conserving plants for the education and enjoyment of the public.  
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