Natural La Jolla: Sun-loving succulents thrive in La Jolla and San Diego

A spike of red flowers on a succulent plant
(Kelly Stewart)


Many visitors comment and ask about the beautiful succulent plants that are abundant here in town. We have literally hundreds of varieties and species of these drought-tolerant, easy to grow plants. There are so many hybrids that it can be difficult to correctly identify them. Succulents are sometimes called fat plants, because of their ability to internally store water, thus making their leaves appear fleshy or fat. Avid gardeners create spectacular displays of these plants, growing everything from cactus to aloes to prickly pears.

Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation, working with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. Her column about the flora and fauna of La Jolla appears regularly in La Jolla Light. She may be reached by e-mail:

Aeonium is one of the fairly common types of succulent that has large rosettes of petals ranging in size from an inch to over a foot in diameter. They flower only once and then die, but generally there are many little pups (or mini versions) that have started to take root near the main stem.

Aeoniums are native mainly to the Canary Islands but also to parts of Africa. The flowers are the best way to correctly identify aeoniums.

Another favorite is the agave plant or century plant. These majestic plants make a statement! Native to Mexico and the Southern United States, some agaves are ornamental, some are used for making tequila, and others are used for food products like agave syrup. They have spiky sharp leaves and a waxy surface to stop predators. Their flowering stems or masts are often at a great height.

Succulents make landscaping easy here in San Diego because they require little water and are strikingly beautiful.

Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation who writes about the flora and fauna of La Jolla. Reach her by e-mail:

A beautiful aeonium in bloom
(Kelly Stewart)
The stem (or mast) of a century plant with flowers
(Kelly Stewart)
Foxtail agaves in bloom
(Kelly Stewart)