They are small, they are shapely, and they are hot. Succulents are having a moment in the world of plants and floral arranging, showing up in centerpieces, wedding bouquets and living wreaths. That’s why, now through Oct. 6, an exhibit at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens is showing some fun and fanciful new ways to enjoy the hardy green gems.
Planning began months ago, with gardeners taking clippings from the succulents in the facility’s desert house and drawing out plans for the arrangements, said Erin Grajek, the gardens’ marketing director.
Teresa Mazikowski is one of the gardeners on staff who turned rosette-shaped echeverias, spikey zebra plants and little vines of string of pearls into miniature gardens, a green-and-blue growing globe and a pirate ship, among many other intricate arrangements.
Visitors may be inspired to re-create the gardens – in craft-store rocks, old toy trucks, even broken pots – although they may want to skip trying to make the succulent monkey.
“We grow these on frames in sphagnum moss,” Mazikowski said. “We have to take them apart after the show. Once they start growing, they don’t look as nice.
“The monkey’s just going to get hairy and ugly,” she said with a smile.
But the succulent-based wedding table – made by setting the plants in a shallow frame to provide a living space for place settings – could be repurposed as a green wall if stood on end, Grajek said.
And most outdoor planters can move inside and thrive when the weather gets cooler, Mazikowski said.
“You just need to keep them moist, but don’t put them in ‘real’ soil,” she said. “They like a sandy mix. They often do well indoors, because it’s easier to control the moisture.”
One hardy succulent popular in gardens throughout Western New York – hens-and-chicks – doesn’t have to come in. It doesn’t just survive winter well, it is easily clipped and shared, making it a good choice for beginners building their first containers.
Saturday, the gardens also hosted another in its ongoing “medicinal plants” information series, this month focusing on men’s health and controlling cholesterol. Tim Hutcherson, director of the drug information center at D’Youville College, gladly explained how such plants as garlic, psyllium and hibiscus might help reduce cholesterol, and what research says about the way they work.
“Every culture has its go-to plants,” Hutcherson said. “And they use them in different ways – cooking them, grinding them, teas. The components are located in different parts of different plants.”
Traditional or not, users need to watch their “dosage” when using plants as medicine.
“Just because they’re natural doesn’t mean they’re safe in large quantities,” Hutcherson said.
He pointed out that red yeast rice, which contains monacolins – a substance known to reduce cholesterol – has been the cause of legal disputes about whether it can be sold as food or should be considered a drug.
Plants also can interact with pharmaceuticals, he said, so anyone “self-medicating” with Indian snakeroot (Rauwolfia serpentina), stevia or any other herbal/plant remedies should let their physicians and pharmacists know.
The Medicinal Garden feature continues through Oct. 12, focusing on how botanicals could help prevent the flu and the use of plants in cancer treatment.
Also coming up at the gardens, the Fall Plant Sale is Saturday and Sunday in the Administration Building. Less hectic than the spent bulb sale and smaller than the spring plant sale, it offers perennials, shrubs and some tropical plants. Admission to the sale is free.