Finding a rare ANYTHING is difficult by its very nature. That's what rare means. Finding rare plants is especially hard because many of them are fragile and, thus, difficult to ship or transport.
Rare succulents, however, are a collection well-worth having. While all succulents are rewarding to grow, rare succulents are a cut above the rest. They're often more interesting looking, sometimes more difficult to maintain, and certainly worth a lot more.
We're going to discuss every aspect of sourcing rare succulents - from finding them to acquiring them. Where is the best place to buy rare succulents? Keep reading to find out!
- Why Collect Rare Succulents?
- Finding Rare Succulents and Cacti
- Rare Succulents at Chain Stores
- Rare Succulents at Local Garden Stores and Nurseries
- Online Succulent Nurseries
- Buy Rare Succulents at Mountain Crest Gardens
- Buy Rare Succulents at Leaf & Clay
- Buy Rare Succulents and Cacti at Planet Desert
- Buy Rare Succulents on Etsy
- Buy Rare Succulent Seeds at RarePlant.me
- Rare Genera of Succulents and Cacti to Look For
- How to Tell if a Plant is Rare
- Are Crested and Monstrose Succulents Rare?
- Buying Succulent and Cacti Seeds
- Hunting Rare Succulents and Cacti
Why Collect Rare Succulents?
In my experience, there's a common trajectory for the succulent enthusiast's journey.
The first stage is discovery. You see one at the grocery store or a friends house and become enamored. What interesting shapes! What beautiful colors! This plant is so unique and quirky, you must have it.
You'll probably go overboard at first and buy half a dozen of the things from Walmart or Home Depot or whatever. They all promptly die within the month and you're devastated. "I thought they were easy!"
Well, they are, mostly. You just need to learn how to care for them. Once you've healed enough to buy more, they usually survive this go-around. Then you learn propagation, you find Facebook swap groups, you fill up all your windows, maybe buy a greenhouse for the deck, and...
Now you have way too many plants. But... most of them are jade plants, or some regular Sedum, or those boring Echeveria and Sempervivum that get handed out like candy as wedding favors and at wine/painting nights. Your home is full of succulents and it's wonderful, but they're not very interesting ones.
You want to downsize, both because the plants are taking up a lot of time and because your spouse and cat are increasingly annoyed at the clutter (maybe it's not the cat knocking them off windowsills...).
The solution is simple: rare succulents.
- You only need a few rare succulents to get the same joy of having many common succulents
- Rare succulents and cacti may or may not require more maintenance, but it's easier to focus on one plant
- Rare succulents are often small or slow-growing, reducing the space necessary to keep them
- Rare succulents and cacti are inherently valuable, so you could potentially make money from selling propagations
So how do we get started with these rare beauties? First, ya gotta find them.
Finding Rare Succulents and Cacti
This is the hardest part, by far. Obviously - if they were easy to find then they wouldn't be rare, now would they?
We're very fortunate to have the Internet as a tool, so it's extremely possible to find unusual plants if you know where to look.
Rare Succulents at Chain Stores
- [ Planting method ] Sprinkle the seeds over the soil, cover them with a ⅛-inch layer of fine sand or crushed rock, Try to...
- [ Easy to grow ] Sew in succulent soil and water sparingly.
- [ Fertilization ] Be careful not to use a fertilizer that is too strong as it can burn your succulents.
- Echeveria Lola - Echeveria 'Lola' is a gorgeous hybrid of the cross E. lilacina x E. 'Deresina'. Echeveria Lola’s leaves...
- Strong Root System - Growing in our California farm, every succulent is carefully nurtured by gardener expert. Each succulent...
- Easy to Care - Like other soft succulents, Echeveria 'Lola' can't survive outdoor in cold winter. Bring them indoors and...
Think about it logically. The bigger a store is, the less likely it is to have rare plants. Rare plants are usually difficult to care for, and large stores can barely keep grass alive. It wouldn't be worth it to stock them. Furthermore, plants are usually low-margin items so stores depend on selling a lot of them quickly to make a profit. Neither of those are conducive to finding rare cacti or succulents at a Lowe's or a grocery store.
Consider your regular chain-garden store. Almost every chain stocks the exact same items as every other chain. It makes new chains simpler to set up and it's cheaper because they can order larger quantities from their suppliers. Furthermore, since chain garden stores have so many plants, they don't really have time to care for them individually. Most categories of plants get the same treatment - hose watering every day or so.
Skip chain garden stores.
Rare Succulents at Local Garden Stores and Nurseries
Local garden stores are a possibility. Bear in mind that, unless you're in a succulent-mecca like Southwest US, most of these local nurseries won't have a large succulent stock either. They require different care than their other plants and they may not survive outside all year. Without special lighting or lots of sun, however, succulents grow etiolated and get kinda ugly.
It's worth checking out your neighborhood nursery, since buying local is important, but the odds aren't great that you'll find a truly exceptional succulent.
Online Succulent Nurseries
Now we're using our greatest tool for searching for rare plants. The Internet allows for businesses around the country (and around the world) to advertise their services and products. Since the potential audience is so much bigger, they can afford to dive into niches that might not be sustainable otherwise.
Rare succulents certainly fit the bill. There are a few sites out there that advertise rare succulents and cacti, but rare is a subjective term and they often use it waaaaaay too liberally. I've explored several of them and found that they're usually pretty common succulents that just look especially funky, so they're angling to fool newcomers to the hobby rather than actually provide rare plants.
As it turns out, the best online nurseries to get very uncommon plants are the same ones that we get most of our succulents from. Several succulent sites you probably recognize have "Rare Plants" sections of varying quality and selection, but there are a few worth noting.
Buy Rare Succulents at Mountain Crest Gardens
Anyone who has ever bought succulents online has stumbled on Mountain Crest Gardens once or twice. It's the destination for premium succulents.
You may not have noticed, however, that in the Succulents section is a Unusual Varieties category that is rife with unusual succulents. To be fair, I wouldn't consider every succulent in that section to be particularly rare, but there definitely are a few choice picks.
The thing that sets Mountain Crest Gardens' rare plants apart from others is that they have a pretty large selection. We're talking pages and pages of succulents and cacti in their Unusual Varieties section.
To be fair, not all of them are rare (or even uncommon). Last I checked, Kalanchoe tomentosa (Bear Paws) were listed on there. Yeah, that's a cute and somewhat weird looking succulent, but you can find them at IKEA. That pretty much automatically disqualifies them.
That being said, there are some really interesting plants on there that even I haven't seen before. Like, what's up with this guy???
Buy Rare Succulents at Leaf & Clay
The situation at Leaf & Clay is pretty similar to the one at MCG. They've got a Rare Cultivars section with a rotating selection of some pretty rad succulents.
We've spoken at length on Leaf & Clay in this review of their services. Their specialty is high-quality succulents and high-quality service to match. In that, they're unbeatable.
The plants in their Rare Cultivar section don't stay in stock for very long, usually. As you can imagine, there's some competition for rare succulents!
Leaf & Clay regularly has discounts and deals around holidays and for those subscribed to their newsletter, so check them out.
Buy Rare Succulents and Cacti at Planet Desert
Planet Desert is my go-to for finding really unusual succulents and cacti.
For full disclosure: I'm friends with the owner. Mark Ramirez is perhaps the greatest cactus enthusiast I've ever met, and he was so passionate he turned his collection into a business that supports his family. That's some serious succu-love.
The reason that Planet Desert is the best place to buy rare succulents isn't that Mark's a great man - it's that he goes on cactus tours. You heard me right. He travels up and down the west coast visiting private collectors, wholesalers, other nurseries, and even a few places in the remote wilderness (with permission of course) to scout out and source new succulents and cacti.
These tours occur a few times a year. The plant selection at Planet Desert is always changing due to that, and so it behooves you to check frequently. Go to the New Arrivals section to scope out some succulents (and especially cacti) that you've never even heard of!
Buy Rare Succulents on Etsy
Etsy is a strange beast, especially if you've never shopped there before.
It's a huge marketplace made up of the storefronts of individuals. Your grandma could sell her knit scarfs here if she wanted... and she'd probably garner (and darner) a huge audience.
That's Etsy's specialty. It allows anyone an audience for their handcrafted, boutique, or unique goods without having to invest in a physical store, a website, or marketing.
For plant lovers, Etsy is a paradise. It gives you access to people's gardens and private collections that would have been impossible to find otherwise. That means there's an opportunity to buy plants you'd never be able to find in any store or even succulent nursery.
The flip side is that prices tend to be higher than a nursery. That makes sense when you consider that the sellers on Etsy are just hobbyists and have to pay for shipping and such. Also, since you're dealing with individuals instead of established businesses, your customer support experience may vary.
My advice is to check dedicated online nurseries for a specific plant rather than going straight to Etsy. There's more of a guarantee of quality and accountability when dealing with an actual company. More often than not, however, I end up on Etsy when looking for a very specific species.
Buy Rare Succulent Seeds at RarePlant.me
I don't usually recommend buying seeds, but I have to make an exception in the case of RarePlant.me. It's the only store I ever buy seeds from. They're well known and well-respected as a purveyor of high-quality seeds for succulents, cacti, trees, and veggies.
Buying seeds is a good way to get rare succulents. Many of mature plants are too fragile and difficult to ship, but seeds can be mailed no matter the conditions or duration of the trip.
Perhaps more important, seeds are usually not subject to import/export laws. Most countries don't allow you to ship plants in from abroad because the soil might carry invasive pests or pathogens. Ordering plants internationally requires them to be certified by a government agency at the border. Seeds don't have that problem.
Some of my favorite products from RarePlant.me are the mesemb seeds. Plants like Lithops and these cool Marble Buttons (pictured below) are almost better to grow from seed than to get as an adult. They can be pretty picky when adapting to new conditions, but if you grow them yourself they'll be acclimated already!
Rare Genera of Succulents and Cacti to Look For
Now that you know the top sources of rare succulents and cacti, the next question is: which ones should you get? Here are three beauties that we highly recommend:
Conophytum is a genus first discovered by Francis Masson, a Scottish botanist, way back in 1776.
It was further identified and described by another botanist, Adrian Hardy Haworth, in 1821, when two species were initially recognized that were later categorized as a single species.
This is what we now know as the Conphytum obcordellum. However, the official recognition of the Conophytum as a genus wasn’t made until 1922.
Its name came from the Latin word “conus” and the Greek word “phytum”, which means cone and plant, respectively.
Aptly named, its cone-shaped leaves make the Conophytum so unique and visually interesting. Its unique foliage is usually fused, forming either a singular mound or a cluster of button-like growth with colorful flowers.
There are around 110 succulents under this genus. They are collectively more commonly referred to as Button Plants, Living Pebbles, and even Dumplings (particularly those that form a dumpling-shaped mound).
Another rare and visually impactful plant is the Ariocarpus. It is a genus that includes several species under its wing. There are a few things that set this cacti genus apart from others.
First, each species’ foliage can look strikingly different from each other. Next, some species bury themselves beneath the soil.
Most of its species grow pinkish, purplish, or white flowers that can sometimes seem like they have sprouted straight from the ground. That's because the main body is buried underneath it.
Finally, and most interestingly, this genus produces fine white, wooly filaments that can resemble snow or even piped frosting.
Lastly, you might want to consider the genus, Tephrocactus. The name was derived from the Greek term “tephra” which means ash due to its ashen or grayish color.
Don’t let its dull hue discourage you, though. After all, most of its species have unique appearances thanks to their spineless, segmented forms that sometimes stand erect or spread out like messy tufts.
A personal favorite of ours is the Tephrocactus geometricus. It has globular stems that resemble circular spikey balls balancing atop each other.
Another stand out is the Tephrocactus articulatus, which grows soft, flat, paper-like spines around its pinecone-shaped segments.
It can look a bit scary and spikey from afar, but these spines are oddly, really soft. They can even curl as they grow longer.
How to Tell if a Plant is Rare
Determining the rarity of a succulent or cacti, or any plant for that matter is difficult. However, some factors can make a plant rare.
- They are endangered and can be hard to come by, even in their natural habitat. The most straightforward determinant of rarity is whether a species is already endangered or not. That said, it is crucial to know where your plants are sourced, especially if they come from overseas.
- They cannot be found in the wild. Another determinant of rarity is whether a plant is a cultivar that cannot be found in the wild. The term “cultivar” stands for “cultivated variety”. This means the plant was “created” by humans using particular techniques within a controlled environment.
- They don’t grow in your location. Some “rare” plants are simply deemed as such because they are not endemic to your location. Most of them can even be hard to grow, given the conditions in your area.
- They look unique. Finally, many plants are considered rare because of their weird visual appearance. These can make them seem intimidating, and because of that, only growers who are brave at heart choose to grow them. This results in the plants becoming uncommonly grown or even deemed “rare”.
Are Crested and Monstrose Succulents Rare?
Crested and monstrose succulents are succulents that result from abnormal or disfigured growth.
Since these mutations don’t always happen, they are generally considered “rare”. This is also why crested and monstrose succulents are more expensive than other succulents, even uncommon ones.
The good news is, these mutations can be transmitted through propagation. Hence, if you have already acquired one, there are ways to grow your collection further and even share them with your gardening friends.
Buying Succulent and Cacti Seeds
Speaking of propagation, more patient and experienced growers can also opt to buy and grow their rare succulents and cacti from seeds instead.
They are a more affordable option since a single seed pack can already produce an army of plants. Just make sure to get your seeds from reputable sources.
Sadly, seed scams online are not uncommon. These include sellers claiming to sell rare seeds when they’re only selling you common weed seeds.
Hunting Rare Succulents and Cacti
Finding the next rare succulent or cactus to add to your collection shouldn’t be impossible or impossibly expensive.
The sources and methods we have shared with you above can surely help in this mission.
Remember that acquiring these plants is just the beginning of your journey. Take the time to research their care requirements to ensure that they grow happy and healthy.
Believe us when we tell you that nothing hurts more than getting your hands on a particularly rare plant only to have it die on you just a few weeks after. Good luck and happy gardening!