Located in the southwestern corner of the Water Conservation Garden, a strange and formidable looking plant, Colletia paradoxa (syn. Colletia cruciata), is blooming. A member of the same family as Jujubes and Ceanothus, the plant itself resembles a kind of cactus. It has mostly no leaves but instead has flattened triangular stems that give the plant its unique look. It eventually grows up to 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Besides looking like a cactus the stems are stiff, tipped with spines, and quite dangerous –this is not a plant for right next to your basketball court. It is, however, a great plant for keeping people out of areas they are not supposed to be in.
The flowers are quite spectacular; small, white 1/8” to ¼” wide and bell shaped blooms that cluster around the flat stems like popcorn. They are rumored to smell like custard, however I did not notice any smell coming from them as I was photographing them.
The plant, which is commonly called espina de la cruz (spine of the cross) in Spanish, is found in the montane hills of Uruguay, Southern Brazil, Northern Argentina and parts of Chile. Although it is very drought tolerant here, the areas that it’s native to aren’t particularly dry. The specimen here in the Water Conservation, according to our accession records, came from Humboldt University; that is Humboldt University in Berlin Germany.