Plant of the Month: Dudleya pulverulenta
By Dan Songster
Common name: chalk live-forever (Dudleya pulverulenta)
- Type: Perennial succulent herb
- Light: Can take full sun near coast, does better with a touch of shade
- Soil: Good draining rocky soils preferred
- Water: Can live with only rainfall but looks more presentable if watered sparingly into early summer.
Chalk live-forever’s foliage is probably the most recognizable part of the plant, consisting of a the basal rosette of fleshy, gray-green, strap-like leaves. The rosette can measure a foot and a half in diameter and about the same in height. What a beauty! Up close in sunlight the chalky powder coating on the leaves give it an almost white appearance, and this is particularly attractive in early morning or at night when it tends to glow. One lasting memory I have was on a field trip in the Santa Ana Mountains and our group seeing dozens of the Dudleyas clinging to a steep canyon wall over 200 yards away. In the shaded canyon the large fleshy leaves give it the coloration of old coke bottles from a distance-a shimmering blue-gray-green.
Chalk live-forever needs good drainage and thus is most commonly found on the sides of sandy, rocky cliffs in nature and in your garden would ideally like a situation that mimics that situation-rock gardens, beds with sandy soils, tucked into a crevice in a rock wall, and containers are best.
If you have clay soils simply dig out where you will be planting it and amend with generous amounts of sand, pea gravel, or decomposed granite. It is best to plant at an angle to allow water to drain off and avoid overhead irrigation. If you water at all in summer months, water at the base, it may not need it but it can look better with careful watering below the foliage.
As I said, the foliage is the real show but the lovely flowers and their stalks are also quite attractive. From May to July, one to several stout powdery white arching stalks extend out from the main plant by up to 3 feet topped by candelabra-like clusters of small, cherry-red bell shaped flowers loved by hummingbirds. .
With the serious onset of summer, leaves dry out, turn reddish, then desiccating. The plant seems to disappear until the winter rains when the succulent leaves re-grow (seemingly overnight) prompting one of its familiar common names, Live-Forever.
It grows well near the coast (enjoying coastal moisture as succulents do) and also tolerates hotter inland areas provided it has a bit of afternoon shade. It is an attractive plant that can make a nice addition to almost any garden or landscape style here in southern California. Enjoy!
Note: Another good Live-Forever species for your garden is Dudleya brittonii. Although there is a green leaved form, this is also normally has chalky leaves and can be hard to tell from Dudleya pulverulenta. But when it flowers the difference is easily seen with the Dudleya brittonii possessing creamy yellow clusters of blossoms pointing more or less upward with lovely pink/red stems.