No matter what time of year it is, there is always something in bloom on Alcatraz. Oddly, what is the middle of winter is the prime time to see the succulents display their vibrant blooms. Right now, the inmate gardens on the west side of the island are putting on a stunning show, and this is only the beginning of a two month long display.
Green leafed Cotyledon orbiculata with orange bell-like flowers are among the first to bloom. Adjacent to these are yellow blooming Sedum praealtum. An island survivor, the bright yellow flowers accent the yellow bloom of the purple leafed Aeonium arboreum, another survivor. At the foreground is the velvet soft Echeveria pulvinata with its soft orange blooms on a long spike. Weaved throughout this tapestry of textures and colors is Chasmanthe floribunda; a South African bulb that has bright orange blooms that begin the end of January and continues into March.
Across the staircase grows a patch of purple leafed Lampranthus with bright magenta flowers. A scarce island survivor, this patch was grown from cuttings from one of two existing plants. The propagated patch is contrasted with the purple leaved Aeonium and higher on the slope, the green leafed Aeonium. Sprinkled amongst the plantings are Lobularia maritima, sweet alyssum, a hardy island survivor that shows up where it pleases.
The gardened slopes on the west side
of the island consist of a sandy/rocky breakdown of the island’s natural bedrock – grey wackle sandstone. This creates a well-drained soil where the succulents can thrive. Also contributing to the success of these plantings is the amount of sunshine the slope receives. The succulent slope faces due west, receiving all the afternoon sun, but also tolerates the harsh Pacific winds. The unusually dry and warm winter has likely caused the blooming to be a bit earlier than usual, but they seem unaffected by the dry conditions.
The plants thriving on the slope is a clever mix of 40 years of untended growth (survival of the fittest) and the guiding hand of the gardeners – all with the cellhouse providing a somber contrast to the vivid colors.