Euphorbia piscidermis

The Oxford Connection


Plant in flower

A feature of Oxford branch life in the 1970’s was a regular mini-judges course put on in August or September by that great Oxford character John Mullard and his wife Jo. John was infamous for his practical jokes played on would-be judges so it was always wise to approach the plants with a healthy degree of scepticism. A Mammillaria man himself, he thoroughly enjoyed the red faces of the "other succulent" enthusiasts who had awarded a prize to one of his creations cobbled together from a potato and some suitable vegetative topping.

Collective memory fails those who were there as to the exact date, but we think it must have at the mini-judges course of 1974 that neophyte judges were confronted with something that looked like a small golf ball in the Euphorbia class. The small golf ball appeared again, but this time as a cristate, in a later class. None of us had seen anything like it before and, determined not to be taken in by another of John’s jokes, I duly awarded both an N.A.S. (Not according to schedule).

Another viewWhen the time came for the post-mortem, John revealed that the branch had a visitor that night. The visitor was none other than the botanist Mike Gilbert, who had brought along two specimens of his newly discovered Euphorbia piscidermis. Once we were convinced that this was not one of John’s jokes, Euphorbia piscidermis was a lust at first sight experience for all the succulent lovers there that night. Mike published a description of this plant’s discovery in the National Cactus and Succulent Journal of December 1974 but it was still rare in cultivation a decade later. Gradually grafted specimens became available and today it is on the list of many of the nurseries specializing in succulents, though still not at pocket money prices. People have begun to try this plant on its own roots and there are certainly at least two specimens belonging to Oxford branch members that are growing under their own steam.

Gillian Evison 04/06