Paul Wellman

It is not every day that you have the opportunity to buy a plant that some experts fear is already extinct in the wild. But that is exactly what those in attendance at this week’s Exceptional Plants: Lotusland Auction and Sale can expect when an ever-rare South African cycad seedling goes up for bid as part of the garden’s highly anticipated annual event. A menagerie of unique flora will be for sale via live and silent auction as part of the Saturday-afternoon fundraiser. As Paul Mills, the assistant curator at the internationally celebrated specimen garden, said recently, “Lotusland is made for a sale like this.”

<b>FLORA EXOTICA:</b> <i>Encephalartos heenanii</i> (pictured) is a rare South African cycad seedling produced for the first time in the U.S. by Lotusland and is just one of the many rare plants for sale this weekend.
Paul Wellman

The cycad, which was propagated by Mills from a specimen that Lotusland has had since the late 1960s, is just one of more than 100 plants patrons will have the chance to purchase. Other highlights include a several-decades-old, Medusa-esque, jaw-dropping plumeria specimen; a celebrated South African caudiciform; a large intergeneric cycad developed accidentally at Lotusland several years ago; a variegated broadleaf lady palm; Rudolph Ziesenhenne’s signature Lotusland begonia; and a wide variety of aloes, succulents, and euphorbia. The auction — which also includes an afternoon at the perpetually sold-out estate, as well as a catered meal and some serious hob-nobbing with California’s best and brightest plant nerds — has in years past fetched anywhere from $300 to $9,000 per plant. “This really is a dream event for people who are into the rareness and specialness of plants,” explained Lotusland’s living collection curator, Virginia Hayes.

A fine speciman of a <i>Fockea edulis</i>.
Paul Wellman

For those who don’t know, Lotusland is an absolute wonder of a place. Located along Highway 192 in Montecito, the garden has served as a unique, world-class growing place since the late 19th century and — thanks in large part to its founder, the late, eccentric Madame Ganna Walska — is home to a wild array of plant collections, pools, and garden sculptures. Since Walska’s passing in 1984, the property has been run by the Lotusland Foundation. Open to the public Wednesday-Saturday by appointment only, it is one of the toughest tickets to score in town. The auction, however, which has yet to sell out as of press time, offers attendees the opportunity to both spend time in the gardens and bid on mind-blowing rare plants.

The event takes place Saturday, September 20, 2-5 p.m. Cost is $125. For tickets and more information, call (805) 969-3767 x109 or see


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