Succulents – spiky, flowery, fascinating

Zurich hosts one of the world’s leading collections of its succulent plants, containing 5-6000 species or up to a half of all known succulents. But what is this exotic and scientifically important collection doing in the city of bankers and insurance? Urs Eggli, the scientist at the Zurich Succulent Plants Collection, or “Sukki” as it is known locally, is standing in the Africa House – one of seven greenhouses on the site open to the public. He is pointing to what appears to be a large cactus. Except that it isn’t. It’s actually a succulent from the Spurge family. “One has to look quite carefully to distinguish it from a true cactus,” Eggli told “If you look at the spines for instance you will see that there are always two spines at the same place. If you compare with a cactus there will be several, perhaps 20 or so spines, in the same place.” So we come straight to the thorny issue: every cactus is a succulent – a water-storing plant – but not every …

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