There is certainly confusion regarding the name and origin of a popular and attractive succulent composite perennial that we currently grow and list as Senecio fulgens 'Blazing Glory'. This plant has been in the horticultural trade in the United State at least since 2010, when we first began seeing it marketed with the name 'Blazing Glory' as a cultivar of Senecio cephalophorus , now Kleinia cephalophora (For the remainder of this discussion these plants will be referred to as Senecio with the acknowledgment that they are all currently considered to be in the genus Kleinia). Why this cultivar was first associated with Senecio cephalophorus is a mystery to us as it is quite apparent that it could not be a selection of this species. The true Senecio cephalophorus, first described in 1949 as a Kleinia species by the South African botanist Robert Compton (in the Journal of South African Botany 15) and later reclassified as Senecio cephalophorus by the Dutch Botanist Hermann Jacobsen in 1954 (In Handbuch der sukkulenten Pflanzen: Beschreibung und Kultur der Sukkulenten mit Ausnahme der Cactaceae 2), comes from the Cape Region of South Africa north and east into Little Namaqualand and southern Namibia. It is a rare and fairly difficult plant to cultivate and is described with golden yellow flowers, succulent pachycaul stems like a Tylecodon, semi-deciduous leaves that are thick and rolled over along the leaf margins, making the leaf apppear narrow. Senecio 'Blazing Glory' however has succulent but not thick stems, flat evergreen leaves and red-orange flowers and it seems to fit better with two other South African species, Senecio fulgens and Senecio galpinii or the more northerly Senecio nyikensis (S. abyssincus) from central and east Africa.
Our first stock plants of 'Blazing Glory' came from Desert Images, Richard (Dick) Bogart's specialty succulent nursery in Ojai, California labeled as Senecio "Nova" (Arabia), which would seem to indicate that he believed it to be a new undescribed species from the Arabian Peninsula. Sadly, we were not able to get Dick's recollection on his source for this plant before he passed away in 2016. It a perennial or subshrub growing to nearly a foot tall with gray-green stems rising from an irregularly shaped (amorphous) basal caudex holding chalky blue narrowly elliptical succulent leaves that have a slightly concave center vein near the base on the upper surface and a distinct broad pale green midline on the lower surface. The leaves have entire leaf margins without any dentations and are blushed a violet color when first emerging and also on the underside of the leaf. In fall into early spring appear the few branched inflorescences rising above the foliage to 18 inches and holding at their tips the one inch wide composite flower heads of lightly fragrant coral-red disk flowers with orange stamens that in bud are held pendulous but right themselves as the flowers open.
We first became aware of 'Blazing Glory' as a cultivar name for this plant from the 2011 catalog of the now closed EuroAmerican Propagators Nursery, where it was listed as Senecio cephalophorus 'Blazing Glory'. A few years later the listing in the EuroAmerican catalog showed a change in the cultivar name, spelling it 'Blazin' Glory', but still listing it as a selection of Senecio cephalophorus. In this catalog there was also a ™ following the name 'Blazin' Glory', implying this name had a U.S. trademark. It is however invalid that a cultivar name be trademarked and there was also no such mark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. We also noted around this time the plant being marketed with the cultivar name 'Mountain Fire'. This plant now continues to be marketed in the horticultural trade as Senecio cephalophorus 'Blazing Glory', Senecio cephalophorus 'Mountain Fire', Senecio 'Orange Flame' and, to really confuse the issue, at least one listing as "Senecio cephalophorus (fulgens), commonly known as Blazing Glory". In an interesting interview conducted in February 2020 with the well known plant hunter Obed Smit of Smit Kwekerijen (a nursery in the Netherlands he founded in 1985) by the Javado European marketing group on their Blog Grower Report, the question asked was "What, in your opinion, is your best find?" Smit's answer was: "Senecio cephalophorus, also known as 'Mountain Fire', which I found in a desert in Israel. This plant has an unusual grey colour, an excellent shape, and it’s extremely resilient. It’s really satisfying to see how well this plant has sold over the years." It is hard to imagine that this plant was found in the wild in a desert in Israel, but perhaps it was sourced from some grower there?
Because of the number of phyllaries at the base of the flower cluster (up to 14) and the small basal caudexes, Senecio fulgens, from dry areas of KwaZulu-Natal, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, seems the closest match to this plant, except that this species has been described to reliably have at least some of the leaves with dentations while the very similar Senecio galpinii, a plant that inhabits the mountainous Richtersveld region of northwestern South Africa, is described as having entire (never dentated) leaves. In Gordon Rowley's Succulent Compositate (Strawberry Press, 1994) there is a taxonomic key to the species of succulent Senecio. The first key splits the plants into 13 sectional keys and from this first primary key Senecio fulgens, which inhabits hot, dry areas of KwaZulu-Natal, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Senecio galpinii from the mountainous Richtersveld region of northwestern South Africa and Senecio nyikensis (S. abyssinica) from tropical eastern Africa split away from Senecio cephalophorus into Key 1 by virtue of the former plants being subshrubs that are "Evergreen: Some leaves normally persisting alive and fleshy at all times" while Senecio cephalophorus goes to Key 4 as a pachycaul to bonsai stem succulent that is "Deciduous: Plants leafless for part of the year, or non-green with persisting dead foliage; leave thin and rarely more than slightly fleshy". In Key 1 the lower growing subshrubs, Senecio fulgens, Senecio galpinii and Senecio nyikensis var. hildebrandtii are at first separated by whether they have a swollen or tuberous base, a 10-50 cm tall few branching inflorescence with scattered small non clasping bracts (Senecio fulgens and Senecio nyikensis var. hildebrandtii) or without a swollen base, a shorter well branched inflorescence with clasping bracts such as is listed for Senecio galpinii. Since 'Blazing Glory' has as basal tuber, has the taller few branched flowers with non clasping bracts, it clearly leads one to Senecio fulgens and Senecio nyikensis var. hildebrandtii as opposed to Senecio galpinii and these two species are separated simply by the whether at least some leaves are coarsely toothed for Senecio fulgens or the leaves are entire or rarely 1-2 teeth for Senecio nyikensis var. hildebrandtii. Senecio 'Blazing Glory' has leaves that are completely entire, lacking any teeth, which would lead one to believe from Rowley's key that it is a cultivar of Senecio nyikensis var. hildebrandtii, but this plant has considerably darker red flowers and distinct marking in the leaves. Aside from the lack of teeth on the leaf margin 'Blazing Glory' better lines up with Senecio fulgens.
Adding some evidence to this is the listing on the South African National Biodiversity Institute website (Plantz Africa). Brian Tarr, past curator at the Natal National Botanic Garden, wrote an article about Kleinia fulgens that appears to be describing this very plant noting "This is a stunning, grey-leafed plant with a profusion of scarlet flowers. It is ideal for hot, dry spots in the garden. The plant grows to a height of about 600 mm and is ideal for planting in rockeries or other dry, sunny spots, as the scarlet flower heads add a splash of colour in mid-winter. The succulent leaves, which are an attractive grey/green with purpling on the underside, give the plant year-round appeal and add a pleasing contrast when planted amongst short grasses or spring flowering bulbs. The plant has a creeping, tuberous rootstock." He does not mention the leaves having any dentations such as Rowley described, nor do any of the pictures of the plant on this webpage show anything but leaves that lack these dentations.
Because of the leaf discrepancies we first thought to simply list it as a Senecio cultivar without noting to which species it belongs. It may be of hybrid origin but clearly it appears closest to a nice toothless leafed form of Senecio fulgens, so we currently list this plant as Senecio fulgens 'Blazing Glory' and welcome any comments regarding this that may shed more light on its identification and origin.