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 Weather Station

Products > Senecio praecox
Senecio praecox - Broomstick Tree

[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Succulent
Family: Asteraceae (Sunflowers)
Origin: Mexico (North America)
Flower Color: Yellow
Bloomtime: Spring
Synonyms: [Pittocaulon praecox, Cineraria praecox]
Height: 10-16 feet
Width: 4-6 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30° F
Senecio praecox (Broomstick Tree) - An unusual looking upright deciduous shrub or small tree to 15 feet tall with thick smooth grey-brown stems that bear, crowded at their tips, 3-4 inch long by 2 inch wide bright green slightly 3 lobed leaves. In the spring prior to the new leaves emerging appear clusters (corymbs) of small bright yellow daisy flowers. Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil. Tolerant of fairly dry conditions in summer months though this is its growing season so will grow better with occasional summer irrigation. We believe this plant hardy to around 25 F as it has withstood short duration freezes to this low in several Goleta, California gardens. After flowering two to four new branches appear at the point on the stem of the inflorescence, creating the unusual and gawky looking form that seems better suited to a Doctor Seuss book than real life. These stems, often showing scars from the leaf bases, consist of a thick water storing pith that expands when water is abundant and shrink as the stored water is used through the dry season. This pith is surrounded by a thin cylinder of xylem which is in turn surrounded by a thick, water-storing bark. This plant was long been in cultivation as Senecio praecox. In Gordon Rowley's “Succulent Compositae” he notes that this plant was in cultivated as early as 1829 by the Swiss botanist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle who is credited with naming the plant. in 1973 there was nomenclatural work that removed this plant from the huge Senecio genus (Brettell, R D; Robinson, Harold Ernest, "Studies in the Senecioneae (Asteraceae). I. A new genus, Pittocaulon" Phytologia V. 26 pg 451—453, 1973) and this plant became a species of Pittocaulon, a genus with five species that come from the drier areas of central and southern Mexico and when we listed this plant in our 2009 catalog we used the name Pittocaulon praecox. Most current nomenclatural databases however have gone back to the original name of Senecio praecox and so we have followed this treatment. The name Senecio comes from the Latin word 'senex' meaning "old" or "old man" in reference to its downy head of seeds and Pittocaulon is in reference to the pitch (pitto) that is evident on the stems (caulon). The specific epithet means "very early", "earlier" or "premature" in reference to the flowers coming out before the leaves. The long bare branches without their leaves can look a bit like a broomstick, giving the plant the common name of broomstick tree, though the common names in Mexico are 'palo loco' (crazy tree) or 'palo bolo' (silly tree) because this plants odd structure and flowering that occurs at the end of the dry season in habitat, well before other associated plants. Our thanks go out to our friend John Bleck who has continually supplied cutting wood as we worked to determine how to root this unusual plant.  The information on this webpage is based on research conducted about this plant in our nursery library, from online sources, as well as from observations made of it as it grows in the nursery in containers, in the nursery's garden and in other gardens where we have observed it growing. We will also incorporate comments received from others and welcome getting feedback from those who may have additional information, particularly if this information includes cultural information that would aid others in growing  Senecio praecox.