Our greenhouse is filled with a whole collection of amazing plants. But one of the most popular features of our greenhouse isn’t a plant at all. It’s the 1974 Ford F-250 pickup that sits just inside the greenhouse’s main entrance. Although it’s a truck, it has a couple of things in common with the greenhouse team that takes care of all our plants. For one, like our team, it wears green. And two, it has experience in several areas of greenhouse life. Some of those include stints as an annual and tropical container, a huge tomato garden, and a fresh cut Christmas tree display. Currently, its bed is home to some of our favorite cacti and succulents in their more mature forms. Many of our customers enjoy stopping to look at the truck and its interesting cargo – and it’s become a popular place for photos too.
Our truck’s arrival in the greenhouse completes an interesting story that starts and ends with one of our own team members. A few years ago, we thought a vintage truck would create a great focal point for displays in the greenhouse, so we asked landscape installation team member Lew Tranmer if he knew of a truck that would work. Lew thought of an old mid-70’s pickup he once owned many years ago and had sold to a friend in Tekamah, Nebraska. Luckily, the friend was willing to part with it again, and Lew brought the truck back to Omaha. Fate may have also played a part in this because, as it turns out, 1974 is the same year we opened our store at 120th and Maple – some things are just meant to be.
So, what makes the bed of a vintage truck a great place for a cacti and succulent garden? Aside from its rugged good looks – an obvious first consideration – the sheer size of the bed meant we could display some of our largest cacti and succulent varieties in a container that was proportional to their impressive stature. The two tallest plants are both in the genus Euphorbia and tower around six feet tall above the soil surface. The one closest to the cab with smooth, blue-green “skin” and vertical rows of short prickles is Euphorbia ingens, and the brighter green one with more numerous slender branches is E. trigona. Both came to the truck as large plants already, but they’ve only grown taller and wider over time and now stretch into the rafters. If you tour around the bed, starting on the driver’s side, you’ll see other big cacti and succulents enjoying their room to show off too. Close to the cab is Dasylirion wheeleri. Its thin, twisting stems look almost like slender saw blades. A little further back in the bed, on the same side, is an enormous Aloe barbardensis – more commonly known as aloe vera – just like the ones we keep on our desks but way bigger. As you come around the back of the bed, on the right-hand corner, there’s a huge pink and green member of the genus Echeveria that’s currently blooming for all it’s worth on tall stalks topped with neon coral flowers. Coming back around the bed toward the cab again, we have a big agave who’s also put on a lot of growth since it was planted, even draping a bit toward the wheel well. And also close to the cab – on the passenger side – is an unusual example of the genus Opuntia. This unique cactus looks like a succulent version of a palm tree, standing on a single strong stem with thick, fleshy green “leaves” on top. Scattered in and around these huge highlights are even more examples of various cacti and succulent genera including Cleistocactus, Stetsonia, Mammalaria, Helianthocereus, Espostoa, Sedum, and Senecio. Jasmine Osten, the team member who brings in all the plants in our greenhouse collection, estimates that there are twenty different species represented in our truck bed.
Impressive as they are all together in the truck, these intriguing cacti and succulents make outstanding specimen plants at home too. Cacti and succulents generally have small root systems, so even in smaller pots they can grow to impressive sizes with the right amount of light. If you see something you like in the truck, take a look around our tables – you’re likely to spot the exact species or something very similar in our collection. Some of our potted cacti and succulents are big already, and their exact species name can be found on the tag on the pot. Our smaller examples often come to us as assortments, and although they’re not specifically identified – they may be too little for that yet – they bear enough resemblance to the older plants that you’ll be able to find one that’s at least very closely related. If you see a cactus or succulent you like – especially if it’s a larger plant – we do have one piece of advice from Jasmine: take it home when you see it. Many cacti and succulents are extremely slow growers and large specimens are hard to come by. Although Jasmine is always looking and does her best to keep our favorites in stock, long stretches of time may pass before some of these beauties come around again.
As for the truck, Lew claims that with a little tinkering, it could take off again just fine. But we think that after so many years of hard, dusty farm work, our green Ford deserves a relaxing retirement in the greenhouse. And we just enjoy seeing it here every day too.