Ajuntament de Barcelona

Singular species

Mossèn Costa i Llobera Garden

    Royal agave

    Mossèn Costa i Llobera Garden is especially devoted to the succulent plants and very remarkably to Cactaceae, but there also are very interesting specimens of palms (Mexican fan palms, date palms, dwarf fan palms) and cycads (Sago cycad, Eastern Cap giant cycad). These plants are characteristic of their leafless trunk that finishes into a big compound leaves bunch.

    The exceptional location of this garden gives it a special microclimate, hotter than the rest of town, very adequate to plants from tropical, subtropical, desert and semi desert climates. Some of the displayed species are very uncommon in botanical collections (such as the Echinopsis atacamensis). The fact that some of those plants are vulnerable (Eastern Cap giant cycad) or threatened (old man cactus, Queen Victoria’s agave) in their natural habitats confers to this garden an important role in the conservation of threatened and menaced of extinction species. 


    The cycads are a very old group of plants composed by three botanical families (Cycadaceae, Stangeriaceae and Zamiaceae). These plants can be very tall. They are considered living fossils because their characteristics have not changed during millions of years. They were one of the main components of the Jurassic vegetation (200-1460 millions of years BC), but today they are rare, basically limited to tropical and tropical areas and even semi desert and arid areas. Usually, this group’s species are resilient to drought and can grow on sandy and rocky terrains (both sunny and shady) or highly salty terrains. The plants’ ability to adapt and live in dry and less vegetal diverse places and their longevity, precisely, have allowed them to survive until today, despite having a very slow growth and rarely reproducing.

    A considerable percentage of cycads are in the Red List of Threatened Species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and many others have the risk of being part of it.

    In this point of interest you can see two specimens of cycad, with extraordinarily slow growth: the Sago cycad, from Japan and very used as an ornamental plant, and one Eastern Cap giant cycad, from South Africa coast. The cycadas are dyoic plants; that is, they have the masculine and the feminine reproductive organs on separate plants. As you can see, the Sago cycad’s masculine organs are big cones looking like conifers’ pines and the feminine ones are yellowish very hairy leaves with orange-like ovules on the base.

    Here you also can see three interesting South American succulent specimens: two Cactaceae (the Echinopsis atacamensis, unusual in collections, and the old man cactus, threatened at its natural habitat) and one Agavaceae (the Queen Victoria’s agave, threatened of extinction in the nature because of the big illegal commercialisation). The Echinopsis atacamensis, native from Atacama desert (South America), is a columnar cactus with white flowers that can reach 10 m in high and that is characterised by the numerous prickles, quite large (4-14 cm long).

    The old man cactus, from Guanajuato and Hidalgo (Mexico), is also a columnar cactus with red, white or yellow flowers (they can appear when the plant is 10 or 20 years old) and very bright and noticeable long white hairs. These hairs serve to protect the plant from the intense sun radiation and look like the old men’s beard (hence why its English name). On some specimens, these hairs make an enough dense layer to cover completely the plant, hiding the rigid yellow prickles.

    The Queen Victoria’s agave, native from Chihuaha desert (Mexico), is a succulent plant that is very popular as ornamental plant because of its short thick succulent leaves (15-20 cm long and 4-6 cm wide); they have a white marks on the margins that give to them a polyhedric look.

    They blossom a single time (from June to August), forming a floral tube around 1.8 m tall, dying afterwards. 

    History and curiosities: 

    This garden become a privileged open-air classroom allowing to know the adaptation strategies of plants from several botanical families in order to survive in extreme drought conditions.

    The succulent plants are plants that have reduced to the minimum their leaves (converting them into prickles), that have developed extensive root systems to collect water or that store water in different organs of their body, such as leaves, stems or roots.

    Among the numerous succulent species at Mossèn Costa i Llobera Garden, South-African specimens of Aloe ferox and Aloe brevifolia, Mexican Cylindropuntia rosea, African Aizoaceae, Australian specimens of Xanthorrhoea, Euphorbia resinifera from Morocco, huge Brazilian Cereus jamacaru or barrel cactus such the Ferocactus glaucescens from the Mexican state of Querétaro stand out. The garden offers a wide collection of cactus of the genus Echinopsis, such as the Echinopsis santiaguensis, native from South America (from Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay or Paraguay). They grow on sandy and gravel soils and stand out because of their big beautiful flowers. They can be tree-shaped or globe-shaped and have an especially high floral tube. The specimens of the genus Echinocactus (cactus from Mexico and the South of the USA) are also remarkable because they have a kind of wool on the top body, where the flowers appear; the flowers’ colour goes from yellow to purple pink. Etymologically, their name evocates the sea urchins (echinus). The Echinopsis are not the only ones to have a name related to their shape: at this garden there are specimens of Astrophytum miryostigma, whose name comes from its star shape, from where arise very beautiful yellow flowers. The Ferocactus, popularly known as barrel cactus, come from deserts of California and Baja California, Arizona, Southern Nevada and Mexico. On their adult stage, they have the shape of a wine barrel. Another kind of plants at this garden are the Mammillaria, one of the most wide genuses with more than 350 listed species. These cactus develop like tubercles storing enough liquid to survive and they can be conic, cylindric, pyramidal or rounded. They have long prickles and short prickles or long and thin prickles and can grown isolated or into symetric groups with radially placed heads.

    For further information: 

    JONES, David Lloyd. Cycads of the world: ancient plants in today's landscape. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002

    WALTERS, Terrence and OSBORNE, Roy (ed.). Cycad classification: concepts and recommendations. Wallingford: CABI Publishing, 2004

    WHITELOCK, Loran M. The Cycads. Portland: Timber Press, 2002




    Old man cactus
    Japanese sago palm. Femenine plant
    Japanese sago palm. Masculine plant
    Japanese sago palm. Femenine plant
    Japanese sago palm. Masculine plant
    Echinopsis atacamensis
    Echinopsis atacamensis
    Echinopsis atacamensis
    Encephalartos altensteinii
    Encephalartos altensteinii
    Encephalartos altensteinii
    Old man cactus Japanese sago palm. Femenine plant Japanese sago palm. Masculine plant Japanese sago palm. Femenine plant Japanese sago palm. Masculine plant Echinopsis atacamensis Echinopsis atacamensis Echinopsis atacamensis Encephalartos altensteinii Encephalartos altensteinii Encephalartos altensteinii