cactus-food

Cactus Food on Your Breakfast Table

Everybody knows that cactuses are prickly. However, the fact that they are also an important source of food is far less popular. Stems, fruits and seeds of cactus have been have been More »

fear-and-loathing-cactus

Psychedelic Cactus Adventure

We are human beings and, as the Eden’s incident proves it, it’s typical for all of us to cherish a desire for something forbidden and adventurous within. How about growing a plant More »

mountain-cacti-big

Mountain cacti

Have you ever been to or have you ever seen the pictures of the Andes or the Cordilleras? These are the places of such cactus types as astrophytum, cleistocactus, echinopsis, lobivia, notocactus, More »

Prickly-pear-cactus

Did you know these prickly things?

We all got used to cactuses as original and beautiful houseplants. So when we hear the word “cactus” we usually think of those natty prickly green things in small pots on our More »

saguaro-cactus

Taking care of saguaro cactus

When you hear the word “saguaro” you probably imagine a large, tree-sized cactus with a mighty ribbed stalk that grows in the Caribbee coastwise. I also once thought that all representatives of More »

Monthly Archives: June 2007

How to place different types of cactus plants

There’s no other houseplant like cactus that needs such a sharp distinction between winter and summer placing. In summer your cacti have to grow intensively, but in winter it happens quite on the contrary, and you need to stop their growth to avoid deformed winter increase and exhaustion.

In their homeland different types of cactus plants have a natural period of rest during summer draughts and with the first rains they start growing again. But we have to establish simulated conditions of rest in wintertime and in late autumn, when cactus plants are short of light for their normal growth. First of all, it’s necessary to reduce watering gradually, just to prevent drying up and withering of roots. Second of all, you should lower temperature on windowsills to 5-10 °C.The second condition is a must, because if you keep cactus dry by usual room temperature, its stalk will go on evaporating water, the plant will fade without watering and won’t rest. Low temperature slows down its breathing and metabolism process. If you organize wintering for cactus properly, your prickly friend won’t get dry. It will grow stout and ripen.

The easiest way to low down temperature on the windowsill is to set a light glass frame on its edge. It will protect your cactus from the heating battery. Thermometer is essential to control temperature during all winter. If it shows 5 °C, it’s better not to risk and to warm your window-frames with a woolen blanket, but not on any account you should remove the glass frame until central heating is cut off.

The same placing is suitable for spring and autumn, but without a frame. Cacti can hardly stand abrupt changes of watering and placing. That’s why the general rule in cactus care is a graduality in condition changing.

In summer cactuses need maximum of fresh air and sun. Fresh air comes first for a reason: only those collectors achieve proper growth, good fuzzing and flowering of their prickly friends, who keep their cacti in the open air twenty four hours a day during the whole summer. If you have no balcony, you can keep your cactus types on weatherboards of your windows or in boxes strongly fixed on the outer end. But in that case you will have to protect your cactus plants from the rain, dust and wind. I’ve made a polyethylene film cap, letting ultra-violet rays pass through. So now my cacti have beautiful big thorns, which they would have never developed under a glass cover. I also advice you to keep and carry all your cactus pots on a tray. It is safe and convenient.

Did you know these prickly things?

Say hi to your prickly friend!We all got used to cactuses as original and beautiful houseplants. So when we hear the word “cactus” we usually think of those natty prickly green things in small pots on our windowsills. They please our eyes and bring warmth into our homes. But apart from aesthetic pleasure that our prickly friends give us, they also play a great role in making people’s life easier and more interesting.

Cactuses are widely used in industry of several countries. They serve as the source for getting vitamins and hormones. They are the essential element in production of some deodorants, wines, liqueurs, soap, etc. Their waste products are used to feed cattle and poultry. Certain types of cactus plants bear so big, juicy and fragrant fruits that people eat them raw, jam and stew them, make cactus jelly.  Sometimes they are put in wine for aroma and even added to meat stew.  Cooked or baked Neowerdermannia is considered to be a special dish in Bolivia and Paraguay.

Some types of Melocactus and Echinocactus are eaten candied. Stalks are hulled of thorns and rinded, sliced and cooked in cane-sugar syrup.

Prickly pear cactus is used to breed such aphids as Coccus cacti and Opuntia cochinellifera, dried bodies of which were used to produce cochineal dye. Cochineal was once highly valued, and until chemical dyestuff finally penetrated the market there were a lot of aphid breeding farms.

Mexican Indians use prickly pear cactus as a remedy for certain diseases. They boil the stalk and roots to make poultices, dry and pulverize it for making splints to treat fractures. Roots of prickly pear have diuretic action and its juice are sometimes used to cure hepatitis.

Medical properties of different types of Cereus, Echinocactus and Ariocarpus are well known. For example, juice of Selenicereus grandiflours is used in homoeopathic, as well as in allopathic treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Certain cactus species have antibacterial action. One of them is Lophophora that is remarkably rich in alkaloids. Indian tribes always knew about its strong and manifold action. Some tribes use it as an antidote for snake and scorpion bites, other – as a treatment for neuralgic pain and spasms. Lophophora also has a stimulating effect, and many tribes take it in before long trips and festivities; Lophophora helps to dance all night long without getting tired. In ancient times Indian warriors drank Lophophora beverage before the battle. Remarkable enough is the fact that it also helps in case of strong crapulence.

At present American Indians use Lophophora mainly as a ritual intoxicant plant. It causes visual and aural hallucinations and sharpens senses. Being under its influence a man feels all-powerful and doesn’t sense any need in food and drink. For some tribes Lophophora is the object of worship. A great many traditions and superstitions center around this cactus plant. For example, it is necessary to greet Lophophora when you come across it, otherwise, it may take offence and avenge somehow. It is also believed that Lophophora won’t let itself to a man with guilty conscience and restless soul.

So now look again at your prickly ones and say hi to them! Learn them, listen to them, love them!

To save a dying prickly pear

Prickly pear cactus - Opuntia albispinaMy first acquaintance with a prickly pear cactus was casual. Once I’ve noticed in the porch of my house a withering plant on the windowpane. Somebody of my neighbors put it out and forgot. The cactus was a sorry sight and I couldn’t help taking it home. My friend explained me it was a prickly pear cactus and told that I should take care of it as of saguaro. But it wasn’t enough for me – I needed detailed information to save my dying prickly pear. I tried various tips and recipes before I could bring this withering plant to life. So I want to share my experience with you.

Prickly pear cacti that grow on a vast territory from Canada to Chile represent one of the cactus subfamilies. It includes many various types that differ from each other, but nevertheless they have common distinctive features that set them apart from the other cactus species. All prickly pears have a segmented stalk structure – flat stalks are globe-, disc-, table-shaped, oval or cylindrical. They are covered with the smallest serrated spikes named glochidiae, which easily stick into the skin when you touch the cactus. Sometimes it’s very hard to take them out, besides it’s painful. Maybe it was the reason why my neighbors decided to get rid of a “dangerous” Opuntia azurea.

Unfortunately the most of prickly pear representatives are too large and not so lovely as other houseplants. A lot of cacti never flower in the flat because their flowering is possible only when they reach a certain size. But still there are some small and undemanding types of cactus plants.

Just like saguaro prickly pear cactus needs much sun. When the plant is short of light it becomes high but thin and not fleshy, losing its decorative beauty. In spring I accustom it to the sun and then keep it in the open air till autumn. Some collectors bed them out in summer in the garden. It hardens and strengthens the plants, heightens their decease and vermin resistibility.

Speaking of watering, it’s, of course, connected with the temperature and air humidity: the hotter the weather is, the more you should water your prickly pear. If it’s a cool rainy day, leave it dry. In winter I water my plants once a month, keeping them along with saguaros in a cold place with the temperature about 7-10 C.

All cacti can’t bear water stagnation near their roots, so the drain ports and a drainage layer on the bottom of the pot are necessary. Moreover, the water must be soft, without any mixture and chlorine. It would be ideal to use rainwater, but I water all my plants with warm water settled for some days. If you keep an eye on your plant constantly, you can notice in time the sign of water shortage – the stalk would be shrunken.

What’s the use of cactus?

I hear this question pretty often and each time I wonder why people are so concerned with the use of cactus plants. Nobody’s interested in the use of aquarium with tropical fishes or a matchbox collection. Why? Isn’t it the same with collecting cacti? I believe in case of cactus plants it’s not the matter of use but for the most part of aesthetic beauty and true admiration of one’s hobby. As for me, there’s nothing more beautiful than a collection of variegated cacti even if they don’t bloom. And in my opinion a flowering cactus will surely gain the first prize in the flower competition.

Like breeding fishes or collecting stamps, growing cacti first of all satisfies your aesthetic needs. Moreover, you get closer to nature, broaden your horizons, liberalize and increase the number of friends, as no collecting is interesting if you don’t share your joy with other collectors. Some people even assume that interest in cacti brought them to life during a serious illness or depression.

From the historical and cultural point of view the question about the use of cactus plants has a different answer. As a matter of fact, various types of cactus were adopted in this or that way for people’s life in those cultures and countries where they distributed. For ages cacti have been used as building material, food, medicine, ritual objects among native Americans, Mexicans, Colombians and others.

Saguaro cactus served as a building material at all times. Fences and hedges of growing saguaros with big thorns are prevalent in many countries of Central and Southern America. It’s typical not only for villages and pauper houses but also for posh modern villas. The stalks of old large saguaros, or rather their dried up wood, is a light and firm material to make poles, beams and frames of buildings. The smaller cacti are used by local handicraftsmen as stuff for souvenirs that tourists buy up.

There are much more other ways of how different types of cactus plants can be useful for the civilized man. I will talk about them next time.

Taking care of saguaro cactus

Saguaro cactusWhen you hear the word “saguaro” you probably imagine a large, tree-sized cactus with a mighty ribbed stalk that grows in the Caribbee coastwise. I also once thought that all representatives of this species are too big and don’t suit to be houseplants. But once I visited a flower-show and was enchanted by a small odd bluish plant with wax film on it. It turned out to be Cereus peruvianus “Monstrosus”, a typical saguaro cactus. Since that saguaros are honorary members of my collection.The genus name means in Latin “wax candle”. Saguarosare called this way not only owing to the columnar stalk, but also because of the wax film covering young bluish sprouts, that stiffen later. Pretty white or pink flowers with puce edges, that blossom out in the night, stand out against the background of this aquamarine ribbed stalk. Edible fruits are juicy and sweet.There are just a few saguaro species widespread as indoor plants and they all are well-liked among collectors for their unusual beauty and simple tastes. These cacti don’t need special care but still you have to observe the rules that are common for all xerophilous to achieve their healthy development and flowering.

Saguaro cactus requires much sun in all seasons. I keep my plant in the strong sun without any harm for them, but it is necessary to take into account that in spring you should accustom your cacti to sun gradually to avoid burns. Young exemplars need shading as well. In summer I expose the pots to the light and sprinkle the stalks in the evening with hot water to wash away dust. But if you have no possibility to give your plant enough light, you shouldn’t be sad because saguaro cactus can grow in the lamplight. Fresh air is also necessary for all the species, so I try to air the room as often as possible.

Usually saguaros don’t give a lot of troubles and grow quickly. Another condition you should consider to keep your cactus plant healthy is the proper amount of water. In spring and summer I water my plants gently – the soil must be sufficiently moist. In autumn watering is to be reduced and in wintertime don’t water it at all, except when the pot stands in a warm place: you can water it a little once a week.

And here comes another question: does saguaro cactus require warmth all year long? If you’ve already looked into the section True and False about Cactus, you should know that like all xerophilous it needs a period of rest. At this time the year growth ripens and a cactus musters its strength to vegetate well in spring. I made sure from my own bitter experience that in winter saguaros must be kept dry and cold – about 10-15C. Earlier my plants stood on the windowpane just above the central heater. The soil became dry fast and I watered them from time to time, fearing that my little friends would perish. It wasn’t very dangerous for cacti but they didn’t grow properly and didn’t bloom at all. When I found out that a period of winter rest is urgent for saguaros, I’ve built special glass shelves to protect my cactus plants from heat emanating from radiator. Now I admire beautiful cream-coloured flowers opening at night every year.

Soil is also of no small importance. Not everyone knows that saguaro cactus can’t bear alkaline soil at all. They prefer acidic soil. My recipe is: turf soil, leaf mold, garden loam, coarse sand (2:2:1:2) mixed with slack lime, broken brick and charcoal. I transplant my young plants every year, grown-up ones – in 2-3 years.

Saguaros grow quickly, that’s why they need not only a rich watering, but also an additional fertilizing in the period of their rapid vegetation (end of spring – middle of summer). I usually buy cactus fertilizers in the shop, there are some good ones on the market.