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 »

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

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 »

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 »

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 »

Tag Archives: cactus species

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.

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.

What are the types of cactus?

I began to search for the answer to this question in the books by well-known and experienced cactus specialists. But very soon I realized that I didn’t have even basic knowledge that could help me understand and follow valuable pieces of advice and instructions of venerable authors. And it is evident that knowing so little about the subject matter it is extremely difficult to write a good guide for cactus beginners.

Lobivia Hamatacanta For example, one book said that epiphytic cacti (growing on trees) couldn’t bear lower temperature and overdry conditions. But I had several Selenicereus cactuses, that were typical epiphytes, which could stand cold and dry wintering without much trouble. Why? I did not understand.

Another book advised not to subject cacti “originating from tropical forests of Brazil” to difficulties of severe wintering. I had some cactuses which native land was Brazil, but I did not know whether they were tropical or not.

The third author warned against overdrying of “tillered wood cactuses”, but some pages on he advised to keep Chamaecereus “as chilly as possible” during wintering. But as far as I know this type of cactus is both wood and tillered! Where should I search for the keys to all these riddles?

The first gleams of understanding came unexpectedly. Some friends of mine gave me several photos of cactuses that they had by chance and didn’t need anymore. Somebody of them advised me for fun to arrange a photo album of “thorny friends”, and this idea turned to be very fruitful. I picked more and more photos, but I pasted them not in the album, but on separate sheets of dense paper where I could also write down everything, that I learned about this or that cactus: the name, the description, data on culture and, of course, the native land.

And when I collected several hundreds of these cards, I often went through them and it served me right: soon I could those cacti? which suffered from dry cold. Some names were similar, some were different, but the outward similarity of certain cactus species was evident. Yes, they all were epiphytes and they all tillered. The majority of them really originated from Brazil, though for the some of them the native land was Jamaica, West Indies and even Mexico.

But the most surprising fact was that despite different names and places of origin all these tillered epiphytes had one common feature – they all had bare stalks. Their bright green thin skin was not protected by neither hairs, nor thorns, nor grey wax film. Only several tiny and thin seti. They all looked rather defenseless in comparison with other cactus species.

And this very defenselessness turned out to be the key to the riddle that I could not solve. I understood why this feature was developed – because of tropical forest conditions.

Why collecting cacti is so amazing

Why is collecting cacti so popular? I think that the answer to this question lies in versatility of cactus collecting.

Echinocereus reichenbachiiI believe that almost every man has something of a collector inside. It is always interesting to collect things. If it is not done mechanically it can be very useful: how many new things people collecting stamps or coins can learn out of their hobby!

Each collector has a goal – to find this or that item that is missing in his collection. And at the same time when this goal is achieved, the collector starts looking for another item that can be even more difficult to get. Ad infinitum.

From the point of view of the collector, cacti represent the greatest interest: in fact there are more than three thousand cactus species, so there’s always something to look for. By the way, still nobody has a complete cactus collection at present.

If we take cognitive value of cactus collecting , perhaps, cacti have no contenders in this respect. In contrast to coins or stamps they are alive, they require a closer and more careful approach. It is necessary to understand their needs, “tastes”, even “whims”, and for this purpose you will need a great experience and knowledge.

That fact that a cactus lover deals with alive plants seems to me very important also because everyday care for cactuses, observation of different phases of their development, germination of seeds or unwrapping petals help the person to get closer to nature, to get to know pleasure of a gardener, and this pleasure can be yours everyday throughout the whole year. Cactuses don’t require much space and can grow in room conditions. A large collection of cacti can be easily placed on a window-sill.

It is impossible to ignore the aesthetic side of collecting cacti. I don’t know why cactuses are sometimes called “green freaks”, but I know for sure that those who call them so never saw cactuses as they really are: all what they saw is just emaciated echinopsises and clumsy prickly pears. I’m delighted with cactus plants – they have sculptural cleanliness of the form, generous richness of colours and filigree and lacy patterns of fuzzes and thorns! To say nothing of flowering: cactus flowers are the finest in the world: they have characteristic metal shine and a nacreous transparency of edges.

The most interesting thing is that the beauty of cactuses is not seasonal, as it is in case of deciduous plants. Cactuses are equally beautiful throughout the whole year, if kept and cared properly.

And last but not least, there’s one thing that makes collecting cacti pretty much different from, say, collecting postcards, ancient porcelain or Chinese masks. You can look for, buy, exchange, classify and describe all these items, you can become a real expert in the given area, but you will never feel happiness of creation that every cactus collector can feel. And it’s a real happiness when you have the opportunity to create a beautiful plant from a tiny seed or a cutting, and the entire process of such creation is in your hands.

First acquaintance with Christmas cactus

Among the most popular cactus plants is, beyond all doubts, the so called Christmas cactus. The cactus collection that was handed over to me by my friend contained one of these plants, so I had to deal with Christmas cactus from the very beginning. Well, I’m frequently asked how to raise, care, maintain and make it bloom. Therefore, I made up my mind to dedicate a separate category to this cactus species. Moreover, this is one of my favourites.

Christmas cactusJust have a look at this marvellous and charming cactus! You can see it in bloom around the Christmas season (that’s why it has this name). Its beautiful intricate flowers range in color from yellow, salmon, pink, fuschia and white or there may be combinations of these colors. What a nice present it could be for a dear person on the Christmas eve!

Christmas cactus is included in the group of holiday cacti (it has been kept as a holiday plant since 1800’s) which also comprises the Thanksgiving cactus and the Easter cactus. In terms of taxonomy this cactus plant belongs to the subfamily Cactoideae (see Three cactus subfamilies). Its botanical name is Schlumbergera bridgesii, i.e. it belongs to the genus Schlumbergera and its species name is bridgesii. Breeders crossed Schlumbergera truncata with Schlumbergera russelliana creating the beginnings of the hybrid plants that we can see today. Let’s have a close look.

The height of Christmas cactus ranges between 18 to 24 inches and its spacing is about 24-36 inches. Its foliage is evergreen and smoothly textured. As I have already said, it blooms in early winter with flowers of different colors and a fancifull shape. Christmas cactus propagates from leaf cuttings. It can be grown indoors in the acidic or mildly acidic soil. Christmas cactus needs average amount of water but it should be watered regularly. It requires direct Sunrays but can be also kept in patial shade.

Next time I’m going to tell you about how to take care of Christmas cactus in detail. You will see it’s not that difficult to raise and keep this miraculous plant at home.