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 »

Monthly Archives: March 2007

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.

Taking care of Christmas cactus

The first thing that you should admit about Christmas cactus is that it’s more like a houseplant than a cactus in terms of care. I mean to say, that it’s traditionally believed that cactuses (these prickly and round:)) require much sun and rare watering. Well, in case of Christmas cactus it’s on the other way around. Though it’s still a succulent plant and can store some amount of water in its leaves, it is not that drought tolerant and needs more watering than other cactus plants. I remember how my friend from whom I “inherited” this cactus warned me about keeping the soil moist all the time. As for me, it was quite difficult to find this golden middle and it always seemed that I either overwatered or underwatered it. My Christmas cactus’s flower buds began to drop from the very beginning. Later on I came to the conclusion that it happened mainly because of the change of the environment – lighting, air temperature, humidity – but not my fault as a waterer.

As for lighting, Christmas cactus needs quite average amount of sun. First I kept it in the strong sun, but, sadly enough, it turned yellow. So I realized that the best option is keep it indoors in the partial shade as too much of direct sunrays may burn its leaves. Mind that Christmas cactus is very sensitive to changing lighting conditions. So if you rearrange it try to preserve the same position relative to the source of light.

As for temperature, Christmas cactus likes warmth. They say, the best option is to grow this cactus species at temperatures between 70 to 80 °F. But you should bear in mind that too much warmth can cause flower buds dropping (what probably happened in my case as it was pretty stuffy in that small room I used to live then). Now I try to maintain the temperature between 55 and 65 °F throughout the whole year and my lovely Schlumbergera bridgesii feels good.

Soil is also a very important point in caring for Christmas cactus. Well-drained soil is essential for it. There are commercially packaged potting mixes for cactus plants on the market that are quite good, but I got used to mix my own soil. Well, I take leaf mold, garden loam, and clean coarse sand in equal parts and add a quart of wood ashes per bushel of this mix. I also fertilize the soil every month with a liquid houseplant fertilizer rich in potassium or add old dry cow manure. I usually stop feeding about a month before buds appear (appr. in the end of October).

In the next posts I’ll tell you about my experience in Christmas cactus repotting and propagation. And of course, about Christmas cactus flowering that is certainly a special occasion!

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.

Three cactus subfamilies

In order to cope with this enormous variety of cactus types, the family Cactaceae, the typical features of which I’ve considered in the What’s Cactus? section, is devided into three subfamilies.

The first cactus subfamily is called Pereskioideae. It comprises cacti with right and completely developed leaves. These cacti are very few, and the subfamily Pereskioideae is the smallest. Only 26 cactus species are included in it.

The second subfamily is Opuntioideae. It unites about 400 species that have two distinctive features: first, they all have rudimentary triangular or subulate leaflets; second, on the top of their arealas there are bunches of thin, jagged setas named glochidia. They keep on the stem very poorly are can be separated from it at the slightest touch, clinging to hands and clothes. So in order to prevent troubles, it is necessary to remember about it while caring for prickly pear cactus.All the other cacti, that is more than 2000 species, belong to the third subfamily Cactoideae. The majority of popular cacti are Cactoideae. Their distinctive features are: the absence of any leaves on the stem and the absense of glochidia on areolas.

How I began to collect cacti

Pediocactus simpsonii (a difficult North-American echinocactus)As it always happens in life, just when you cease to believe in luck it comes to you out of the blue. It came to me from my best friend, a charming and incredibly fussy woman, always having something new and interesting in reserve. During one of our meetings she spoke about the guitar she bought and her first attemts to play it. Naturally my first question was about her progress as a guitar player. But she only waved away and said that there are much more interesting things, for example, cactuses. “I collect cacti. Do you know what a cactus is?” she asked.I was sure I knew and I told her confidently everything I heard about the subject matter: “Well, it is something… prickly… and round?” And then she told me that cacti are not necessarily round, they also can be long and flat and even like a “cat’s tail”. I listened to her with bated breath. Eventually I went to look at her cactus collection the same evening.

Coming back home and looking at the streets in twilight I tried to contemplate my impressions. Certainly, I saw different cacti before. But it was for the first time that I could see such a great variety of them so near and in the same place. I liked them very much as they reminded me of something dear and lovely that I could not remember.

At that moment I caught the contour of the trees standing on the twilight streets and understood everything. They reminded me of children’s drawings, so simple, laconic and expressive at the same time.

A week later I called my friend and told her that I also wanted to collect cacti and asked her what my first steps should be.

“First of all buy tweezers to pull thorns out and then come to me with a big basket – I will give you my collection.” she said.  “They have bothered me. I’m pricked like a pillow for pins, and they die for some reason. And besides, I have a crab that I’m much more fond of now. Her name is Lisa and she is horribly angry! I keep her in the jar with sea-water. So funny to look how she swallows up worms!”

Thus I became the owner of a pretty large cactus collection. I washed and cleaned my cactuses, rearranged and replaced them. I asked all my acquaintances and friends whether they know people who have cactuses, and whether it is impossible to get a cutting or a shoot for me.

So I became a recruit in the numerous army of cactus collectors.