The Charm of Cactus and Succulents: Forms, Flowers and Fascination

All of us, at one time or another, have been charmed by the curious forms of cactus and type of succulents.

We find them even more fascinating upon closer study.

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There’s no end to the number of well-known species and varieties with strange forms and colorful blooms perfect for even windowsill culture.

There are so many unique hybrids many collectors trade plants to grow their collection.

Most collectors soon become partial to certain varieties.

If you are looking for something new and different, you’ll find several items to suit your fancy among the favorites described here.

The Globular Parodia

The Parodia, for instance, are delightful small globular cacti with blooms of orange, red, and the brightest of yellows.

A particularly good one with red-throated orange-yellow blossoms is Parodia mutabilis.

Gymnocalycium or chin cactus is another small globe-type with blooms that begin in April and continue until fall.

Good, healthy plants flower when very young – only an inch in diameter. Blossoms may be red, pink, white, or yellow.

Gymnocalycium mihanovichii (moon cactus) is a pleasant variety with green and maroon stripes and light green to mahogany flowers. Gymnocalycium baldianum is a small cactus with a bulb-shaped body and various bloom colors.

Ball Shaped Notocactus

Still, another is Notocactus, available in numerous varieties, tall ones and small, ball-shaped types with yellow, red, and silvery spines.

Most have yellow flowers, and some have pink and red.

Frequently, the blooms are bigger than the plant.

Notocactus is popular with collectors. Easy Malacocarpus (now part of Parodia) is a larger, globular group of plants.

Wide fine varieties of this are available. Don’t forget the wool-covered sphere at the top of the Turk’s Cap Melocactus.

Tops have a depression filled with what looks to be white wool, and the flowers are particularly beautiful.

Lemaireocereus, a vigorous grower, has long-spined branched and climbing varieties.

Most Lemaireocereus grow to grand proportions, and some produce edible fruit in their native habitat in Mexico, South America, or our Southwest.

Young, smaller plants are beautiful in the house.

Branching Pachycereus

Pachycereus (cardon cactus) is another branching type. They grow big and tall, sometimes, as in lower California, as high as 40′ feet tall.

Pachycereus schottii monstrous (Totem Pole cactus) and Pachycereus marginatus, the organ pipe cactus, are in this group.

It grows straight except for branching at the base. It is spineless and fascinating.

The Wide Array Of Succulent Plants

Whereas cacti are only native to the Americas, succulents come from India, South Africa, and Mexico’s semi-desert regions.

They all have interesting forms and colors and a mysterious quality suggestive of their exotic origin.

Spectacular Carion Plants

Among the most spectacular are the Carallumas and Stapelias – the Carrion plants.

These are low-growing with thick angular stems and leathery, mostly star-shaped flowers that grow as large as 13″ inches across.

They bloom over a long period in white, black, and intermediate shades, among which some of the most striking are bright yellow marked with brown.

Ornamental Echeverias

The large, very ornamental Echeveria plant group we all know as old-fashioned summer bedding plants.

Waxy, smooth, and hairy-textured types are interesting under glass for their rosette-shaped, strange-tinted foliage.

The Haworthias

Haworthias, especially Haworthia setata, the Lace Hawarthia, is a fine type with tapering, bristly leaves with snow white teeth.

Haworthia turgida has a pleasing pattern on wedge-shaped leaves and Haworthia fasciata has slender pointed leaves marked with white bands.

It takes some sunshine to bring out the bright colors of Andromischus, although, like most succulents, it wants only partial shade in hot summer weather.

Leaves are flat, fleshy, and handsomely modeled. Some of the best-looking are of a solid silver color.

Cacti and Succulents Greenhouse Facts

Cacti and succulents are grown best in light conditions that simulate the conditions of their native places.

Plants grown in pots may be moved around to locations to best suit their various stages of growth.

Seedlings and plants that don’t need much sun are grown in less exposed areas.

Soil Mixture

Soil for the thriving culture of cacti and succulents should be fine textured and of an open sandy nature.

It should:

  • Hold moisture evenly
  • Drain freely
  • Never be allowed to become soggy, muddy, hard, or caky
  • Always be loose and friable

One simple cactus and succulent soil mixtures consist of:

  • One part sand
  • One part loam
  • One and a quarter parts leafmold

To each bushel (9.3 gallons of liquid), add a:

  • 6-inch pot of lime
  • 3-inch pot of crushed charcoal

Cacti and Succulent Plants from Seed

Although the fastest way to start cacti and succulents is from cuttings.

Many collectors prefer to grow plants from seed because the best plants are raised from seed.

Plus, many of us get a big kick out of them by watching their earliest beginning.

Any gardener who can raise fine seeded annuals such as snapdragons and petunias should be able to succeed with the usual run of succulents.

The problem is not entirely identical, but the need for care in providing the right growing conditions for the tender seedlings is the same.

Broadcast or sow seed in rows. Deep clay bulb pans are used with broken crockery at the bottom for drainage.

This is covered with fine sandy soil over a fine layer of vermiculite.

This is done to prevent “damp off,” If vermiculite were used only for this purpose, it could be termed a marvelous product.

After the seed is sown, place a pane of glass covered with paper on top until the seeds sprout.

Keep the new seedling at 65° degrees Fahrenheit. The seed comes up quickly.

Some of the Opuntias (prickly pear cactus) come up in three days.

Care of Seedlings

At no time do plants need more care than at the seedling stage.

Remove the glass covering gradually to give the plants a chance to harden.

Then, it is taken off altogether, and the plants are given plenty of air and some light.

A short time after transplanting, feeding begins.

In summer, plants are fed about every month. In winter, when plants are resting, they’re not fed at all.

Tempered Water

Never use ice cold water on plants.

During the warm growing season, cacti from the desert can take a lot of watering.

The watering amount decreases with the fall and almost stops in winter.

Others, such as the orchid cacti (epiphyllums), can take water regularly throughout the year except during those periods in late summer and fall when flowering has finished.

Most cacti and succulents can grow as house plants.

There are many excellent sources of plants and seeds grown by specialists.

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