Monday, December 23, 2013

Titanopsis Christmas Display


The Titanopsis are Flowering

My collection of Titanopsis calcarea plants are all in flower, just in time for a Christmas/Winter Solstice display.  Often I don't have an opportunity to enjoy their winter solstice flowers, because they are safely inside their over-wintering frames and covered with several layers of clear plastic.  This year however, the weather has been warm enough to allow removing the plastic and take a few photos. 


I was particularly excited to see three of my seedlings in flower.  These three plants have very nicely textured leaves and they grew rapidly this past summer.  However, I did not expect flowers until sometime next year, but they decided to join the other Titanopsis in flowering during the past two weeks.  Yes, I did get my brush a do a little pollinating. :)
Flowering along with these seedlings was my oldest and largest Titanopsis calcarea plant.   The seed that produced this plant was planted in October 1995.  The pot is a 15cm ceramic pot.   
Obviously, Titanopsis calcarea are enjoying the increased light and lower winter night temperatures that the outdoor over-wintering frames provide.  I'm just happy their flowering coincided with a bit of warm weather. 
I wish everyone a very Happy Holiday Season and a Wonderful New Year.   It has been a great pleasure discussing our favorite plants over the  past year and I look forward to it continuing in 2014. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Poinsettia Flowers


Poinsettia -  Euphorbia pulcherrima

Since the holiday are approaching, I thought I might show my Euphorbia pulcherrima flowering.   While not really a succulent, it is a pretty plant, but it really isn't the flowers that produce the color, instead, the plant produces large, colorful 'bracts,' which are modified leaves.  The true flowers are small, and are borne right at the top of the plant above the colorful bracts.
Below is a close up of the true poinsettia flowers.  They're not unattractive, but they are minor when compared with the flamboyant bracts.  What looks like individual flowers in euphorbias are actually a collection of flowers called a cyathium.  Each cyanthium contains a single female flower in the center, surrounded by many males flowers. 

The poinsettia is native to Mexico and was brought to the U.S. and popularized by Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Saturday, December 14, 2013



Haworthia mirabilis var. badia

 Along with lithops, haworthias are one of my favorite succulent plants.  They are relatively small, easy to grow, and come in a variety of forms, textures, and colors.  Haworthias don't require the high light intensity many succulents need, however, I like the stronger colors that develop under lots of sun.  Such is the case with Haworthia mirabilis var. badia
This particular plant was a gift from a friend that specializes in haworthias.  The variety name "badia" means reddish-brown.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cacti and Succulents in the Winter Window

Astrophytum Hybrid Collection

For the past four years I have been growing seedlings from astrophytum hybrid seed.  I have selected some of the more attractive types, with the hope of cross pollinating them to produce even nicer plants.  I didn't want to trust them spending the winter outside in the heated frames,  where I over-winter most of my plants.  Instead, I am over-wintering them inside the house on a shelf near a south facing window.  Many of these should flower next year and I will cross pollinate them and sow the resulting seed. 


Haworthia truncata Collection

I grow quite a few haworthias, but my favorites are H. truncata.  I have recently been growing them from seed I obtain from my older plants.   I didn't want to risk these in the outdoor heated frames, so they are also in the house on the shelf in the south facing window.  Although they don't get as much light as they would outside, at least they are available for me to work with over the winter.  The haworthias will often produce flowers in late winter and I'll cross pollinate some of the plants and hopefully get fruit and seeds.   

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Winter Flowers A-Coming

Aloinopsis  malherbei

My Aloinopsis malherbei, is now comfortably in one of my over-wintering, outdoor cold frames where it enjoys plenty of sun and cool, crisp night temperatures.  As you can see, it has shown its satisfaction by budding up.  While I primarily grow A. malherbei for its wonderful leaf form, which includes the leaf shape and the small white tubercles that adorn the back and tip margins, the flowers are always welcome.   If I remember correctly, this plant was grown from seed planted in the winter of 2002, making it almost 14 years old.  It's never given me any problems and is now an old friend. 

**Obviously my math isn't very good -  above line should read, "making it almost 12 years old".     


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Succulent Winter Quarters

Over-wintering My Cacti and Other Succulents

I over winter the bulk of my cacti and other succulent collection in two 5 x 8 ft. (1.5 x 2.5 meter) wooden boxes (shown below) that are covered with 6 mil plastic  and heated with a 1200 watt electric heater.  This over wintering method provides two desireable features. First, much like a greenhouse, it provides excellent winter light for the plants.  Second, it allows a relatively low night temperature, usually around 42 degrees F. (5.5 degrees C).  I've found that many succulents flower better when given a cool night temperature over the winter.  Basically, this is a low cost alternative to a greenhouse.  

The frames are covered initially with a single layer of 6 mil clear plastic.  When night temperatures begin to drop below 20 degrees F. (-6.5 degrees C), a second layer of plastic is added.  The plastic is draped completely over the frames and held in place with six cinder blocks per frame.   

The frames have proven successful in tempertures as low as 5 degrees below zero F. (-21 degrees C), and in snowfall depths of 25 inches (63 cm).  There are two major problems with this system of over-wintering.  First, a loss of electricity can drop the temperature in the frames to a plant damaging level within 4 hours.  To handle such an emergency I have two backup generators that can be used to keep the frames heated until the power is restored.  The second major problems is very limited access to the plants over the winter.  I do not remove the plastic unless the outside temperature is above 45 degrees F. (7.2 degrees C).  Occasionally two weeks can pass without being able to open the frames.      

I have been using these over-wintering frames for the past 12 years and they have performed well.  They cost less than $300 dollars to build (the biggest expense is thermostats for the heaters) and the monthly electricity cost average about $40 for both frames.

Friday, October 18, 2013

It's Lithops Blooming Time !!

Lithops  lesliei  var.  hornii 

I have more plants of Lithops lesliei than any other type.  I like the large size of the plants, the relatively flat top of the leaves, the very interesting patterns of the leaf colors, and last but not least,  they are one of the easiest lithops to grow. 
Shown is a three headed plant of L. lesliei v. hornii C364.  It was grown from seed planted in the fall of  2002.  Lithops are occasionally called "Midday Flowers" because the flowers usually don't open wide until about 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Growing the Weirdest of the Weird

Astrophytum caput-medusae


As plants go, cacti are weird.  They are usually round or cylindrical and either covered with spines, hair, wool, or some strange textured material.  Since I like weird plants, I collect and grow cacti, and one of my favorites are the species and varieties of the genus Astrophytum, the star cactus.  The astrophytums are round or slightly columnar, and their bodies covered with small tufts of white hairs or scales called trichomes.  Their flowers are relatively large, usually yellow, often with red centers.  As plants go, like the other cacti, astrophytums are weird.   Shown at the right is Astrophytum myriostigma. 
On August 28, 2001 in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, Manuel Nev├írez discovered a very strange, and weird cactus, one that had never been seen before.  Finding a plant, in this case a cactus, new to science is a great discovery. But this cactus was not only new, it was really weird.  It wasn't round or cylindrical, instead, it had tentacles (botanically known as tubercles).  The tubercles were covered with white wool or scales, just like astrophytums.  When it flowered, the flowers were relatively large, yellow, with red centers, just like astrophytums.  The fruit and seeds were also just like those of other astrophytums.  Although there are disagreements, most botanist now believe this is another species of astrophytum, perhaps the weirdest of the weird.
The photo of the new Astrophytum caput-medusae
at right is from the book "Ariocarpus et cetera" by John Pilbeam & Bill Weightman. which has a wonderful section on astrophytums.  I didn't have my own photo of A. caput-medusa because I had never grown one.
Since I like growing astrophytums, and this was certainly an interesting one, I finally ordered 10 seeds.  I sowed the seeds in March 2013.  Eight seeds germinated but two of the tiny seedlings died during the first few weeks, but six survived and are now beginning to developed into that weird form complete with long, tentacles covered with the white trichomes.  The growth is very slow, likely because these plants have a large, tuberous root,  which develops before the top growth gets large.  Right now my Astrophytum caput-medusa seedlings (shown at right) are growing under fluorescent lights and will remain there until next summer when I will introduce them to the sun.
I always enjoy growing new and unusual plants, although it is always a little scary when you have no experience with them.  I look forward to watching them grow and mature, and hopefully produce their beautiful flowers.  I'll try to keep their progress posted right here on Cactus Hill Adventures.   If anyone out there is growing, or has grown this strange plants please tell us about it.  Thanks.   


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Summer Lithops Home

The Summer Home for my Lithops

I grow my lithops outside during the frost free part of the year.  They receive approximately 6 to 8 hours of direct sun daily.  To manage the amount of water they receive, I place them on a small platform (shown) that is covered with clear plastic.
The plastic only covers the top and back of the frame, thus allowing good air circulation.  

The cover is easily removed when I want to examine or water the plants.   Space is limited to 60 to 80 pots depending on the size of the pots.  The surface area of the platform equals the space I have inside the house where the lithops will spend the winter. On average I move the plants outside in late April and back inside in late October.

The photo to the right was taken today, October 2, 2013.  I've moved the plastic cover back off the platform to show the plants in flower. Almost all the plants shown were grown from seed.   I have done a little pollinating but I'm not sure why; maybe just to enjoy watching the seed capsules develop.  I really don't have room for a lot more plants.  I sold, or gave away, 18 adult lithops this summer at our (Washington, D.C. C&S Society) local society show and sale.  While my C&S collection is a general mix of many types of cacti and other succulents, I have more lithops than any other genera, although the numbers of  astrophytum cacti in the collection is growing rapidly.  :)

Lithops are neat plants and I really enjoy growing them. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lithops Flowering Season

Lithops  bromfieldii  var.  insularis 

Lithops, commonly known as "Living Stones," are succulent plants from South Africa and Namibia.  While they are primarily grown for their interesting form and color, (they indeed  look like small, colorful stones), they also produce attractive flowers.  Lithops are "short day" plants.  They produce their flowers in the late summer through late fall, as the hours of daylight grow shorter and shorter.  As September comes to a close it's the species Lithops bromfieldii, and its varieties, that are in the midst of their flowering period.
The plant shown above is actually two 4-headed plants I potted together to fill a 4 inch square (10 x 10 cm) pot and provide a more attractive display.  I grew the two 4-headed plants from seed sown in 2004.   My lithops spend the summer outside in full sun, but under a cover of clear plastic to control the amount of water they receive.  In the winter they all come inside the house to a sunny, south facing windowsill.  I've been growing lithops for quite a few years, but it is always a great thrill to watch them produce their bright, cheerful flowers in the fall.     

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Seedling Variation


Seedling Variation in Titanopsis calcarea

One of the exciting, and yet sometimes frustrating, things about growing succulents from seed is you never really know what you are going to get.  This is especially true when the pollination is "open," meaning you don't control the origin of the pollen. You know the identify of the female plant, because that is the plant from which you collect the fruit and hence the seed.   However, often you don't know the plant which supplied the pollen that pollinated that female plant.  That was the situation for seed I harvested, and sowed, from a Titanopsis calcarea plant in the autumn of 2011.  The result was approximately 12 seedlings which were moved outside to one of my over wintering frames in the summer of 2012, and basically forgotten.   This spring, I began cleaning out this over wintering frame and rediscovered the seedlings.  Most were typical Titanopsis calcarea, they looked just like the female parent,  but three were different.  They were definitely T. calcarea, but they looked different.  They displayed the variation that often occurs when you grow from seed. 

Seedling #1 (above) is Titanopsis calcarea but compared to the parent plant, the tips of the leaves are more pronounced and the warts (the round markings on the leaf tips) are larger and lighter in color.  For me, it's more attractive than the parent T. calcarea.
Seedling #2 also has the tips of the leaves more pronounced, but the warts are not as numerous as on seedling #1 and not as white.  It too is quite different in appearance in comparison with the parent plant. 
Seedling #3 is perhaps the most interesting.  Again, the leaf tips are more pronounced, and the warts large and white, but now there is a noticeable red coloration surrounding the warts.  The white warts, surrounded by red, on the ends of gray-green leaves produces a very different and attractive looking plant. 
All three seedlings are still Titanopsis calcarea, but they are all slightly different from each other and different from their parent from which the seed came.   That's the fun of growing from seed.  Such noticeable variation doesn't always occur, but it occurs often enough to keep one's eyes watching those emerging seedlings very closely with the excitement of removing the wrapping of a new gift.  As those seedlings grow you just never know what you are going to discover.   

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Big Smelly Succulent Flowers

Stapelia  gigantea

If you like LARGE flowers, you will love the flowers of Stapelia gigantea.  If you like FRAGRANT flowers, you will NOT like Stapelia gigantea.  Here we have a succulent plant with large  flowers, that resemble, and smell like, the decaying carcass of a dead animal.  Why?

The answer lies in the type of insect that pollinates Stapelia gigantea.  Perhaps you have already guessed, the pollinators are flies.  Indeed, if you have a flowering Stapelia gigantea, you will find a constant stream of flies coming to the flowers, and the flowers themselves inhabited by fly maggots. 

If you have space, a lot of sun, and warm temperatures, Stapelia gigantea is easy to grow.  Provide plenty of water during the spring and summer growing period, and keep drier and warm over the winter.  If you have Stapelia gigantea and it has never flowered for you, you are probably not providing enough sun.

Stapelia gigantea is native to large areas of south-central and south-eastern Africa.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lithops Up Close

Lithops  fulviceps  

I have a lot of plants.  That's nice, because it allows me to grow and experience a wide range of different cacti and other succulents.  However, it also means there are so many plants to care for that it is difficult to spend time with any one individual plant.  That's not nice.  For the past several years I have enjoy my plants en masse, but missed the individuals.  Within the last few months I have realized that I am missing out on really seeing, and enjoying my plants as individuals.  Today I got up close and personal with one of my Lithops fulviceps.  I had forgotten how attractive this species can be, especially when it is endowed with a grand network of wonderful red lightning bolt streaks that dance between the bluish-gray warts.  Beautiful in every sense of the word.   

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Collecting Obesa Seed

Euphorbia  obesa   -   Collecting Seed

If you have a male and female plant of
Euphorbia obesa in flower at the same time there's a good chance the flowers on your female plant will be pollinated and set fruit.  The fruit is a small rounded capsule holding three seeds.  A modest sized plant, such as the one at the right, usually produces six to ten fruits and thus 18 to 30 seeds.  However, there's a difference between the female producing seeds and your chances of harvesting them.
As the fruit of E. obesa dries, pressure builds up along the seams, and when one of these seams splits, the seed is propelled outward with substantial force.  The force is great enough to propel the seed up to ten feet (3 meters) away from the plant.  If you do not have some type of mechanism in place to collect the flying seeds, or prevent them from being propelled, you will lose most, if not all of the seeds.

The plant at the right has propelled most of its seed.  There is only one fruit with seed remaining.   There are a number of tricks use to prevent the fruit from splitting and throwing off the seed.  One is to put a dab of glue on the side of the fruit.  This will prevent the fruit from splitting with force and hold the seed in a partially split fruit or allow the seed to drop into the pot.  A piece of tape is sometimes used around the fruit to accomplish the same thing.

Another method of getting the seed, is to collect it after it has been expelled from the fruit.  Some growers cover the top of the plant with a piece of mesh or nylon, (like a hat covering the fruit)  to trap the seed when it is propelled.  The catching material is secured around the plant with a rubber band or string.  I have a number of plant and I prefer to use a large trap (seen at right).  I use a plastic crate that is lined inside with window screen.  The plants with fruit are placed inside and the crate covered with another piece of screening.  As the seeds are propelled from the fruits, they are trapped within the screened crate.  Some seed will fall into the pots but 80 percent usually ends up on the bottom of the screened crate.  I can collect hundreds of seeds with this method with very little work on my part, save making the trap crate.  The screen allows air and light (although there is about a 20 light reduction due to the screen) to get to the plants and I keep the plants dry during this seed collection period. 

Of course you still need the basics, flowering females plants to produce the fruit and seed, and at least one male plant in flower at the same time for pollination.  I have never had to take a hand in the pollination.  My plants are outside and ants seem to do most, if not all, of the pollinating.  Strangely however, I have also had flowering plants set fruit inside the house, and I never saw a single ant.  I have no explanation for how this pollination occurred....invisible ants....or poor grower eyesight.   

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013 NCCSS Show Plants No. 5

The  Euphorbia obesa  Family

Another entry category we have in our C&S Society's Annual Plant Show is "Parent/Offspring".    In this category you enter seedlings, rooted cuttings, or rooted offsets, and the plant(s) from which they came.  My entry this year was a pot of Euphorbia obesa seedlings, and the parent male and female plants that were used to produce the seed.  Euphorbia obesa is a dioecious species, which means there are male and females flowers, and they are produced on separate plants.  To produce fruit and seed you need both a male and female plant in flower at the same time.   Shown below is the female plant on the left (unfortunately not in flower), the male plant on the right (the tall guy), and the seedlings (the kids) in front. 

The "other" problem (in addition to having a flowering male and female plant) to producing Euphorbia obesa seed is that the fruit is a regma, a capsule that when ripe explodes and shoots the seeds far and wide.  Thus, there has to be some procedure set up that can capture the seed when it is expelled.  There are three seeds per each fruit and they are relatively large.  The seed germinates easily and this is the only way to produce more plants, since E. obesa rarely, if ever, produces offsets. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

2013 NCCSS Show Plants No. 4

Lithops Collection


Our (National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society) Annual Show has an entry category called "Collections" in which groups of related plants are entered.  Since we have very few lithops growers in the society, I always try to enter a 'collection' of my lithops.  Lithops are always popular with show visitors, many experiencing them for the first time.  Young visitors are particularly excited by these 'stone-like' living things, while it sometimes takes a bit of convincing for older visitors to believe they really are plants.  
Clockwise from upper left, Lithops dorotheae, Lithops karasmontana,  Lithops lesliei var. hornii, Lithops bromfieldii var. insularis, Lithops bromfieldii, Lithops lesliei var. venteri
Included as part of the entry was information describing lithops, their morphology, growth cycle, and native habitats.  One of the great enjoyments of the annual show is discussing the wonderful world of succulent plants, including lithops, with the show visitors, many of whom have never seen these strange and unusual plants.   

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Show Plants No. 3

Agave  'Kisho Kan'

This is a Japanese cultivar that I've only had for a few years.  This was the first time I entered it in the show and it won first place in the Agave Section.   It is an attractive plant, and smaller than many of the other agaves.  I particularly like the fact that it doesn't produce a lot of offsets, which can rapidly destroy the symmetry of the smaller agaves.  Agave 'Kisho Kan' is easy to grow providing you provide a very sunny location, a well drained potting mix, and plenty of summer water.  


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Show Plant - No. 2

Haworthia  limifolia  'Striata'

I like this form of Haworthia limifolia, although my plant has a narrower leaf than some clones I have seen.  I entered it in the Haworthia Section of our C&S Society Plant Show but there were a number of really nice haworthias exhibited and my poor little plant didn't fair well in the judging.  :(   It doesn't produce the vigorous stolons of the regular H. limifolia, thus no plants sticking out of the pot drainage holes. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

NCCSS Show Plants - No. 1

Tephrocactus  geometricus

The National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society's (Washington, D.C. C&S Society) annual Plant Show will continue tomorrow, but here's my favorite plant for today.  There was little doubt that it was also one of the visitors' favorites.  Quite a few visitors were convinced this was artificial, green painted ping pong balls glued together.  It's real alright, closely related to the opuntias and native to northern Argentina.  The green, spheroid stems are analogous to the pads of the opuntias and the plant produces a new one on each arm each year.  It is a  neat and strange looking plant.  One of the outstanding cacti of the show this year.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lithops - A New Generation

A New Seedling Generation of Lithops

I grew my first lithops from seed a number of years ago.  Each year I would sow a few more seeds, and sell or give away a few of the older plants, trying to maintain a sensible sized collection of between 70 and 100 plants.  There was no greenhouse involved, and winter brought below freezing outdoor temperatures.  That meant that although all my lithops could be outside from May through October, once the first frost threatened, they all had to come back inside to their windowsill winter home.  In any house, there is only so much available windowsill space.  For me, that meant room for about 100 lithops.  Any more than that had to go to the basement and under fluorescent lights. 

One year, I believe it was 2005, I just stopped growing lithops from seed.  I was always over the 100 limit.  The end of growing lithops from seed also coincided, or maybe caused, a general waning in interest in my older plants.  I had a brief revival in 2010, when I collected a seed capsule from one of my nicer Lithops fulviceps plants and grew about a dozen seedlings.  But the thrill of growing from seed wasn't there anymore.  Actually, lithops don't require a lot of care, but when all you do is maintain what you have, you really aren't enjoying your plants. 

This year is proving to be different.  I met someone, who also grew lithops, and their enthusiasm and excitement in growing their plants once again aroused my love of these strange little plants.  It also encouraged me to again grow lithops from seed.  This time I didn't have to buy seeds, my older plants always produce seed and I collected and few fruits (capsules) and sowed a mixture (which is often not a very good idea) of species. 

That new sowing of lithops seed was three months ago and the resulting seedlings are shown below.  I had forgotten how much I missed watching the seeds sprout and the seedlings grow.  I've had a lot of fun the last three months with lithops again, and although I will still have to deal with too many plants this coming fall, maybe I can find someone to give plants to and create a new lithops enthusiast.  :) 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

An Old Friend Mesemb

Titanopsis calcarea

Woody plants can live a long time, and mesembs ARE woody plants.  Given the proper environment and care most mesembs can be with you for a long time.  My records indicate that the seed that created the T. calcarea shown at the right, was planted in 1995, making this old friend 18 years old.  I have a number of cacti that are older, but I believe this is my oldest seed grown mesemb.  I have a 27 year old lithops but I bought it as a plant.  

Growing Titanopsis calcarea has always been easy for me.  I give it full sun for up to 10 hours in the late spring and early summer, and regular watering from mid spring through early fall.  In winter I give it as much sun as I can, keep it on the dry side, and relatively low night temperatures, often as low as the mid 40's F. (6.5 C.)  I give it some water during the late winter and early spring as it goes into its flowering period.  It is now growing outside in its six inch (15 cm) ceramic pot, and seems as happy as ever.  

In a year or two it will begin to spill over its pot and I really don't want to go to a larger pot.   So, I'll be faced with reducing the size of the plant by dividing it, or at least pruning off parts of it.  For me, the words mesembs and pruning, have never seemed to go together, primarily because I've always had the space to transplant to a larger pot.  Recently I have discussed mesembs with a grower who has very limited space, and practices pruning and dividing as a normal part of their culture.  Sometimes you have to change your growing practices based on the situation and such will be the case with this old friend.  I really won't enjoy cutting it back, but I'll try to do it in a way where you'll never know I did it.  I do have experience pruning trees and shrubs, and mesembs ARE woody plants.        

Saturday, July 13, 2013

More Mesembs

Aloinopsis malherbei

What exactly is a Mesemb?  That's easy.  It is a member of the plant Family Mesembryanthemum.  Well, that once was the case, but now all the members of the Mesemb family have been included in the family Aizoaceae.  Plant classification is always in a state of flux. 

Aloinopsis malherbei is a member of the Aizoaceae ( or Mesembryanthemum) family.  In other words, it's a mesemb.  As with most mesembs, it's a native to southern Africa, specifically South Africa.  It's a succulent, with extra water stored in its leaves and tuberous roots.  Part of the attraction of A. malherbei is the interesting shape and form of the leaves.  But also adding to the attraction are the pretty orange-yellow flowers, which are produced in late winter through mid spring. 

Both plants show at right were
grown from seed sown in 2001.  They are placed outside in full sun beginning in early May and moved to a heated, plastic covered cold frame in the autumn as frost threatens.  Thus, in winter they receive full sun and night temperatures that often drop to a minimum of 40 degrees F. (4.5 C.).   The combination of strong winter sunlight and cool to cold temperatures contributes to a strong flowering display.    

Aloinopsis malherbei doesn't present any serious difficulties in culture as long as the potting mix is well drained and it's given a lot of light.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Overdue Repotting of Lithops

Lithops bromfieldii v. mennellii

Six year old lithops should not be in their original seeding pot!  Therefore I am going to remove these and give them their own pots.  I believe several already have two leaf pairs, but that will be evident when they are unpotted. 

If someone is looking for relatively easy lithops to grow, the bromfieldii group is for you.  They grow fast and seldom cause trouble.  These were under fluorescent lights for two years and have been out in the sun for the past four years.  The leaf markings are vivid and I think this variety is my favorite within the bromfieldii group. 

However, I have several L. bromfieldii v. bromfieldii plants that have a lot of dark maroon in the leaves and are very attractive.  It's always hard to pick favorite lithops.  

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Another Old Cactus Friend

Epithelantha micromeris  (The Button Cactus)

My old Button Cactus celebrates its 20th birthday this year.  In 1993 I planted 20 seeds from Mesa Garden Seeds and had nine seeds germinate.  By the time the seedlings were big enough for transplanting, there were only four remaining alive.  Only two of those survived the transplanting.  Those two seedlings grew well and developed into attractive young plants.  Unfortunately, in 2002 the tornado that visited our home claimed one of those two, and now this is the sole survivor.  What you see is survival of the fittest, or maybe luckiest. It has flowered and fruited faithfully for the past nine years, and now with a cluster of offsets all around, it is a grand old matriarch.   

I was glad to get a photo of the fruit.  Usually by the end of June the birds have made a meal of it.    

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Square Cactus Flowers

Gymnocalycium ragonesei  -  The squished seedlings flower.

 At the right is a photo of ten seedlings of Gymnocalycium ragonesei (sorry no common name) long overdue for transplanting into their own pots.  Their growth has been good, to the point where they are squeezing in on each other.  Nevertheless, they are old enough now to begin flowering and flowering they did. 

Below right show the grand show as all but one seedling produced flowers.  The poor squeezed seedling in the bottom row, third from the left, did not produce a flower.  They put on quite an impressive show and the flowers lasted about four days. 

My plan, as mentioned in an earlier blog, is to show them off, squished as they are, at the plant show of the National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society on the first weekend in August.  The show will be held at the Brookside Gardens educational building in Wheaton, Md.

After the show is over, I will release the ten seedlings from their cramped quarters and give each their own pot, even poor little seedling 10, which is being squeezed into a triangle shape.   Gymnocalycium ragonesei is a great little cactus that stays small, flowers easily, and has spines that don't hurt you when you handle the plant.  As a size reference the 10 seedlings are in a 9 cm x 9 cm (3.5 in. x  3.5 in.) pot.   If you are in the Washington, D.C. area on August 3-4, 2013, stop by Brookside Gardens and visit the squished gymno seedlings.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Frailea - The Cleistogamous Cactus

Cleistogamous - Botany. Of or relating to a flower that does not open and is self-pollinated in the bud.

Frailea pumila is a small cactus from the grasslands of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.  For most of its life it stays pretty much hidden in the grass, but every now and then it comes forth with a halo of bright yellow flowers, attracting any pollinators in the vicinity.  

Unlike most cacti, fraileas don't really have to flower to produce fruit and seed.  They are part of an unusual group of plants that have cleistogamous flowers.  For me it is rare and exciting to see fraileas. They usually produce little round, dry fruits without flowering.  This past Sunday, when F. pumila unexpectedly produce its lovely yellow flowers, it became an instant blog item. 

The genus Frailea was named in honor of Manuel Fraile, who years ago, maintained the cactus collection of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in
Washington, D.C., which by the way, is the city in which I was born.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lithops Adventures (Green is In)

Lithops lesliei var. lesliei 'Albinica'

I've been seeing a lot of Green lithops on blogs lately, and I just wanted to let everyone know, I've got "Greenies" too.  Well, I have two green lithops, but they are both two-headed!  These are my two Lithops 'Albinica' plants.  Not a real success story as I bought 20 seeds in 2005 and this is all I have to show for it; two "nice" two-headed plants.  I'm surprised they are so different, but when you buy loose lithops seed, there is no guarantee they are coming from the same seed capsule.  I actually like the variation of one with small windows and one with large windows.  Generally, I'm not drawn to the mutations, but I had to have at least one, and now I have two. 

Since reading about 'Ventergreen' in Germany and the other 'Albinica' in Florida, I just had to find mine, shine them up, and post their picture in my blog.  Aren't they pretty? 

Friday, June 14, 2013

In The Winter Hardy Garden

Cylindropuntia imbricata  (Cane Cholla)

June is the premier month for the cacti in the winter hardy beds to flower.  Today the chollas broke loose with their annual flower display.  I like the cane chollas because they are distinctly upright, giving the beds some height, and you can get in and remove weeds around the base, something that's almost impossible with the pad type opuntias. 

Cylindropuntia imbricata is perfectly winter hardy here in Maryland.  The plant in the photo has been in the bed for
over 12 years, and has flowered each year for the past 7 years. The only thing I have to watch out for is heavy wet snow, which can break the branches. 

The flowers are very attractive, large (about 6 cm in diameter), and on average last about 7 to 10 days.  It's nice to have a touch of the desert Southwest here in Southern Maryland.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sand Dollar Cactus

Astrophytum asterias  -  A New Favorite Cactus

I have a general, or mixed, collection of succulents.  There are a few favorite groups;  lithops, haworthias, and sempervivums, among the other succulents, and astrophytums among the cacti.  My favorite astrophytum is A. asterias, the sand dollar or sea urchin cactus.  I like the overall form, low and squat, and the interesting patterns of the little white clumps of hairs (trichomes) on the plant body.  

I began my collection of A. asterias in 2007 when I purchased four plants.  Two were from a commercial mail order nursery and two from a member of the National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society, the C&S  society of Washington, D.C.

Those four plants flowered, were pollinated, and I harvested fruits and seeds, and began growing my own seedlings.  The seedlings were flowering in three years and producing more seed.  The plant shown above is one of the two plants purchased from the commercial nursery.   I have also purchased seed of a special type of A. asterias called 'Super Kabuto' (shown below).  This type is heavily marked with the white trichomes.

Now that I have a mix of different types of A. asterias , the seed produced from cross pollination always results in a myriad of different looking seedlings.  Some are typical A. asterias, mostly green with a few white trichomes, but others have no trichomes, and yet others are completely covered.  I'll be showing more of these in future because Astrophytum asterias  makes up a sizable portion of my collection of cacti.  Then there is Astrophytum caput-medusae, the strangest astrophytum of all.  But that's another story.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Only Cactus Native to Maryland

Opuntia humifusa  -  The Eastern Prickly Pear

Opuntia humifusa (aka Opuntia compressa) is the only cactus native to the Mid Atlantic and New England States of the U.S.

It is a low growing, nearly, or totally, spineless cactus with bright yellow flowers.  It does have glochids.  These are tiny, hair-like barbed spines that look like tiny tufts of reddish brown hair.  When touched, or even slightly brushed, they go into the skin and become very irritating. 

In winter the oval or elongate stems
dehydrate and shrivel.  In this state they are very resistant to cold, and wet conditions.  The plants shown  are in my winter hardy cactus and other succulent planting here in Southern Maryland.   As with many opuntias, the stems (pads) can be easily detached and rooted. 

I am using rooted pads of Opuntia humifusa for grafting stock.  I don't do a lot of grafting, but I sometimes want to speed the growth of promising cacti seedlings and grafting can achieve this.  

Opuntia humifusa was the first cactus I ever saw.  I found a naturally growing clump of plants here in Maryland when accompanying my father on a fishing trip.  I remember my amazement of these strange looking plants.  Unfortunately, that was the day I also learned about "glochids," a painful lesson. 


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Growing Square Cacti - Sort Of

Gymnocalycium ragonesei  

This is one of my favorite gymnocalyciums.  I like the body color.  I like the relatively small size.  And I like the low flat profile.  I have a couple of adult plants that regularly flower, and one spring I played cupid with a paint brush which resulted in several long, tubular fruit, and lots of seed.  I planted 25 seeds and ended up with 12 nice seedlings.  I gave two away and transplanted the remaining 10 into a 3.5 x 3.5 inch plastic pot.  Can you see the pot in the photo?  Barely.

Those seedlings grew, and grew, and grew.  But I was busy with other things and two years passed.  Last year I moved the pot of crowded gymnos outside for the summer, and they grew some more.  They spent the winter in my outdoor heated frame (I promise I'll discuss my unusual over-winter frames soon.)  This spring I began emptying the frame and what you see in the photo is what I found.  Not just crowded gymnos, but gymnos squeezed to the point of becoming square and triangular gymnos!  Of course I immediately repotted them -- no, not yet.  They look kind of "interesting" squeezed like that.  So....I have decided to display them, like they are, at the Washington, D.C. C&S Society Show in August.  I think the public will find squeezed gymnos "interesting".   After the show I promise they will all get their own pots, with lots of space, even the little triangular one in the bottom row.