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.    

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Flowering Tornado Survivor

Mammillaria candida

Say hello to my old Snowball cactus.  I grew this from seed I obtained from Mesa Garden C&S nursery and the premier supplier of C&S seed in the U.S.

The seed was sown in the spring of 1987, making the old Snowball 26 years old.  It didn't start flowering until its 10th year but has flowered faithfully every year since, except for 2003, the year following the tornado.  Our home was hit with an F3 tornado on April 28, 2002.  I lost over 200 cacti and other
 succulents.  Fortunately, more than 100
plants survived, including the old Snowball.  The surviving plants had to spend a very sad winter of 2002-03 in a cold (not below frezzing) and relatively dark basement and very few of those, including the Snowball, had the strength to flower in 2003.  The photo at the right shows the side of our house after the tornado.  I had just moved a lot of plants outside and they were sitting on a plant stand next to the house.  I never found most of those.  The old Snowball was still inside the house and was knocked out of its pot, but otherwise undamaged.

Mammillaria candida is unique among the mammillarias in that it has seeds with a smooth surface while all other mamms have seeds with a reticulated surface.  In plant taxonomy seed structure, as well as flower and fruit structure, is considered important in that they are features less likely to be affected by environmental conditions, and thus displaying true genetically controlled characters.  Because of the different seed structure, Mammillaria candida was once named Mammilloydia candida, but now it's back in the genus Mammillaria

To maintain the tight spine cover, which is the main ornamental feature of this plant, it must have lots of direct sunlight, otherwise, it's relatively easy to grow, although slow.   The individual round stems, shown in the photo above, are approximately 8 to 10 cm in diameter.  All in all it's a very pretty cactus and of course, another old friend.