Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lithops - Summer Home

Plant  Stand  for  Lithops

If you want to grow your lithops in a way so that they look similar to how they grow in nature, and you don't have a greenhouse, you have a problem.  Very few windows provide enough light to grow lithops as in nature.  This was the dilemma I faced because I wanted to grow natural looking lithops and I had no greenhouse.  My answer was to grow them directly outside during the frost free part of the year, where I had adequate light, and bring them back into the house during cold part of the year.  

Lithops are well suited for this type of treatment because they require much less light in winter when they are going through their regeneration phase.  However, lithops are sensitive to too much water and being outside in the open exposed them to too much rain.  The answer was the same as I used for some of my water sensitive other succulents, a covered frame that allowed adequate sunlight but provided protection from rainfall.   

The photo above shows the lithops stand with a screen cover which reduces light about 20 percent while maintaining the best air circulation.  Behind the stand is a plastic cover than can be pulled over the top of the stand when rain is predicted.  I have found a reduction in light intensity seems to help the plants get through the middle of summer when temperatures are highest and the lithops go through a summer dormancy.  The screen covering keeps the temperature on sunny days about 3 to 5 degrees C. cooler than when the stand is covered with the plastic, which tends to trap some heat.

I have grown lithops for the past 15 years with this method and it has worked well.  An unexpected, but welcomed accident is that the number of lithops plants I can fit on the stand is approximately the same I have space for on window sills in the house during the winter. This limits my lithops collection to about 75 plants, but I have learned to live with this restriction.        


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When You Have no Greenhouse

The Summer Plant Stand

It's true, I have no greenhouse.  However, I have a yard, and several parts of that yard receive ample amounts of sunlight.   During the frost free part of the year I have access to as much sunlight as any greenhouse would provide.  Unfortunately, there is no roof on my yard and plants placed directly in the yard are subject to all the rain that falls.  While this is natural for most plants, it can be excessive, sometimes deadly, for some types of potted succulents.  The answer to this problem was a plant stand with a transparent roof.  

I am no carpenter and the stand is no woodworking piece of art, but it works.  I reserve the stand for those succulents where the amount of water they receive must be under control. The stand is relatively small because all the plants on the stand must find other quarters for the winter and those quarters are limited.  

I have used the stand for more than 15 years and it has worked well.  I usually water the plants on the stand once every 5 to 8 days depending on the plant.  The one group of plants that are not on the stand is the lithops.  They have their own stand which you can see just to the right of the plant stand.  I'll discuss the lithops stand in the next blog entry.    

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fat Plants are In Vogue

Pachycauls, Caudiciforms, aka Fat Plants

There's no doubt, the most popular succulent/xerophtye plant group at present are the Fat Plants.  I've been to several cacti and succulent plant shows over the past several years and the prevailing favorites on the show benches, with judges and public alike, are the plants with swollen stems and roots.  Their popularity began rolling in 1987 when Gordon Rowley wrote his book, Caudiciform & Pachycaul Succulents.  Today, they are THE plants to acquire, grow, and show.  Alas, I have not joined the masses, as I only have two Fat Plants.   However, to become one of the "in crowd" I hereby celebrate and show off one of my two.

Adenium obesum

This plant was a year old seedling sent to me from another C&S grower in a trade for some winter hardy cacti in 2010.  It was listed as Adenium arabicum, but as I understand it, that species has larger, pubescent leaves, and the leaves on my plant are glossy and smooth, no trace of hair or fuzz.  Irregardless of the correct name, it is a nice example of a fat plant, and one of only two I own; so I like it.

My fat adenium has been outside all summer where it receives seven hours of sun daily and whatever rain we receive.  When rainfall is inadequate I water it.  I bring it inside in the winter and it becomes a house plant.  I never force it to go dormant but it does lose some leaves in the winter, however I believe this is more due to adjustment to light levels rather than it asking for a period of dormancy.   I do like the swollen stem and the multiple branches.  It's very picturesque and a nice addition to my collection of succulents.  Will I add more fat plants?  I doubt it.  My space limitations continue to dampen the addition of any new plants, and when space matters you tend to look down on plants that are.......well.... fat.        

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Strange New Plants - Learning as you go.

Astrophytum caput-medusae

In late June of this year I discussed planting 10 seeds of the strange cactus, Astrophytum caput-medusae.  This cactus has a very reduced stem, you really can't see it, a thick, swollen root, and long, thin, snake-like tubercles arising from the stem.  My June 23, 2014 blog entry give more background on this strange cactus and chronicles the six seedlings that resulted from a March 2013 sowing.   The seedlings grew well and the June 23, 2014 blog entry shows one of the seedlings with a flower.  At that point the next step was the removal of the six seedlings from their birth pot and transplanting into a larger, or individual pots. However, because this is a relatively newly discovered cactus (2001), there is very little information on cultivation.  Thus, growing Astrophytum caput-medusae will be a Learning As You Go adventure.

Here are the six seedlings showing their thick, enlarged roots and ready for planting.  


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Oldest, Old Friend

Copiapoa cinerea - My oldest plant from seed.

In late summer of 1979 I purchased a pack of 20 seeds of Copiapoa cinerea from Mesa Gardens in New Mexico, USA.  I planted those seeds in November 1979.  I really don't remember how many of the 20 germinated, but I do know what happened to one that did; it became one of my favorite plants.  I gave it the best locations, most sun, and always remembered to water it, something I didn't do for some other plants.  I repotted it regularly, although that wasn't that often because it grew very slowly.  Beginning in the mid 1980's I entered it in every plant show our C&S society held, but it never won an award because it was still quite small.  

After it passed the 10 year old point it flowered every year.  The flowers are small and bright yellow but I didn't grow Copiapoa cinerea for its flowers, I grew it for the attractive body color and just to have a specimen of this wonderful cactus from the Atacama desert of Chile.  In habitat Copiapoa cinerea develops an almost chalk white body color.  I'm not able to provide enough sun for the white body color, but my plant has developed a very pleasing bluish-grey color and I'm satisfied.   Year after year it grew a little, flowered, and remained my favorite cactus plant.  

In 1998 it was 19 years old and began to develop its first offset, another stem growing off the main stem.  I had seen the photos of old Copiapoas in habitat with hundred of offsets, magnificent great clumps that had to be approaching a 100 years old.   It was exciting to watch it begin to develop the form that Copiapoa cinerea plants are suppose to develop.  It now has 10 offsets.  This November 2014 my old Copiapoa cinerea will celebrate its 35th year.  I'm very proud of my oldest plant.  Copiapoa cinerea is not the easiest cactus to grow, especially when you don't have a greenhouse.   I hope you also have a favorite plant.  It's alright to have a favorite, just don't tell the other plants. ^__^    

Monday, June 23, 2014

First Flower on a Strange Cactus

Astrophytum caput-medusae

In August 2001 a very unusual cactus was discovered in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.  The plant had a very short, squat stem and long, thin tubercles arising from the stem like tentacles.  Below the stem, and buried in the ground, was a thick, fat root.  Interestingly, the long, snake-like tubercles were covered with small white trichomes, very similar to those found on the body of plants in the genus Astrophytum.   Later, when this strange cactus flowered, and produce fruit and seeds, they too, were very similar to those of the astrophytums.  Botanically, it seemed to be a new species of Astrophytum, but the plant body looked nothing like any of the other astrophytums.  

For the past 8 to 10 years, I have been growing a lot of astrophytums.  I have representatives of the species A. asterias, A. capricorne, A. myriostigma, and A. ornatum.  I also have a number of varieties, and hybrids, including the very popular Astrophytum 'Super Kabuto.'  I wanted a plant of the newly described A. caput-medusae.  

Over time seed began to enter the market place and in March 2013 I purchased 10 seeds of Astrophytum caput-medusae from Mesa Garden.  The seeds were planted and 8 of the 10 germinated.  Two of the resulting seedlings were smaller and weaker than the rest and eventually died.  I had six strong, healthy seedlings.  The seedlings were grown under fluorescent lights and grew slowly.  I could tell in the beginning most of the growth took place in the enlarging roots.  Each seedling had 3 to 5 tubercles.  Three weeks ago, in early June 2014, one of the seedlings produced a flower bud at the end of one of the tubercules.  I had read about buds forming on young seedlings, but most  buds aborted before opening.  My first bud didn't abort and I was pleased and surprised that I had my first Astrophytum caput-medusae flower on one of  my 15 month old seedlings. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Growing SuperKabuto, or Something Like it.

Astrophytum x  'SuperKabuto'  (Maybe)

SuperKabuto is the Japanese name for a hybrid Astrophytum with a heavy covering of white, felt-like dots.  No one knows for sure, what two astrophytum species originally resulted in the SuperKabuto hybrid.   It appears that one of the species was Astrophytum asterias, but the other remains a mystery.  A single plant was found in a U.S. nursery by a Japanese collector, who took the plant to Japan and began breeding it with other astrophytums.  The result has been a vast collection of plants with many different patterns and coverings of white felt patches on a globular astrophytum body.  The original SuperKabuto hybrid has begat many, many other hybrids, most with their own particular beauty.  My collection of SuperKabuto like plants began with several packs of seed, all promised by the sellers to be from SuperKabuto hybrid plants.  Not all the seed produced SuperKabuto like plants, but some did, and those were grown to flowering size and now my cross pollination has begun and hopefully I'll produce something new and different.

Shown below is one of my plants grown from that first batch of purchased seed.  It has started flowering and if I have another astrophytum flowering at the same time, I'll use my small paint brush to transfer pollen from each flower to the other.  If I'm lucky and either or both of the plants produce fruit and seed, I'll have my second generation of SuperKabuto like plants. 

The great fun and excitement of cross pollinating plants and planting the resulting seed is that you never know what is going to show up in the seedling pot.  Yes, most of the time it is nothing special,  but every now and then....Wow.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Lithops - Ready for Another Year

Lithops - Those Wonderful Living Stones

The long in the house winter is over and my lithops are back outside in the sun and fresh air.  I lost three plants over the winter.  All were young plants, 2+ years, and they apparently just didn't have enough water to get through their regeneration cycle.  I took a chance keeping them with the adult plants and I lost.  Nevertheless, the remaining adult plants look fine and are once again receiving a regular watering.    

Shown above is a part of my Lithops collection.  Lithops really are beautiful plants. I've grown almost all of my plants from seed, and I thoroughly enjoy them every day.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Evaluating Winter's Plant Damage

Agave victoria-reginae
When you over winter several hundred cacti and other succulents in three wooden boxes, covered by plastic, and heated with small electric heaters, there is bound to be problems.  The potential "big" problem is a loss of electricity during a severe cold period.  Without the heaters, temperatures in the over wintering boxes would drop below freezing in 4 to 6 hours.  There were no power outages this winter and no heater failures.  Most of the plants came through the winter in good conditions, but there were a few sad exceptions.  Perhaps the most notable, and for me the saddest, was my seed grown, 19 year old, Agave Victoria-reginae. 
When I first saw it I wasn't sure what had
happened.  This was not low temperature damage.  Why a band of damaged tissue in the center of the leaves?  It took me a day or two to figure out what had happened. 

Notice how the leaves are all in an upright position. This is due to the plant being very dry.  Because the winter was so consistently cold, I had little opportunity to open the over wintering boxes and give the plants any water.  It reacted to the lack of water by pulling its leaves upright to protect the terminal growth and further reduce water loss.  This is a normal reaction.  But what it did is expose the undersides of the leaves to strong, direct sunlight (remember in winter the sun is low in the sky), and basically, sunburn the leaves.  The undersides of the leaves are not normally exposed to direct sun.  They weren't acclimated to direct sun, and when exposed they were damaged.  As far as the plant is concerned, it is fine.  In nature it would continue growing and eventually flower and set seed, its primary function.  But in terms of a nice show plant, it is ruined.  I probably should have anticipated this, but I didn't.  I was concerned with just keeping the plants warm, forgetting about what the extended lack of water might cause.  You live and learn, but this was a tough lesson. 



Friday, April 4, 2014

Revisiting the Red Titanopsis


Titanopsis  calcarea  -   The Red One


My blog of May 21, 2013 was about two titanopsis seedlings I found with red coloration in their leaves.  The seed came from my own plants but the pollination was uncontrolled.  Basically, one of my titanopsis plants formed a fruit with no pollination help from me.  I have no idea what the father plant was, but it was likely another titanopsis.  I collected the fruit and planted the seed.  This resulted in about a group of seedlings, including several that were a reddish color.  I potted them up, placing the two red seedlings in a single pot.  It was my guess that the red color came from stress, because I placed the original pot of seedlings in my over-wintering frames and they were in a lot of sun and didn't get watered regularly. 
After I rediscovered them last spring I gave them better care, basically more water, and they grew well over the summer.  They went back into the over-wintering frames for the past winter.  Once again this spring the red color is still there and the plant is quite attractive.  This could still be due to stress as life in the over-wintering frames this past winter was very dry, but with a lot of sun.  It's a pretty Titanopsis calcarea and I thought I would show it off again.  Perhaps I can do some pollinating when it flowers this year and see if I can find something interesting in the resulting seedlings.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

After a Long Winter Rest


Prepodesma  orpenii


The former Aloinopsis orpenii, now Prepodesma orpenii, has spent a long, cold winter in my over-wintering heated frames.  The electric heaters did their job and kept the minimum temperature in the 40-43 F. ( 4.5-6.0 C) range, but because of the consistently cold weather, I was unable to open the frames on a regular basis and all the plants received very little water and spent a very dry winter.  Most cacti, and other succulents handle, maybe even prefer, a dry winter, but small plants, and winter flowering plants, need a little water over the winter.  I usually give Prepodesma orpenii some water beginning in mid to late February, but this year that was not possible.  Nevertheless, it has come through the winter ok, and is now budding up and preparing to flower.  These little mesembs are tough indeed.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring is Mammillaria Time


Mammillaria  glassii subsp. ascensionis

Late winter through spring is the season many of the mammillaria cacti flower.  Of course there are some that flower during the summer, but some of the really nice species in my collection produce their flowers in March through May.   This includes Mammillaria glassii shown below.  It is named after Charlie Glass, the long time editor of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America bimonthly journal.  It is native to the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. 
Usually you grow a particular Mammillaria because the flowers are outstanding, or the spines are outstanding.  With M. glassii subsp. ascensionis you get both.  The flowers are relatively large and an attractive pink, and the spines, and axillary hairs, present the appearance of shinning hair.  A most beautiful plant in and out of flowering.  
The plant shown was seed grown and began life sometime in the early 1990's.  I have lost the exact date the seed was sown but the plant is approximately 20 years old.  It an easy plant to grow but requires a lot of direct sun for good flowering. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Visiting US Botanic Garden Production Facility


The Mesemb Section of the

U.S. Botanic Garden Production Facility

In Washington, D.C.


On Saturday, March 8, 2014 I visited the production greenhouses of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.   This is a large greenhouse complex that does the behind the scenes work for the U.S. Botanic Garden in downtown Washington, D.C.  The production greenhouses are also a rescue facility for plants confiscated at various custom facilities around the country.  The production facility is one very large glass enclosed structure, divided into 10 separate greenhouses, each holding a different type of plants, depending on their environmental requirements.  Here's an aerial view of the facility.
One of the 10 greenhouse divisions within the facility houses cacti and other succulents.   Within the C&S division the various benches hold groups of related plants.  A third of one of the long benches is home of their mesemb collection, which is shown below.
There were a lot of interesting cacti and succulents in the greenhouse and I'll try to post a few more photos over the next couple of weeks.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Desert in my Backyard


Carruanthus  peersii


Carruanthus peersii is a small succulent from South Africa.  It is a member of the Aizoaceae plant family.  This family was originally known as the Mesembryanthemaceae, and plants within that family still are known as the"Mesembs".
I have enjoyed growing the "mesembs" for a long time and always liked the idea of establishing some of them outside in my planting of hardy cacti and other succulents.  Carruanthus was not rated winter hardy enough to withstand a full winter outside, but I did want to try some of the mesembs outside just for the frost free part of the year, and Carruanthus peersii was one of my first outside test plants.  The photo below shows it enjoying the free root run in the open ground, and even flowering as a display of its satisfaction.  Unfortunately, that was not to last.
During one of my weekly checks of C. peersii, it was gone, only an empty hole remaining.  I was perplexed, and not sure what had happened.  Several days later, on approaching the cactus hardy bed, I saw something small and furry moving amongst the plants.  I sat still on the ground and watched a small cotton-tail rabbit moving through the area where several other mesembs had been planted.  After the rabbit digging and gnawing at something on the ground, I moved to the bed, the rabbit scampering off.  Another mesemb had been pulled out of the ground, and several others were partially eaten.  My problem with growing mesembs wasn't the winter cold, it was hungry rabbits.  Over the next several years I tried numerous other South Africa succulents outside in the ground but nearly every time they were destroyed or damaged by either rabbits or an occasional skunk.  I guess that's just part of nature.  Now all my mesembs grow in pots.    

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's Not Always the Flowers

Mammillaria  formosa  subsp. microthele


The flowers of M. formosa subsp. microthele are small, white, and do not attract much attention.  However, later in the year, when the red fruit develops, M. formosa subsp. microthele is quite a show off.  Of course, the tight white spines and the compact, globose stems, with their dichotomous growth, do their part to make this a very attractive cactus.  The plant shown began as three seedlings I planted together in a small plastic pot.  More than twenty years of sun, regular watering, and repotting, has resulted in one of my favorite plants.  The only problem M. formosa subsp. microthele  has is hanging on to its fruit, which have become a favorite treat for local mockingbirds.   


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Flash Back to Sunny Days


Frithia humilis


This is not a recent photo, all my plants now are tightly bundled up in the winter quarters.  This is a photo of sunnier and warmer days a few years ago.  However, as I begin to think about some of the succulent seeds I want to order for the late winter, I like to look back over plants I have grown over the past few years and enjoy some of my past successes.  I want to build up my confidence before I begin my seed sowing for 2014. 
Frithia humilis is a real charmer amongst the mesembs.  Unlike it's bigger brother Frithia pulchra, it is easier to grow, especially in terms of watering.   In fact, most growers have trouble with F. humilis because they keep it too dry.   You have to have a well drained potting media, but this is a mesemb that does not enjoy going dry for extended periods of time.  
I grow Frithia humilis in lots of sunlight.  From mid May until the end of September it receives at least 8 hours of direct sun daily.  This is another reason I give it special attention in terms of water.  The results of strong sunlight are leaves that take on a very attractive (at least for me) reddish purple coloration.  The strong sun has also resulted in good flowering.  
Frithia humilis is a small plant but with time and good growth it can make a respectable sized clump.   The photo below also demonstrates one of my quirks in growing small cacti and succulents.  I like to put them in a somewhat large pot and try and make the plant look as if it were growing in its natural habitat.  I have no idea whether or not I succeeded with F. humilis because I have never had the good fortune to visit its natural habitat.  Nevertheless, it looks nice to me. :)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter Hardy Succulents

Orostachys malacophyllus var. iwarenge


Since I have three acres (1.2 hectares) of land, most of it in full sun, it was natural to establish a small section of the yard as an outdoor cactus and succulent bed.  Most of the noticeable plants in the bed are large opuntias, cylindropuntias, yuccas, and agaves.  But here and there, among the rocks, are smaller winter hardy cacti and other succulents.  I have tried to grow a series of South Africa succulents, mostly mesembs, but it is a constant struggle to keep the local rabbits from eating, or damaging them.  One low growing succulent however, has done remarkable well, and doesn't seem to be on the rabbit menu.   This is Orostachys malacophyllus v. iwarenge.    
The genus Orostachys is a member of the Crassulaceae family and is native to a wide-spread area of temperate Asia, including Japan, China, and Russia.  O. malacophyllus var. iwarenge is native to Japan, and while not common in cultivation it is available through nurseries specializing in cold hardy succulents and alpine plants.  In my winter hardy C&S planting it has been a trouble-free plant that I have not given the praise it deserves.  I'll try to change that.  


Saturday, February 1, 2014

An Old Friend Mesemb


Rabiea  albipuncta


Some years ago I grew a number of different mesembs from seed, including Rabiea albipuncta.   They all had a common trait, they were possibly winter hardy in my area.  I wanted to add South African succulents to my winter hardy beds.  Ten plants of R. albipuncta were planted outside, but it wasn't the winter that was their challenge, it was rabbits.  The cute little rabbits that hopped around and through my yard seem to have a special fondness for South African succulents and nearly ate them all.   Of the 10 Rabieas, only one survived, and I removed it from the bed and potted it up.  That was 12 years ago and it is still with me.   Now, it's another of my "old friends."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Flowering Mammillaria


Mammillaria  melanocentra subsp. rubrograndis


I keep many of my cacti and other succulents outside all winter in  three wooden boxes, covered with clear heavy plastic and each containing an electric heater.  In essence, these are small, inexpensive greenhouses, and the plants do very well in them.  However, there are drawbacks, and one of the biggest is that during periods of cold weather, when the boxes can't be opened, I don't have access to the plants, even those that are showing off their flowers.
Mammillarias are relatively small cacti from Mexico or the Southwest U.S.  Most are globular in shape, easy to grow and flower in mid spring through early summer.  However, there are a few that flower much earlier in the year, during the winter.  M. melanocentra subsp. rubrograndis is one of the winter flowering types.  Fortunately, when it was in flower a few weeks ago, the weather was mild enough to open the plastic covers and take a photo of the wonderful flowering display.    
Mammillaria melanocentra subsp. rubrograndis is native to northeastern Mexico and requires a full sun location for this type of flower display.  The plant shown is approximately 17cm in diameter, and yes, those spines are sharp and they hurt.  I need to repot into a larger pot later this year but I really don't look forward to the repotting experience.  Ouch.