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.