Family Photo on 12-15-18, #539-1.
Hello everyone! I hope this post finds you all well. I have been wanting to talk about cacti, so I started this post with the first set of photos on November 29. It was a nice spring-like day that I wish every day during the winter was like. I took all the cactus outside, a few at a time, to take their photos then put them back in the house. I have only 25 pots of cactus representing maybe, umm, 23 species. There were three times I accidentally bought two of the same species and didn’t realize it until I was home taking their photos and writing about them. Oh yeah, then there is the small fellow that is apparently a Mammillaria vetula subsp. gracilis… I guess that kind of makes 22 species. After selecting the best photos I wound up with 36. Then I took close-ups on December 1 and a few after that. I had also completely forgotten about the Cylindropuntia imbricata that was outside, so I had to take photos of it on December 3.
Cactus are among the easiest of all pants to grow, at least in my opinion, and they don’t take up a lot of space. You learn how to handle them so you won’t get stuck and it helps to have hard skin (and sometimes leather gloves). I always measure my cactus when I bring them inside for the winter because they grow kind of slow. I did that on October 10. I measure them because I want to compare the measurements from the year before and when I bought them. I know they are growing, too, because I have upgraded them to larger pots.
For some reason, cacti remind me of what one of my all-time favorite philosophers had to say.
Doing nothing often leads to the very best of everything.
Winnie The Pooh
If you think about, cactus at times seems to just be sitting there doing nothing. They don’t have leaves like other plants which can tell you a lot of things. Leaves can tell you when a plant is happy, when the plant needs water, when it is dying, etc. Well, some cactus species do have leaves and their spines are actually sort of modified leaves in a roundabout way. Evolution…
One of the major reasons I am writing this post is to show some of the differences between the species I am currently growing. I found a good illustration online from Science-art.com but the artist was no longer on the website. The site manager gave me the artist’s email address but I haven’t heard back from him. With some advice and inspiration from Jim Ruebush (How I See It), I made an attempt to create my own… I am not an artist but Jim suggested I try using the Preview on my iMac. I only use Preview to view photos and didn’t know what else it could be used for. After five years. 🙂
Well… Ummm… The photos are MUCH smaller once I posted them than they were on the screen so you can’t hardly see where the lines are going. I had an idea in my mind that I had to try and make work. I had to make the photos smaller and they had to be a certain distance apart or it wouldn’t work. I hope it is understandable. A cactus is a lot more than just a plant with a lot of sharp needles. They are very complex and through MANY years of evolving have developed their own special way of surviving in their environment.
With the diagram above, the definitions below, and descriptions of each plant on this post, I hope you will have a better understanding of how unique and easy to grow they really are. I must say I learned A LOT while writing this post. The definitions are basically for the plants I am growing (for the most part).
DEFINITIONS OF WORDS IN THIS POST:
These are just a few words from the CactiGuide glossary and maybe not all used in this post. Umm… I added a few comments along the way.
Acicular (subulate-acicular) Spines: Thick spines, more or less flattened, straight or slightly curved. Information uses Ferocactus pilosus as an example but I think my Echinocactus grusonii is another example.
Areole-Unique to cacti (as far as plants go), the areole grows from the end of the tubercles. The areoles on some species are sort of woolly or “felted” and is where the central and radial spines grow from. Glochids from some species also grow from the areoles as with Opuntia species (Prickly Pear).
Apex-the center top part of the stem. In many species the apex is concave. I guess the center of everything is the apex, huh?
Axil-The axil is a little more difficult to describe. An axil surrounds the apex but there is also an apex around the tubercles. It is kind of like a valley between two hills or mountains. The axil around the apex is where the spines appear to unfold as the plant grows. Kind of like a new beginning on both sides (with no end in sight). 🙂 I think the area between the tubercles and ribs (depending on the genera and species) is also an apex. Not 100% sure about that though.
Bristle-Stiffened hair. This is interesting… The description of one of the cactus is stiffened hair around the apex. When I think of stiffened hair I think of a pig’s hair. I look and I only see spines… I guess if I actually saw stiffened hairs now I would know they are bristles. 🙂
Cactophile-Hmmm. Says a person who likes cacti.
Centripetal-Tending inwards to the center or axis… I guess this is like where the spines around the axil (by the apex (top of the plant)) are pointing inward.
Central Spines-The spines coming from the center of the areole.
Diumal-flowers that only open during the day.
Glochids- are the dreaded tiny spines that come off very easily and get stuck in your skin. They are very irritating because they are very hard to remove. You can’t see them, but you can feel them. Information says glochids are modified leaves that conserve moisture. (Barbed spines or hairs, mostly small and brittle; often in tufts, characteristic of the Opuntioideae.)
Imbricate-Overlapping. As with the Cylindropuntia imbricata (Tree Cholla).
Orthostichy-Arrangement of nodes, areoles and so on in a vertical row (see Spirostichy). As with vertical growing, columnar cactus with ribs whose areoles grow one above the other.
Parastichy-Secondary spiral in phyllotaxis. I think this is where some Mammillaria species appear to have spirals going in two directions.
Phyllotaxis-Mode of arrangement of leaves in relation to the axis. The dictionary says the arrangement of leaves on an axis or stem.
Pruinose-Frosted appearance with a white powdery coating. The Stenocereus pruinosus may be a good example.
Radial Spines-The spines arranged around the edge of the areole. Some species have no radial spines while others have an unbelievable amount. Some species have hair-like radial spines while others are thick and very sharp. Spines can also be curved inward.
Recurved-Spines that are curved backward.
Reflexed-Spines that are curved downward. Some species have central spines that are curved in both directions.
Reticulate-Spines that are very long that criss-cross forming a net-like appearance around the plant. As with the Mammillaria decipiens.
Rib-Whereas Mammillaria species have tubercles, most other cacti have ribs that the areoles grow on. Some are fairly straight while others are wavy. Ummm… Wavy edges are called “sinuate”.
Spines-The CactiGuide glossary says, “Sharp-pointed, hard or woody structures, derived, in cacti, from leaves.” Hmmm…
Spirostichy-The arrangement of nodes, areoles and so forth in spiral rows (see Orthostichy).
Stem-The body of the cactus.
Tubercles-Umm… The dictionary says, “In anatomy, a tubercle is any round, small eminence, or warty outgrowth found on external or internal organs or a plant or animal.” The photo shown is of a Mammillaria. In this case, tubercles are produced by the Mammillaria species and are sometimes referred to as nipples. I would hardly call nipples a warty outgrowth.
Wool-A dense covering of fine soft hairs. GEEZ!
POTTING AND RE-POTTING
Different potting soils on 12-15-18, #539-2. Back row from left to right: Miracle Grow, Berger BM 1, Sta-Green. Front row: Timberline and Just Natural Organic Garden Soil.
Potting soil is definitely not created equal. Most commercially available potting soil contains a lot of peat (in one form or another). One of the most frequently asked questions from beginners is about the potting soil for their cactus. If you get online you can find a lot of recipes and some get a little elaborate. For many years I stuck with 2 parts of potting soil with 1 part chicken grit and 1 part perlite. I always wanted the water to drain out almost as fast as it was put in.
The above photo shows five different mixes I have used. Miracle Grow Potting soil works very well for potted plants and has a lot of coarse material. I have used it a lot amended with additional perlite and chicken grit (2-1-1). I also like Schultz Potting Soil for cactus and succulents because it has much less big chunks of bark. Both Miracle Grow and Schultz have timed-release fertilizer. I bought a BIG bag of Berger BM 1 from one of the local greenhouses which is a premium blend used by a lot of greenhouses. There are absolutely no chunks of anything and it has A LOT of perlite and NO fertilizer. For the most part, greenhouses foliar feed their plants so they don’t need a mix with fertilizer. Sta-Green is very interesting. Kind of chunky, very little perlite, visible fertilizer, and VERY BLACK. I bought the bag of Timberline several years ago and when I amended it with grit and perlite it became hard as a brick after watering. I think it is mainly due to the high sand content. There is no list of ingredients on the bag. I bought the All-Natural Organic Garden soil this spring because the bag had a hole in it so I got it very cheap. It is GREAT but not for cactus… I use it when I mix soil for the Alocasia and some of the other potted plants and it has some very good ingredients. I experimented with these different types to see how fast they dry out and re-absorb water. Even though the Berger dries out quickly, it also re-absorbs better than Miracle Grow. The Sta-Green took longer to dry out and seemed to re-absorb OK. The hardest to re-absorb once it was completely dry was the Miracle Grow. So, which one was best for cactus? I would have to probably say none of them… As far as cactus is concerned, there is something wrong with all of them. I didn’t buy any Schultz Potting Soil this past year but perhaps I will use it again in 2019. I am seriously tempted to try dirt… Get it from the molehills, add the pumice, maybe some grit… Maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea but you never know until you try… If you get right down to the nitty-gritty, in the wild, not all cactus grow in the same type of soil. Also, contrary to what many might think, even though many cactus grow in the desert it doesn’t mean their soil is not fertile. As long as their potting mix absorbs fast, drains well, drys out soon, and remains loose, I don’t think they really care what they are growing in. Maybe we are the ones with the issue…
Cactus and succulents need a very fast draining mix. All potting soil, when it is fresh from the bag, absorbs water and drains well. You water your plants on a regular basis over the summer and all is well. BUT, when you allow the soil to dry out it becomes very difficult to get it to absorb again. This is because peat (in one form or another) is the main ingredient. Peat is the main ingredient in potting soil because of its water retention ability. Water retention is NOT what cactus and succulents need. What they do need is a mix or recipe that absorbs and drains quickly, will dry out soon, and re-absorbs quickly and so on time after time. That is where it gets complicated.
I have no problems over the summer because I am continually watering all the plants. For the most part, I water the cactus and succulents at the same time but I just don’t give them as much. I just go over their pots fairly quickly instead of holding the wand over it until it is fully saturated and flooding out the bottom. Well, the cactus pots are smaller for the most part and so it doesn’t take as long either.
The problem arises over the winter when I am not watering the cactus or succulents as often. Let’s just make it simpler and talk about cactus without getting into succulents. While cactus appreciate normal watering during the summer months, they don’t really need much, if any, during the winter. As a result, their mix always becomes hard. You may notice once the potting soil dries out it has pulled away from the sides of the pot. So, when you do water it runs down the side of the pot instead of re-absorbing into the mix.
They need their soil to be loose, light, and airy.
One of the other questions is when to re-pot which I will talk about in a minute…
PERLITE (left) VS. PUMICE (right)
When I started following a few cacti and succulent groups on Facebook, they recommended using pumice instead of perlite. They also don’t recommend using a “peat-based” potting soil. OK, now that is hard to do. The other thing is that pumice was nowhere to be found locally. Many of the cactus and succulent enthusiasts also use a product called Dry Stall which is pumice for a fraction of the cost. (There is another product called Stall Dry which is diatomaceous earth). Well, I checked for Dry Stall locally and it was nowhere to found either. I called the company and they said there were no distributors past a certain point (but I forgot what she said). I found it online and it only cost around $14.00 for a 40# bag but the shipping was $64.00. So, I wound up buying a 15# bag from General Pumice from California. It was $27.00 with free shipping. You can get it on Ebay from people who sell it in smaller quantities. If you only have a few cactus and succulents you may not want to buy a big bag. BUT, you also have to consider growing cactus and succulents is very addictive when they do well…
Now, what is pumice and what is perlite? Perlite is an ingredient in all potting soil mix along with vermiculite and a lot of other stuff. Perlite is a volcanic glass that is heated to 1,600° F so it puffs up to 13 times its normal size. Water is retained in its tiny pores which it releases later. Of course, since it is very lightweight, it can float to the top of a soil mix. It kind of reminds me of styrofoam balls… It can also be crushed if you squeeze it. The Gardening Know How website says perlite can cause fluoride burn on houseplants…
Pumice is a porous volcanic rock and, like perlite, has tiny microscopic pores on its surface that absorb water. Pumice, however, is not heated or puffed up. It also contains vitamins and trace minerals that go into the soil as the moisture is released. In texture, it seems similar to grit, it does not decompose, and never needs to be replaced. It will not float to the surface like perlite but stays where it is supposed to, with the plant’s roots.
I had been itching to try out the pumice so I repotted a few cactus when I moved them on October 10. That’s when it struck me… All this time I had been having problems with the soil in the cactus and succulent pots getting very hard over the winter (as I mentioned earlier). I realized repotting the cactus when I bring them inside would mean their soil would be loose all winter. 🙂
Since potting soil already contains perlite and the pumice seemed similar in consistency to the grit, I wondered why I had to even use the grit. I asked the “guy” at General Pumice what size he recommended (since they have three sizes) and what he suggested as the ratio to use with potting soil. He recommended using it 50/50. So, for the most part, that’s what I did… Now the soil is nice and loose for the cactus and I also re-potted a few of the succulents.
I have been asked when is a good time to re-pot cactus and what size of pot. Typically, I would have said spring for several reasons. If you use a potting mix, such as Miracle Grow with a timed-release fertilizer, they don’t need fertilizer during the winter months. However, since you won’t be watering them over the winter, that really doesn’t make that much difference since it is the watering that releases the fertilizer. But, since I repotted most of the cactus on October 10, I guess I have switched gears a little. I guess the best time to re-pot is when they need it. If their pot is getting crowded then they need re-potting. As far as pot size goes you have to look at several things. One thing you have to consider is that cactus doesn’t typically have much of a root system. Many times I have been fooled, though. Typically, their mass of roots is right under the plant so they don’t need a much wider pot than the width of the plant and only a couple of inches deeper than their roots. To much extra soil means water that is not being absorbed by the roots which can lead to rotting… Typically, when I re-pot, I only increase the size of the pot by an inch or so, more or less. It just depends on the plant and how fast it grows and what its roots look like when you remove it from the pot. If you are using potting soil with timed-release fertilizer, the fertilizer is only good for a period of time. So, re-potting in the spring will give you fertilizer for the growing period and you don’t need it after that. GEEZ! I am confusing myself… Now, plants that grow taller rather than wider need a wider pot because they can become top-heavy and fall over. Finding the right pot on hand can be difficult sometimes. Pots for bonsai would seem to be a good choice because they are shallow and usually wider. Not sure, though, because I have never tried a bonsai pot…
I almost forgot to talk about light… For a long time, I have been pretty much growing my cactus in light shade under the Chinese Elm in “the other yard”. When plants are grown inside over the winter, they have to be introduced to more light gradually. The elm tree was great because it provided a shady spot early. Then as the beetles at the leaves, they automatically get more sun. I had to move them this summer because the Japanese Beetles were so bad and they started sampling the plants. So, I put the cactus on the back porch in full sun and they did very well. Most cactus do well in full sun to light shade and some even in part shade. Succulents that aren’t cactus (since cactus are succulents) are a little more tricky and the different genus and species require different light levels. Some need full sun to perform best while it will burn others.
Now for my spiny companions… From A-Z. Please forgive my continual rambling about scientific names. 🙂
Acanthocereus tetragonus… Fairytale Castle.
I picked up this little Acanthocereus tetragonus from Wagler’s Greenhouse in September when I took a few plants to them. Of course, it was unlabeled… You can view this plant’s own page by clicking HERE. There is A LOT of confusion between this plant and the Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus. In the wild, both species are tall growing, ribbed and columnar plants. Both also seem to have “miniature” versions with the same or similar common or cultivar names. Both are listed as “Fairytale Castle”, “Fairy Castle”, “Fairy….” You get the point. The miniature “forms” were found in cultivation, not in the wild. “In cultivation” means in someone’s collection, a flower bed, or a greenhouse, etc. Maybe their growth was stunted because they were in a small pot. Who knows.
Getting a good close-up of this cactus wasn’t easy because it is so small. Its stems are five-sided with areoles having tiny tufts of wool with very short spines. Information suggests this plant needs plenty of space and deep soil. It is supposed to branch out profusely and form large clumps… At only 2 7/8″ tall we have a ways to go. It is currently 2 7/8″ tall. I didn’t re-pot this cactus when I moved them inside because it was re-potted after I brought it home. You can see the perlite on top of the soil… I gave this plant a little more room than I normally would a smaller cactus. 1 3/4″ between the base and the side of the pot.
One confusing thing when doing research about this plant is that several websites have the two plants confused (even though they are probably confident). Some list it as one name with photographs of the other. I have both now, so I can definitely see a difference. One website lists this plant as Acanthocereus tetragonus ‘Fairy Castles” and said after ten years it was only 16″ tall. The photo is of a very nice what appears to me to be a Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus. Even one of the pages on Dave’s Garden… OK. I will stop…
The Cereus Group…
The genus, Cereus Mill., was named and described by Philip Miller in the fourth edition of Gardener’s Dictionary in 1754.
Cereus in the wild are typically very large, ribbed, and columnar growing cactus, but there are also species that are epiphytic. Plants of the World Online by Kew currently list only 25 accented species of Cereus. They are still uploading data so this could change. Version 1.1 (2013) of The Plant List named 48 accepted species (plus 4 of infraspecific rank), a total of 254 synonyms, and 456 still unresolved. Llifle (Encyclopedia of Living Forms) list 136 Cereus species (both accepted and synonyms mixed up) and a WHOPPING 691 former species that have been moved to other genera!
The tree-like Cereus species look so much alike and even similar to species of other genera. Actually… There used to be MANY more species in the Cereus genus because their true identity was unknown at the time. The species that still remain in the genus all have certain characteristics only known to Cereus. Other species have been moved to several other genera. One author wrote, “Inclusion by lack of exclusion has made for a very messy and unsatisfactory group.”
Cereus forbesii f. monstrose ‘Ming Thing’ on 11-29-18, #534-3.
I bought my first Cereus forbesii f. monstrose ‘Ming Thing’ in 2009 while living at the mansion in Mississippi. It was fairly large and the pot was bulging. While re-potting in 2010 I noticed it could be divided. So, I did that and wound up with three pots. Dividing cactus like that is not necessary and is probably best to allow them to grow as they choose (which is my own opinion and I was a newbie at the time). I bought my current ‘Ming Thing’ on July 19, 2016. It currently measures 2 1/8″ tall 3 1/4″ wide. It grows EVER SO SSSSLLLLOOOOWWWWLLLLYYYY…
There are several species of Cereus that develop strange looking “monstruosus”, “monstrous”, or “crested” forms in the wild. Some cultivars, such as ‘Ming Thing’, have also undergone further, ummm, manipulation in cultivation. The species, Cereus forbesii, is a fairly large, columnar, tree-like cactus that grows in a wide variety of habitats in several countries in South America.
Cereus forbesii C.F. Först. was named and described by Carl Friedrich Förster in Handbuch der Cacteenkunde in 1846. It was FIRST documented by Christoph Friedrich Otto (with other authors) in Cactaceae in Horto Dyckensi Cultae in 1844. I wrote a much longer summary of the accepted scientific name of the species but decided to delete it. I outlined the confusion on the plant’s own page and you can read about it HERE if you choose. I was beginning to get confused AGAIN.
A closer look at Cereus forbesii f. monstrose ‘Ming Thing’ on 12-1-18, #535-2.
The common name on the tag says “Curiosity Plant”. That name says a lot because it is definitely curious looking. Kind of reminds me of closed hands with the fingers curled inward (facing upward). I have found Cereus forbesii f. monstrose ‘Ming Thing’ to be undemanding and very easy to care for. The scars on this plant are from hungry crickets…
Ummm. “Curiosity Plant” is not necessarily a legit common name. ‘Ming Thing’ may not be a “registered” cultivar name. Come to think of it, Cereus forbesii f. monstrose isn’t even an accepted name either… Maybe someday. 🙂
Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus on 11-29-18, #534-4.
I bought this Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus (Fairy Castles, Peruvian Apple, Queen of the Night, ETC.) from Wal-Mart on January 28, 2016. We have had our ups and downs and at one point I thought it was going to die. It has also had its battles with crickets. For some reason, it isn’t the bright green it was when I first brought it home although it seems to be OK now. You can view this plant’s own page by clicking HERE. At 7 1/4″ tall x 4 1/2″ wide, it has grown 1 1/8″ taller x 1 1/2″ wider than when I brought it home.
I have to do some tweaking on the plant’s page because I am somewhat confused… I wasn’t confused until I did research on the Acanthocereus tetragonus… They are both cited as being Fairy Castles. For a while, I was content in calling the Acanthocereus tetragonus Fairytale Castle and this one Fairy Castles. Oh, I better stop right here or I will be repeating myself AGAIN…
A close-up of Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus on 12-1-18, #535-3.
I took A LOT of photos of this one to get a good close-up. I do have somewhat of an issue with this plant being a Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus although several experts have agreed that is what it is. It is supposed to have longer spines while the “species” is almost always spineless. My plant’s stems are somewhat spineless and what spines it does have are very thin and hair-like. Its areoles also have small wooly tufts mainly on newer growth and almost absent farther down the stem. The species is found in several countries in South America while the subspecies is only found in Uruguay. Of course, as I mentioned, they are MUCH taller in the wild than this miniature version… Some websites write Fairy Castles as a cultivar name and others as a common name. I am more likely to agree with it being a cultivar name since it is not a common name of the species or subspecies in the wild which grow MUCH taller. So, why didn’t I write it as a cultivar name? I have no clue…
Comparing the photos of the Acanthocereus tetragonus and Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus, can’t you see the difference?
Cereus repandus f. monstruosus ‘Rojo’ on 11-29-18, #534-5.
This is the Cereus repandus f. monstruosus ‘Rojo’ I bought from Wal-Mart in March. It looks MUCH different than the one I bought while in 2009 in Mississippi. Both their labels said Cereus peruvianus monstrose ‘Rojo’. Cereus peruvianus has been a synonym of Cereus repandus for quite a while… Oh, wait a minute. I told you wrong… Cereus peruvianus (L.) Mill. is the synonym of Cereus repandus (L.) Mill. (how many periods after an abbreviation with a period?). Cereus peruvianus R.Kiesling became a synonym of Cereus hildmannianus K.Schum. (along with 26 other synonyms with Cereus validus Haw. being one of them, which is weird because it was also a synonym of… Someone please slap me!). Cereus peruvianus C.F.Först. became a synonym of Stenoereus eburneus (Salm-Dyck), which was previously Cereus eburneus Salm-Dyck, became a synonym of Stenocereus griseus (Haw.) Buxb……. Ummm… I was about to start writing about Cereus validus but that is another confusing story which would get Dave’s Garden into the mix…
OK, Dave’s Garden says Cereus forbesii ‘Ming Thing’ (above) is Cereus validus f. monstrose ‘Ming Thing’. How can that be? Plants of the World Online says Cereus validus is a synonym of Cereus hildmannianus. GEEZ! I forgot about the author’s names. Maybe several botanists named different plants the same name again. That’s how some species seem to have the same synonyms but their author’s abbreviations are different.
But, I am getting off-topic AGAIN… No wonder it takes so long for me to write a post and they are so long… You can view this plant’s own page by clicking HERE.
Cereus repandus f. monstruosus ‘Rojo’ up close on 12-1-18, #535-4.
Umm… Like I said, this one is much different than the one I had before. This one is more of an upright grower that is branching out. You can see the stems are kind of strange with no apparent pattern to the arrangement of their tubercles. Its areoles have small brownish radial and central spines and newer areoles have small tufts of wool.
A closer look at the Cereus repandus f. monstruosus ‘Rojo’ on 12-1-18, #535-5.
Its spines are thin and wiry. You can run your finger down them and not get stuck.
I really like this cactus and I think I could easily fall for buying more. I think when you get into the monstruosus forms it becomes addictive. I am not a fan of the crested forms, though. When I moved the plants inside for the winter on October 10, it measured 6 7/8″ tall x 3 3/4″ wide. It was 5 1/2″ tall x 3 3/8″ when I bought it on March 19!