Archive | July 2013

A Late Summer Surprise



I brought several echinocactus home from the Marfa, Texas, area a few summers ago, thinking they were another form of horse crippler. Turns out they are related, but not considered horse cripplers. Several that I have bloomed early in the Spring, and I enjoyed their big pink blooms then. But lo and behold, I was out two days ago and, much to my surprise and delight, found some blooming now! They were such a bright spot in the cactus bed, naturally I had to take pictures.

First I saw this one. Pay no attention to the bind weed that I haven’t dealt with yet.

Then I turned around to discover this clump in bloom. Below is the same clump from the other side.


And then I discovered this one blooming as well.


What fun! I love the smooth, fleshy body of these cactus and always look forward to their big, showy blooms. They are cold-hardy, as you might have guessed since they are in the ground and not in a pot to be brought in during winter. Consider adding one to your collection. You won’t be sorry.


Acanthocalycium Thionanthum v. Glaucum


Just thought I would share these little cacti with you. I have three of these little beauties and have enjoyed the yellow flowers in combination with the gray body of the plant. The plant on the left is also acanthocalycium, but a different variety that I have not identified yet.


These plants are fairly new to my collection, so I don’t know if they are  slow growers or just don’t get very big. Time will tell.



These two close-ups are on my third acanthocalycium in another dish garden. Both plants bloomed on the same day. Note how nice it looks with the gray-blue succulents in that pot.

Some acanthocalyciums have green bodies. I happen to like these little gray ones. Either color would be an nice addition to your collection.

Everyone Needs An Astrophytum Ornatum


I have several varieties of astrophytum and enjoy them all, but the astrophytum ornatum are by far my best bloomers. They begin n the early spring and bloom late into the fall. In fact, I have had them bloom in the greenhouse during the winter on occasion. I do winter them in the greenhouse, as they are not cold-hardy in our winters.


I have quite a few different varieties of astrophytum in my collection and will share those with you another time. Today the spotlight is on the ornatum, one of the faster growing varieties, and definitely one of the best bloomers.


All three of these cacti are astrophytum ornatum, but you can see there are differences in their shapes, trihomes (white bumps), and spines.


It is not uncommon to have one, two, or three flowers, but this specimen outdid itself with six at one time! Note the pattern of the white bumps. Some plants will have more, some less, but that is part of their appeal.


Like most cactus flowers, these only last a day, perhaps two, depending on how late in the day they open. But considering how often they bloom, that just gives you another day to look forward to being greeted by their bright yellow smile when they do open.


All three of these plants are well over 15 years old, and the older they get, the more they bloom. See what you have to look forward to?

Cactus Names and Pronunciations

When I first started collecting cactus, I would bring home my little treasures, happily repot them in a dish garden, and, like most people, I suspect, throw away the identification tags, oblivious to the fact that some day I might want to know those sometimes seemingly unpronounceable names.

Time passed, and I realized that if I was to be a serious collector, I needed to know what I had in my collection. Then when I decided to branch out and have a dish garden business, I really needed to know my plants so customers would have faith that I knew what I was talking about.

So I started saving the tags, consulting my books, checking on the Internet, marking my plants, and last year, got really serious about it and started an inventory of my collection. Not an easy task for a variety of reasons, most of which you are already aware of if you have ever tried to document your specimens. Learn from my folly and keep your tags when you bring the plant home. Starting now. It is much easier than playing catch-up.

Because I do want to become more knowledgeable about plant identification, I tried to play close attention at the convention and would repeat the names as the speakers would say them and desperately try to write it down. Needless to say, I couldn’t begin to keep up with them, but it was a start.

I learned two things about names: family names change from time to time, so about the time you think you know one family of plants, the experts up and change the name. Then there is the decision of which name to use. The other thing is that different people pronounce the names differently, so it depends on who you are talking to as to which pronunciation is considered correct. Is is o-punt-e-a or o-puncha for opuntia? Ka-lanch-o or ka-lan- cho-e for kalanchoe? And I could go on, but you get the picture. I checked my notes and found that I had not attempted to write down any of the family names that had been changed, so you are on your own as you discover those changes. I think the general consensus is that you use the name you are familiar with and not worry about it since it may well change again sometime. And pronounce it as it makes sense to you and move on.

I call this a ka-lanch-o. I guess my Texan is showing.

O-punt-e-a fragilis is what I would say. I know it is an opuntia, but the fragilis may be wrong. The easy identification is miniature prickly pear.

So while you do need to know your plants, don’t get in a tizzy over inconsistencies. But do enjoy learning your plants and finding out which plants are related. For example, I found it fun to know that the senecios I have are related to the giant groundsels I marveled at while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007 (“Surprises From the Senecio Family,” January 1, 2013).

Senecio and aloe. And they have name tags!

Have fun.

I Learned the Secret to Growing Better Cactus

Know what it is? Water them at night. Really. Ready for a biology lesson? Well, botany lesson, to be more precise. Here goes. Pay attention.

Woody Minnich, shown here with my friends Hellen Adrian and Sheila Stevenson when we attended the the 2012 Albuquerque cactus show and sale, gave a presentation at this year’s CSSA Cactus and Succulent Convention titled Secrets of Growing Quality Cacti and Succulents. He assured us it really wasn’t a secret, but just a principle of biology that most people don’t know, and that I certainly did not know, which is that cacti and succulent plants are CAM plants, CAM being an acronym for Crassulacean Acid Metabolism.

And what does that mean? According to biology online, it is-and here is where you need to listen up-a CAM plant is one that utilizes the Crassulacean acid metabolism as an adaptation for and conditions CO2 entering the stomata during the night is converted into organic acids, which release CO2 for the Calvin cycle during the day, when the stomata are closed.

Got that? Here’s more. CAM plants utilize an elaborate carbon fixation pathway in a way that the stomata are open at night to permit entry of CO2 to be fixed and stored as a four-carbon acid. Then during the day the CO2 is released for use in the Calvin cycle, which is a cyclical series of biochemical reactions that occur in the stroma of chloroplasts during photosynthesis, causing sugars and starch to be produced. In this way the rubisco is provided with high concentration of CO2 while the stomata are closed during the hottest and driest part of the day to prevent the excessive loss of water. CAM plants are therefore highly adapted to arid conditions.

CAM plants often show xerophytic features, such as thick reduced leaves with a low surface area-to-volume ratio, thick cuticle and stomata sunken into pits.

Like cacti and succulents.

Now-the short version from any plant that undergoes a form of photosynthesis known as CAM, in which carbon dioxide is taken up only at night.

And photosynthesis is what makes your plants grow and bloom.


So, all of this is to say, water your cactus and succulents at night for optimum growth potential. Just because watering in the evening has always been a better fit for our schedule, it turns out my cactus have benefitted, and I didn’t even know why.

Just watering at night may seem too simple and easy to be true, but trust me, Woody knows what he is talking about. So give it a try with your plants.

And if you want to learn more of the technical stuff so you can amaze your friends and impress your enemies, read more at these websites: