An Old Hobby Revived - How to Grow Cacti - Raising from Seed - How to Buy - Points to
Remember - The Chief Varieties of Cactus
Two generations ago, the curious and beautiful forms of the various species of cacti attracted a great deal of attention.
With the coming of the twentieth century this interest has been revived, until the collecting of these quaint plants has become almost a craze.
There is a great deal to be said in favour of cactus culture, for not only are the plants remarkable in appearance, but also they produce some of the most exquisite flowers in the world. Moreover, the culture of nearly all the kinds is of the simplest, and the needs of not a few of the most interesting sorts can be met adequately in a living apartment.
For the successful growing of cacti it is necessary to bear in mind that all these succulent plants are great sun lovers. In their natural surroundings they are nearly always desert subjects, and, as such, will experience long periods of drought. It almost goes without saying that for all kinds of cacti very perfect pot drainage is essential. In most cases good fibrous loam should form the bulk of the soil, but nearly an equal amount of sand or brick rubbish should be added; moreover, each pot should be one-third full of drainage material.
About April is the best time to carry out the potting of cacti, although these plants are extraordinarily accommodating, and will settle in at almost any time of the year if the soil is rammed well round the roots.
The raising of cacti from seed is an interesting, though a very slow process, and by far the quickest method of propagation is by cuttings. Practically any part of the stem will grow if the piece has been dried in the sun for several days before inserting in a mixture of loam, leaf mould, and small crocks.
The cuttings of many kinds of cacti, notably the phyllocacti and the epiphyllums, will grow rapidly into adult flowering plants if they are potted up as soon as they are rooted. In connection with the taking of cactus cuttings, the culture of miniature cacti is an interesting feature.
These miniature cacti are the smallest potted plants in the world. The thimble shows the comparative sizes of the plants
A magnificent specimen of a prickly sea urchin cactus. Some specimens have grown so large as to require several men to lift one
These are widely collected by German ladies, and must surely form the smallest potted plants in the world. Many florists in this country now sell these tiny plants, but they are quite easy to produce for oneself. The little pots, no. larger than thimbles, may be secured to order through most china shops.
Very small fragments of cactus plants are placed with a portion of soil in the pots, and the majority of these will take root. In some cases it may be found best to root the cuttings in a separate place before transferring them to the pot. The subsequent treatment consists in giving to the little plants only sufficient water to keep them alive; it being, of course, undesirable to encourage rapid growth.
In contrast to these small plants there are the giant cacti not a few of which would require several men to lift. The plants take a long while to grow to this size, and are then worth a good deal of money.
One of the cheapest ways in which to buy cacti is certainly to secure newly imported specimens. These may be picked up at auction sales or purchased from dealers who buy curiosities from Central America, the home of most of the cacti. The writer once obtained a quantity of large cactus plants from a dealer in Liverpool at 3s. a dozen, and any one of the plants would have been well worth that amount alone. Of course, these newly imported cacti have to be rooted in pots, and a certain number may be lost in the process. A well-drained soil, tightly rammed round the base of the plant, is essential.
If the cacti are to be grown in a room, a very light, and, if possible, sunny position in front of a window should be selected. In a greenhouse plenty of air and the avoidance of a damp atmosphere will be most likely to result in success. Of course, the great thing is to get the plants to flower, as in almost all cases the blossoms are exceedingly beautiful.
After years of cactus culture, the writer has come to the conclusion that the chief points to be borne in mind are as follows: In the first place, never give a cactus plant a large pot - that is to say, always let it be rather small for the size of the specimen. Secondly, begin to water the plants freely in April, always, of course, stopping short of making the soil absolutely sodden. Thirdly, in the hot summer weather let the cacti simply bake in the sun, so that all their shoots may become well ripened. Fourthly, it should be borne in mind that there are certain kinds of cacti which do not flower freely under cultivation; but, on the other hand, there are quite a number of sorts which blossom profusely. These latter may be briefly indicated.
Most of the phyllocacti are very free flowering, and a splendid white bloomed kind, phyllocactus albus superbus, is shown in an accompanying photograph. The well-known red variety, so often seen in cottage windows, is also another useful kind of phyllocactus.
The epiphyllums, many of which bloom in the autumn and winter, are very graceful subjects, being either pink or white in colour. The genus cereus has amongst it some free blossoming kinds, several of which have the remarkable habit of displaying their bloom at night. The different kinds of sea urchin cactus, echinopsis and echinocactus, include some useful sorts which may be relied upon to flower with suitable treatment. Fortunately, quite a number of cacti which do not flower very readily are really beautiful objects in themselves, and these, with their curious shapes, are an addition to any collection.
An epiphyllum in full bloom is a graceful subject for autumn or winter decoration. The blossoms are either pink or white
The echirocactus pilosus here shown is a really hardy cactus which will flower readily under suitable treatment
Newly imported cacti, as shown, are to be bought more cheaply than specimens already rooted in pots. Such plants often prove profitable investments
A Miniature Greenhouse
For those who determine to embark upon the cultivation of the miniature varieties of cacti above described, it might be mentioned that it is possible to secure miniature greenhouses for the reception of the quaint little plants. These pretty models are beautifully made, and are complete in every detail. They do not, of course, require any artificial means of heating. An invalid or a child would be delighted with a present of such an one, and would find a pleasurable excitement in their hobby by adding to its contents from time to time.
A typical cactus flower in the evening. This variety, the phyllocacti, is a free-flowering plant, not difficult of cultivation