A Tall Story ?
By Chuck Staples, Mid-Iowa C&Ss March 2002
The Huntington Desert Garden
By Chuck Staples Mid-Iowa C&Ss, March 2002
By Sue Haffner, Cactus Corner News - Fresno, CA
Growing From Seed
By Sue Haffner, Cactus Corner News - Fresno, CA
A Silent Assistant
by Dick Schreiber, Mid-Iowa Cactus and Succulent Society (with photos)
A Cactus Greenhouse in Iowa
By Dick Schreiber, Mid-Iowa C&SS Member February 2001
Summering Plants Out-of-doors
By Lou Kilbert, Michigan Cactus & Succulent Society 7/2001
Identification and Classification of Euphorbias
By Reese Brown, Palomar Cactus & Succulent Society
A Tall Story ?
By Chuck Staples, Mid-Iowa C&Ss March 2002
I have a tall Backebergia cactus story to tell.
Some 20 years or so ago I first knew this plant as Backebergia chrysomallus . I didn't know it grew into a 20 foot tree in its natural habitat until I wrote to the president of our national organization at the time, Virginia Martin (in about 1979). She was good enough to send me a copy of an article out of the C&S Journal. I found it fascinating reading. The tree-like cactus grows in the southern Mexican states of Michoaca'n and Guerrero with borders along the Pacific Ocean.
The genus name Backebergia was described by Helio Bravo-Hollis (1901-2001, died a few days short of her 100th birthday) in 1953 as a monotypic genus. She named the genus after Curt Backeberg (1894-1966) who was a German that explored from Mexico and the West Indies down into the northern parts of South America and further south.
In his Cactus Lexicon book (my 1976 edition), Backeberg described this plant as a `tree-like Cerei with obliquely ascending branches characterized by a unique ``helmet-crest cephalium''' at the top of mature branches. The cephalium can cover up to 12 inches of the top of the branch and is made up of long wool and bristles. It takes some 30 to 40 years from seedling to cephalium. The flower opens at night from the side of the cephalium and is about 1 1/2'' in diameter and 2 1/2'' in length when fully open. The petals are greenish cream in color with a hint of reddish color near the tips.
This cactus plant is now on the endangered list. However, at one time many branch cuttings a foot or so below the cephalium were brought over the Mexican border into Texas. This is where my story begins.
I think it was in the spring of 1979 that I was a passenger in my brother's large truck-type covered van on another one of his trip from his home in Kansas down to the southern border of Texas for another load of bare root cacti. I took a week off from work in Des Moines to go with him. Brother John at the time was a wholesaler-retailer of unusual plants from Mexico, mostly cacti with a few orchids and other succulent plants as well. At that time there were very few restrictions on plants that crossed the border into the United States.
Brother John actually got me started in the hobby of trying to grow these strange plants in 1978 after bringing a load up into Iowa to sell to the greenhouses in the area. The leftovers that didn't sell were left here with me. I had always been interested in these plants, but never tried to grow any until then. I made sand beds in the back yard to grow the plants with the idea of giving many back to him on a next trip - to sell to greenhouses. Somehow that never happened. He never took anything back. And, at that time I knew very little about the needs of the plants, so lost most of them over the next few years (but I was learning).
Anyway, getting back to my first trip to southern Texas to see cacti, both in habitat and in nurseries, we were somewhere south of San Antonio when I saw my first large prickly pear plants along the road. I could hardly wait until John found a place to pull off so I could collect some of these plants. They were large pads with long spines. I was frantically cutting off pads with my brother laughing at me all the time until he finally said that was enough. No, he didn't want any - they were all mine. Wow! At the time I didn't realize that the spines that kept going through my gloves had barbs on them. I kept digging them out of my hand, but was completely happy about having the plants in a box in the back of the van, my first collected plants.
When we got to the nurseries close to the Texas border I found out why John wasn't interested in any of the prickly pear cactus I collected along the road. The nurseries had bare-root mature cacti of all kinds - on benches, on the ground, everywhere - wonderful plants. I'd never seen so many plants in one place as we visited each nursery. One greenhouse nursery had hundreds of wooden flats of seedlings - some flats so full of cactus seedlings that the plants hung over the sides. However, John wasn't really interested in seedling flats. He was interested in the bare rooted plants.
There was this one outdoor nursery that had every kind of bare-root cactus imaginable, many I had never seen before. At this nursery I saw hundreds of Backebergia cuttings stacked against each other on the bare ground along with other cereus type cacti and many barrel cacti. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was that excited. Helping John pick out what I thought were the best plants we loaded all kinds of cacti in the van.
At the time I didn't realize the Backebergia cuttings were from branches of a very tall tree-type plant. I thought the cap on the arm cutting was fascinating. Some of these caps were a golden color, some turning a brownish color. You could see where some had flowered along the side of the cap. It was later that I learned that this cap was called a cephalium. It was also later that I learned that a couple of common names for this plant were Teddy-Bear Cactus and Grenadier's Cap.
Anyway, after the shelves (and the floor) in the van were full, we headed back north. On the way back I couldn't help looking at the bare root plants in the back of the van from time to time. Besides the Opuntias I collected in Texas and the Backebergia cuttings, there were (if I remember correctly) species of other genera belonging to: Ariocarpus, Astrophytum, Thelocactus, Mammillaria, Obregonia, Leuchtenbergia, Cephalocereus, Ferocactus, Echinocactus, Echinocereus, etc.. I thought the Bishop's Cap, Astrophytum myriostigma, was a marvelous plant as was Thelocactus nidulans (now called Thelocactus rinconensis). Of course, all were fascinating plants.
In any event, I ended up with a few of these bare root plants when he next came to Des Moines. Of the number of beautiful cephalium Backebergia cuttings I had at one time there was one John left here (that he didn't sell) that was pretty ugly with a scraggly short cephalium on it. For whatever reason it didn't die like all the rest of them had after a few years - and I still have it after all these years. I believe this is the oldest living plant in my collection. It did nothing for quite a few years, and then one year it flowered. That was exciting! I don't think I've repotted this survivor more than a couple time over all these years.
Then a number of years ago this `ugly duckling', as I call it, started a new growth out of the top of the cephalium. The cephalium wasn't growing more bristles. It decided to start a new plant, a new branch from the top of the cephalium. After it got about 8 to 10 inches tall I cut it off to start a new plant after the cut callused over. I lost it the following year - not sure why.
A few years ago Connie started fertilizing plants more often during spring and summer. A couple of years ago a new branch started growing out of the top again, and last summer another one started. I'm sure these new growths were due to the extra fertilizer. I plan to leave both pups on the plant for at least a few years to see what happens. Would it take another 30 years for these 2 new branches to put up another cephalium? I don't know.
Now back to some technical stuff again. In the early 1980s I learned about a later name given to this plant - Backebergia militaris. That species name change came from Hernando Sanchez-Mejorada (1926-1988) in 1973. That is the name I think of when I think of this plant, even today.
It's interesting to note that only 2 species names followed this plant over the years, `chrysomallus' and `militaris'. However, the genus name has changed a number of times - from Cereus to Pilocereus back to Cereus to Cephalocereus to Pachycereus to Backebergia to Mitrocereus back to Cephalocereus and finally back to Pachycereus. No wonder plant names get so confusing. Right?
A Frenchman by the name of N. Audot (?-?) is credited with the first name applied to this plant: Cereus militaris in 1845. The species `militaris' was probably named that because of the look of the cephalium - like a military cap (or grenadiers cap) worn back in the 1800s. The plant (or arm cutting with cephalium) appears to have made its way to Europe in the late 1830s. Although this plant is unlike any other cactus plant, with its branches topped off with a cephalium, it has finally been moved into the Pachycereus genus; and is now known as Pachycereus militaris, given that name by an Englishman, David Richard Hunt (1938-), in 1987.
I remember giving one these plants with a beautiful cephalium on it to the Des Moines Botanical Center back in the late 1980s for the cactus and succulent garden in the dome. When they lost this unusual and much-talked-about plant a few years later, they wanted another one. They were willing to buy one if we could tell them a greenhouse that had them. At about this time it was impossible to get any more of these arm cuttings out of Mexico and there just weren't any more to be had. As a general rule these cuttings have a very short life span
These plants were just tip-end cuttings from a mature tree-like cactus where the cephalium stops growing on a branch after the cephalium reached a height of about 1 foot - and doesn't grow anymore. Other, newer branches take over the roll of producing cephaliums and then flowers and seeds, until such time that the whole cactus tree dies. My guess is that the plant lives some 50 to 60 years before it dies, giving it some 20 to 30 years to produce cephaliums, flowers and seeds to reproduce itself. My ugly duckling arm cutting (Backebergia militaris?) is just trying to start new plants out of the top of the cephalium, a survival technique after so many years being basically dormant but staying alive.
After many years growing these plants I've discovered that most mature bare root cacti collected in the wild never make it beyond a few year.
The Huntington Desert Garden
By Chuck Staples
Mid-Iowa C&Ss, March 2002
I find it interesting to read about the history of some of the famous places I have visited. This article is about one of them. Of course, my primary interest at The Huntington is the desert garden.
The American railway executive and philanthropist, Henry Edwards Huntington (1850-1927), made his California ranch into a showplace of considerable stature with an art gallery, a rare book library and botanical gardens as his primary legacy to America and the world.
The development of The Huntington Desert Garden started in the early 20th century when Mr. Huntington bought a 600-acre San Marino (California) ranch in 1903. He hired a young German immigrant, William Hertrich, as his ranch foreman and landscape architect. It started out as a private fruit ranch (primarily oranges and avocados during the balance of his life) with modest flower gardens.
In 1905 Mr. Hertrich approached Mr. Huntington with a proposal to develop a desert garden (in addition to other garden plantings that had and were to take place). After some reluctance on the part of Mr. Huntington, Mr. Hertrich began the project on a trial basis. (Mr. Huntington had some bad experiences with the spiny cacti when he worked on the railroad across the U.S. in years past.)
By 1907 about 3 acres were planted in mostly specimen cacti and a few other succulents that came mostly from local nurseries. It was a beginning.
We are fortunate today that Messrs. Huntington and Hertrich shared a dream that would transform the ranch into world class gardens of the western world. In the early years they started their own nursery to grow plants in large quantities for mass plantings. Greenhouses and lath houses were built on the property to accomplish this.
Mr. Huntington saw the value of a beautiful desert garden come to fruit under the guidance of Mr. Hertrich. This led to contacting collectors and nurseries all over the world with the funds to buy large, the unusual and the rare specimens plants, mostly cacti at first from habitats of southwestern US and in Mexico. He made trips to the McDowell and Purpus nurseries in Mexico; Kunze in Arizona; Weinberg in New York. He then branched out to European growers such as the Haage and Schmidt nurseries in Germany; Franz de Laet in Belgium. By 1919 J. N. Rose, a co-author of The Cactaceae book had given The Huntington his collection of opuntias.
A railroad spur line and horse-drawn wagons were used to transport the big and the unwieldy plants to the ranch. A trip to Arizona in 1908 filled three railroad cars for the trip back to the ranch. 1910 brought the first euphorbias to the ranch, shipped from the Haage and Schmidt nurseries in Germany.
Mr. Huntington decided in 1919 to set aside 200 acres of ground to include the library, art gallery, botanical garden and his home (mansion) for anticipated future public use. Hundreds of plants had to be moved to within this boundary. Some of the various specimens moved weighted from 2 to 5 tons. The balance of the property was split up into home site subdivisions.
By about 1925 the desert garden had expanded from an original 3 acres to 7 acres containing more than 12,000 plants.
Upon his death in 1927, the private estate changed to a public institution where thousands of people from all over the world were able to see and understand the beauty of the botanical gardens, the thrill of the vast art collection and the completeness of the library, including horticultural books, booklets, pamphlets & newsletters. The Huntington is on our newsletter mailing list. They have a full set of our newsletters back to 1958.
207 acres of grounds contain plants and trees from all over the world, set in various horticultural and botanical displays. Some plant is in bloom every day of the year.
What a wonderful place to visit - The Huntington gardens, library and art collection.
Hertrich, William (1949): The Huntington Botanical Gardens 1905. . . 1949.
Lyons, Gary (1969): The Development of The Huntington Desert Garden: Past and Future. CSSA Cactus and Succulent Journal, 41: 10-19.
Thorne, James (1978): Garden Notes, The Huntington Botanical Gardens.
Olmert, Michael (1982): Truth and beauty are still in flower at the Huntington. Smithsonian, February 1982, 64-73.
By Sue Haffner, Cactus Corner News - Fresno, CA
Question: How can I save seeds so they will be viable for several more growing seasons?
Answer: The key to saving seed is keeping temperature and humidity levels low, which will not only keep seed metabolism `on hold', but also will control damage from bacteria, fungi, and insects. Dr. James Harrington of U.C. Davis recommends drying seeds with powdered milk. His method calls for placing two tablespoons of powdered milk in a stack of four facial tissues. Roll the milk up in the tissues and tape the ends so the milk will not spill out. Put this tissue pouch into a storage jar with the seeds. Immediately seal the jar tightly and place it in the refrigerator - never in the free up in the tissues and tape the ends so the milk will not spill out. Put this tissue pouch into a storage jar with the seeds. Immediately seal the jar tightly and place it in the refrigerator - never in the freezer. Seeds that are stored in this fashion should remain viable for several years.
CLEANING SEED: Steven Brack, Mesa Garden, said on the Internet: `The way we clean most seeds is to use pieces of paper and pour the seed from one piece onto another. In most cases the seeds either roll or slide down the paper when tipped quicker than the chaff. After several passes you can get the seeds quite clean. At the end a little work with a knife will remove the chaff. You can also uses strainers of various sizes if you have them, but the paper works well with practice.'
In an old letter, Ed Eby, Lee's dad, recounted how he cleaned sansevieria seeds: ``The orange coat on the seed indicates the seed is ripe. I pick the orange seeds & put them in a coffee can with water. I squeeze a handful of seeds & the skin comes off. I pour off the skins until the water gets clear. That's when the seeds are clean. I then put them on a paper plate to dry. It takes 3 days. I list the seed by the name of the plant that produced it. That does not mean if you plant Sansevieria desertii seed you will get S. desertii plants. Many species of sansevierias bloom at the same time & the pollen gets mixed. Very few insects work sansevieria flowers. They are at their best at night. Most likely, wind mixes the pollen.
BACH NURSERY'S SEED GROWING MIX: 50% pumice, 25% composted forest mulch, 25% peat, pH adjusted to 7.2 using crushed dolomite limestone; 18-6-12 Osmocote also added.
Growing From Seed
By Sue Haffner, Cactus Corner News - Fresno, CA
Have you ever tried growing cacti or succulents from seed? Or, have you tried growing other `exotics' from seed, having been seduced by gorgeous photos in the seed catalogs? You might have succumbed and ordered seed, planted it, and been disappointed by the results. (Or, on the other hand, you might have had some beginner's luck and had everything come up. Enthused, you tried again, only to have disappointing results. Maybe you gave up, after this.) Not everyone is attracted the practice. One veteran grower exclaimed to me, ``I won't live long enough to see my plants bloom [if I grew them from seed]!'' (Actually, that isn't true, as some species of cacti can produce blooms when less than a year old - but that's another story.)
Successful growing from seed involves a number of variables: quality of the seed, the medium used, moisture, temperature, light. A medium recommended by Peg Spaete, founder of the CSSA Seed Depot and an expert grower, is this one: 4 parts coarse sand, 3 parts milled sphagnum, 1 part coarse vermiculite, 1 part commercial potting soil, and 1 part pumice. Ask a dozen different growers, and you will get a dozen different `recipes'. You can pasteurize your mix by baking it in an oven: moisten the mix, cover it with foil, place it in the oven and bring it to 180 degrees soil temperature and bake for an hour. In the microwave, set the probe for 165 degrees; or you can pour boiling water through the mix after you have placed it in the pots or flats you intend to use for seeding. Let the mix cool before planting the seeds.
Sow the seeds evenly on the surface. Don't bury them; press them into the soil with a flat object or spoon. You may sprinkle tiny gravel (#4 size) over the sown seed. Sow larger succulent seeds upright, leaving the top of the seed uncovered. I have heard that euphorbia seeds should be planted with the pointed end up - if you can figure out which is the pointed end. If you can't tell ``which end is up'', plant them sideways.
Cover the seed containers with a clear plastic wrap or a see-through dome and place them in a warm place or over a heating cable. Warmth may speed up germination. But if you don't have a heating cable, don't worry; the seeds will germinate, it will just take a little longer. Most seeds need some light for germination. A windowsill is fine; some people construct a light garden just for seed-raising. A simple shop light arrangement is usually sufficient.
Seed of some of the hardier cacti, such as Sclerocactus, Pediocactus, Opuntia and related genera, need some special treatment, a ``mock winter''. Sow the seeds in a moist soil mix, cover with clear plastic, and put the pots in a refrigerator at 35-40 degrees for 6-8 weeks. Then put them under lights in or a warm area with light to germinate. For a real winter, set them outside in a cold frame. Some Southwest desert seeds need a cycle of freezing and thawing in order to overcome germination inhibitors. Succulent seeds with hard coasts, such as Ipomea, Cyphostemma, Beaucarnea, etc., should be soaked at least overnight, or should have their seed coats abraded or nicked.
When seedlings appear, you can begin to ventilate the seed pans by lifting the coverings, but be sure not to let them dry out, as this is likely to be fatal to the baby plants. Don't be in a hurry to transplant the seedlings, either. Many cacti can be kept in their seed pans for up to a year. Keep the seedlings moist for the first year; you can begin a more normal cycle in the second year. Peg recommends feeding with ? strength 20-20-20 fertilizer with each watering.
The July/August 1995 issue of The Cactus & succulent journal was devoted to the subject of seed-raising. It has been the most popular of the special issues, and is now out of print. Most cactus and succulent books have sections on growing from seed. Remember that no procedure works perfectly for everyone, as there are too many variables involved. Don't be discouraged if you have the occasional failure. It happens to everyone. Keep trying!
SOURCES: Mesa Garden, Box 72, Belen MN 87002 send two stamps for a huge seed catalog.
Silverhill Seeds, P.O. Box 53108, Kenilworth, 7745 Cape Town, South Africa $2 (cash) for catalog and supplementary lists of African seeds.
G. Kohres, Postbox 1217, D-64387 Erzhausen, Germany $3 (cash) for large seed list. Expensive, but has selections not available elsewhere.
All of the above have web sites; check the Cactus Mall: http://www.cactus-mall.com
A Silent Assistant - by Dick Schreiber, Mid-Iowa Cactus and Succulent Society
One of the many challenges of growing cacti and succulents is repotting the plants, getting them centered and at the correct height in the container or pot. Positioning the plants in the pots when they were small was not difficult, although after a few years they are not so easily handled. Besides who can really hold the cactus at the correct height, in the center, arrange roots, add dirt and use a pokie stick all at the same time?
Well, I saw a need for making a tool to be a silent assistant. It holds the plant just right, doesn't complain about spines, and has all day for you to finish the job.
[Picture 1] [Picture 2]
Basically it's constructed of 2 boards with drilled holes and 2 dowels to fit the holes. In detail, each board is 3/4'' by 3/4'' by 12''. You will need 2 with 11 - 5/16th'' holes drilled 1'' apart in each board. The 2 - 5/16th'' dowels are also 12'' long. The dowels and the boards should easily slide apart or together to accommodate the size of a plant.
How it works is very easy. Just estimate the size of the base of the plant. With one dowel already in the boards, lay the frame atop the pot or container to create a level stable platform. The plant is then placed at the ideal height in the pot, while the second dowel is inserted into both boards, providing a snug resting spot for the plant. Thus you have the plant in the middle of the frame, atop the pot, ready for centering, arranging roots, adding your favorite mix and tamping the soil down. Upon completion a dowel is removed and the frame is pulled away leaving the plant centered, erect, and happy.
This described size is a medium one; you could make it longer or smaller depending on your need. It lends itself to be used mostly on cacti, with globular shapes; however I've used it on pachypodiums and adeniums as well. It depends on the plant shape and it's advised that you play with this tool to see its possibilities. This would be an easy and fun winter project for the cacti/succulent hobbyist, waiting for the warm sunny days of spring and repotting chores.
Mid-Iowa Cactus and Succulent Society
A Cactus Greenhouse in Iowa
By Dick Schreiber, Mid-Iowa C&SS Member
It goes against all common sense to grow cactus and succulents in Iowa. There are numerous reasons; too cloudy, too much rain and humidity, too hot, too many critters, no room and then freezing temperatures come along and force them indoors. Is this natural for the plants and are they really happy?
I chose to build a greenhouse a little over 10 years ago. It isn't perfect or high dollar; however, it was an adventure to build and is giving us enjoyment year around. This is a short article on my situation, some thoughts pertaining to greenhouses and answers to the above issues.
The basic necessities of a greenhouse are shelter, sunlight, moving air and moderated temperatures. This means a structure, electricity, and a heat source. It was overwhelming at first, to bring all this together. I needed to research greenhouses and find out what makes them work. Because I would be the design, construction and repair person, and, oh yes, the person to use and enjoy it. Thus it was my choice to proceed and do it myself. So the key to this project was keeping it simple and I believe I did. Another way to keep it simple is to pay a contractor to do the work. There are numerous kits and styles available for contractor installation or the "do-it-yourselfers". It's a decision on a persons comfort level to do the work themselves or have it done by someone else. I felt somewhat at ease building the structure. I talked to my wife, Cynde, a lot regarding design with common sense answers that I was looking for.
There are 3-season and 4-season greenhouses, each have advantages and disadvantages. Often a 3-season can become a 4-season with additional amendments at a later date when funds become available. A person must decide what is best for their needs and budget. Location, size, style, to buy or to build is all necessary to answer before taking the plunge into having a greenhouse. Is there electricity, and gas nearby for the detached greenhouse? Attaching the greenhouse to the home is an attractive option if there is enough room and the sun location permits this. The costs of heating would be minimal being attached to the home and visiting the greenhouse would be like walking to another room in your home. Very appealing to consider, however, it would not work for my situation.
The framework of our greenhouse is a second hand aluminum Lord and Burnham lean-to, that I had decided to place along my 24' long garage. This makes it run North to South pretty much and 20 feet or so away from the house. This lean-to is approximately 7' wide. The person I purchased this from had no appreciation for the greenhouse and basically wanted it removed ($450). It was 28 1/2' long and was in disrepair. We disassembled it in one day (with the help of my father, brother and sister-in-law), and moved the many pieces to my home. It was stored until it was needed.
I had to provide a base or foundation for the wall, by digging down 2' and pouring concrete footings. Then a short knee wall sits atop that, to provide a beginning for the framework erection. I completed the utilities, foundation and framework the first year. Year 2 saw the glass sides and Lexan top panels go together and the greenhouse became a tight shelter. The midsummer was spent building the benches for the plants to set on. Going into fall, I chose a hot water heater for keeping the plants warm in winter. The idea came from a MICSS club member (Elwin Hand) that had used it successfully and he was proud to explain his setup. It consisted of a 30-gallon residential gas water-heater, fin tubes, a thermostat, and a circulation pump. It was simple and I could do it.
I installed the fin tubes under the benches to give off the heat to the plants above. This fin tube is a copper pipe with aluminum fins or radiators on them to give off heat from the hot water inside it. The pump moves the heated water around the loop of pipe, returning the water to the water-heater (in the garage) for another trip, warming the entire structure. The thermostat shuts off the pump when the structure reaches the temperature it was set for. I keep mine at 50 degrees F. Simple and it works. We figure it costs about $1.50 per day, during the winter months. The water is actually a 50/50 mix of water and glycol (anti-freeze) to keep from freezing a pipe. This actually happened in the beginning when I didn't have one pipe entirely insulated and the heater was not in use because of a sunny day in the winter. That section of pipe froze and kept the loop from circulating the hot liquid. I had to get a hairdryer and heat that section of pipe until the water started flowing again. To remedy the problem, I insulated it better and switched to the water/glycol mix the next fall. There have been no problems since.
Attaching a 28 1/2' greenhouse to a 24' garage was resolved by extending the additional 4 1/2' beyond the garage and creating a potting shed addition to attach the greenhouse to. This was a later addition I put on when I needed more room and the extra parts I hadn't used were haunting me. Thus, we have a 250 square foot greenhouse, which houses 537 or so cactus and succulent plants. This addition also provided an opportunity to enclose my downspout fed 50 gallon water barrel, that had until that time been outside and required emptying each fall. This was an idea whose time had come. The barrel is 4' off the floor of the greenhouse and provides gravity for watering the plants on the benches below, with a garden hose and the watering wand. The plants being watered with warm water in winter makes them happy.
I decided to let Mother Nature provide the sunlight and have shade cloth inside provide the shadows for the shade loving plant. In the beginning of June I apply a whitewash on the glass to cut down on the intensity of the peak summer rays. I have no special supplemental lighting for the plants. The Schlumbergeras and Lithops bloom in December and Aloes show their inflorescence in January, all very natural and I believe they are happy. The 50-degree thermostat temperature in winter keeps most plants dormant and does not show etiolation on any of them.
Moving air is a necessity for keeping the plants healthy, disease and bug free. Air movement also stirs up the hot and cool spots to a more temperate climate that plants like. The gentle sweeping motion of the air seems to replicate the outdoor breeze stirring leaves and spines alike that makes them happy. To keep the air moving I have installed 3 tabletop fans that are mounted on shelves on the wall. They are 12" diameter oscillating and run continuously year round. I had used wall fans in the beginning. However, they were hard to locate in the stores and were usually costing half again as much. The table fans are common, cheap ($15) and last 3 years or so.
Vents in the greenhouse structure are also important, and a roof ridge vent or moveable panel is desirable for keeping the heat buildup under control for the hottest of summer days. There must also be outside vents for air to enter the greenhouse. This sets up a natural circulation that cycles the air and keeps it moving. On the hot summer days of little breezes I wanted to provide relief from the heat to the plants. So I went to the trouble of installing a swamp cooler in mine for the many plants that remain in the greenhouse during the summer. It really mixes up the air the entire length of the greenhouse and is basically a large fan. This comes on at a predetermined high temperature and shuts off when it's cooled off. I do not use water with the swamp collar, as it introduced more problems than solutions; mainly too much humidity that seemed to promote scars, abnormal growth, and diseases.
I have installed a temperature alarm system that sounds a buzzer beside my bed to alert us when the greenhouse temperature is below the 44 degrees F. temperature. I then take action (usually the middle of the night) to investigate. Usually it means plugging in an electric heater to supplement the hot water heater. Another trick is to increase the temperature of the water that circulates. The greenhouse returns back to 50 degrees in a couple hours and all is well again. The other convenience I have purchased is a wireless thermometer between the house and the greenhouse. This clever gadget displays the temperature of the greenhouse and also the outside temperature, without wires. It keeps track of the highs and lows of the greenhouse and lets me know the extremes during the night or while we were away at work. This is another toy of the greenhouse I rationalized as a necessity.
The overall experience of the greenhouse has been nothing less than wonderful. Though I regret not having more time to spend on the plants, due to a 40 hour + job. Therefore, my plants are grown "hard" (not pampered). The many hours putting this project together was all worth it when a person can see the wonderful cacti and succulents bloom, divide and grow in size. I had decided to have it now and enjoy it for the many years to come, rather than wait to retirement and then start. This was our decision and it seems to be working for us. I very much look forward to pampering the plants in retirement. They look forward to it also, I'm sure.
Summering Plants Out-of-doors
by Lou Kilbert, Michigan Cactus & Succulent Society 7/2001
Which succulents should be placed out-of-doors in the sun and which ones would be best placed in the shade? Just about all of your houseplants will benefit from a summer out-of-doors. The first problem that you face is that your plants have been trying for many long months to adjust to the long dark days of winter inside your home where the light is even dimmer. Just picture the effect when you walk from the relatively dark interior of your home into the bright summer sunlight. There is at least a moment when you can't see; you need to adjust to the high light intensity. And that's in summer! In winter, the dimming effect of your house would be even greater although you don't notice it as much. Even plants grown in a greenhouse need a period of adjustment before they go into the full sun of a summer day.
Because of this when you put your plants out, put them in at least partial shade. I use a large red maple tree for shade in the backyard. After two weeks, some of these plants can go into full sun. It is best to keep plants that are in full sun well watered. If a plant is uncomfortable because of the heat, it cannot move itself under an awning or tree to get relief. If it has sufficient water, it may be able to avoid sunburn. That doesn't mean keeping the soil soggy or letting the pot set in water for days on end!
Tall columnar and most barrel cacti will definitely benefit from a summer in the sun. If the plant is in too small a pot, it may be hard to give it enough water, so a plant that is under-potted may suffer sunburn whereas the same plant in a good sized pot that is watered regularly will not show the same effect. In general the smaller barrels need some shade, especially from the afternoon's hot sun. Rebutias, Gymnocalyciums and some Lobivias, are in this class. In nature, they grow in the shade of tall grasses, although not under trees.
You will have a much better chance of getting your cacti to flower if they summer out-of-doors. Grandma kept her Christmas cactus on an unheated porch in the winter but put it out in full sun on a tree stump in the backyard for the summer. She did the same with her orchid cacti as well; although, since they were larger, they sat on the ground. I keep my orchid cacti in the shade for convenience. They can take full sun. There is more to this story than full sun versus shade. Is your sunny position open to the air? You should provide good ventilation in the sun, and in the shade. Usually, the problem is not too much sun-light but too much heat!! That's why you need good airflow. On the other hand, some locations get an excess of wind and that can be drying which accentuates sunburning. In shade, muggy, still air gets excessively humid, and that promotes fungus diseases.
There are aesthetic reasons for keeping your succulents in the shade. Sunburn is obviously ugly and scarring. Some people like their plants green-green! In the sun, they will probably take on all sorts of colors that many of us admire.
Plants in full sun require more frequent watering than plants kept in the shade. Therefore, they are easier to care for in the shade.
Whitish-grayish or furry leaved plants generally tolerate sun better than plants that are deep, dark green. White or yellow variegated plants require more light than all green plants.
Finally, plants kept out-of-doors in summer will be resistant to insects and diseases. With so many benefits, why not put your plants outside? With a large collection, like mine, it's a lot of work (I wish I could put them all out!) but it's worth it.
Identification and classification of Euphorbias
by Reese Brown, Palomar Cactus & Succulent Society
Succulent plants of the genus Euphorbia are very popular with collectors. Unfortunately, they have not been given the attention by taxonomist that Cacti have been given. The genus Euphorbia contains over 1600 species, all in the same genus. In contrast, the family Cactaceae contains a similar number of species classified into between 50 and 220 genera (depending on whether you believe the lumpers or the splitters). Having so many species in the same genus makes identification much more difficult than it would be if these 1600 species were broken down into multiple genera.
As it is, we are stuck with the system as it exists until some bold academic botanists/taxonomist is willing to tackle this monstrous job. The genus contains a wide variety of plant forms, both succulent and non-succulent. Many of the Euphorbias are encountered in our local gardens as weeds. I personally have 3 distinct species growing in my garden. On a recent trip to Texas, I visited an Uncle who lives on a ranch out from San Antonio. In walking around the property, I encountered 4 separate species of Euphorbia, none of which were the same as the ones found in my garden.
The problem of identification of the succulent (and semi-succulent) species, that are grown by collectors, has been partially solved by Hermann Jacobsen in his monumental work, the Lexicon of Succulent Plants. White, Dyer, and Sloan addressed the identification of the South African species. Unfortunately, their work is incomplete as it does not cover any of the species from the rest of Africa, Madagascar, and the Arabian peninsula. The plant descriptions in White, Dyer, and Sloan are very complete while those in Jacobsen are sketchy at best. Despite this, the book does give a reasonable classification scheme that allows us to break the very large genus into manageable sub groups. Jacobsen breaks the succulent Euphorbias into 28 sub-groups with an additional set of 8 groups for the Madagascar species.
The basic classification of the Euphorbias is based on the flower and it's structure and characteristics. All 1600+ Euphorbias have flowers that are similar in their basic characteristics so Jacobsen resorted to groupings based on plant body characteristics and spination. To start with, when you receive a plant that you suspect as being a Euphorbia, you check the sap. All of the succulent Euphorbias have milky sap (except for 1 species). This sap is very viscous and is also likely to be toxic. Given that a plant has milky sap, you identify the body form and spine characteristics. These are the characteristics that determine the group into which the plant falls. There are other plant groups that have milky sap, but no other plant genus exhibits this trait as uniformly. In addition, those other plants with milky sap simply "do not look like a Euphorbia". After a few years of exposure to Euphorbias, one starts to recognize the Euphorbia look.
Body forms range widely from skinny sticks to globular spheres to robust columnar trees. The body form is the first characteristic used to determine the Jacobsen group. Many of the species have well defined ribs, while other similar species have no identifiable ribs. Given that the body form is identified, the next point to check is the spines, if present. Strictly speaking, these are not spines the same as Cactus spines, but they are more like thorns or other sharp protuberances. The
Euphorbias spines fall into three groups. The most common spine form looks much like rose thorns. This spine form is referred to as "stipular spines" and come most commonly in pairs (like cow horns) and grow on the ribs of the plant. A limited number of species have 1, 3, or 4 spines in a group. The second spine form is actually a sterile flower stalk. It is called a "peduncular spine". They come usually singly or as a group of 3 from a common point. They range in size from very small to up to 1" long. These spines look like a sharpened stick coming out of the rib of the parent plant. In general, they are not particularly sharp as are the stipular spines. The third spine form is commonly found on many of the Madagascar species. These spines are not separate entities as are the other two spine forms. They appear to be abrupt sharpened outgrowths of the plant stem ribs. The size can very on a given plant from hair like growths to robust sharp growths of up to 3/4" long.
When using the spines as a key to identification of a plant, the number and characteristics of the spines are commonly used. Another key plant feature that is used for identification is the flower. All Euphorbias have similar flowers, but there are some notable differences that can be used for identification. To start with, some plants are monecious (single house) that have both male and female flowers on the same plant. Others are dioecious (two houses) and have flowers of one sex only, either male or female. For a more extended discussion of this characteristic see my earlier article titled "The Sex Life of the Succulent Euphorbias" published earlier in this Journal. One serious problem that results from the dioecious species is that it is very difficult to find non-hybrid seedlings. To get non-hybrid seed requires that you have both male and female plants in flower at the same time and that you carefully control the pollination. The monecious species tend to be self fertile so it is common to get non-hybrid seed. The flowers differ in color and number. Common colors are red and yellow and come as single or in groups of 3. In addition, some have bracts, usually 2 with colors that range from bright red through yellow to pale green. These flowers can be sessile or have stems ranging up to 1" long. Some of the species have complex fringes around the periphery of the flowers. In one particular group of species, the body characteristics are not enough different to allow definitive identification, but the shape and color of the fringes do differ substantially so can be used as a means of identification.
Those interested in learning more about Euphorbias and their identification should consult the available literature. There are three primary sources of good information. The first two, I have also mentioned: 1)The Lexicon of Succulent Plants, Hermann Jacobsen; 2) The Succulent Euphorbieae, White, Dyer, & Sloane; 3) The Euphorbia Journal, Strawberry Press, Vols. 1 through 10.
Reese Brown, 2-6-02