Personally I am not an enthusiast over cacti. While a cactus in bloom is
a marvelous sight, so gorgeous in fact that it is almost unbelievable
and unreal, I prefer flowers a little less fervid and more constant.
There are, however, two distinct
advantages which most of the cacti
possess, making them available for use where no other plants could be
kept. They are practically proof against any hardships that may be
imposed upon them, and they take up very little room. In addition to
that they are always an interesting curiosity, and for that reason alone
well worth the little attention they require. The low-growing sorts,
among which some of the most curious are to be found, may be given a
narrow shelf or the edge of the plant shelf in the winter window garden.
As far as care and soil are concerned, their requirements are simple.
The most important thing to see to is that they are given perfect
drainage. The soil should be sandy, and coal ashes, or better still, old
plastering or lime rubbish, should be added. Only a moderate amount of
water will be required in winter, but when the plants are set outside
in a well drained position in summer they should be showered frequently.
As to temperature, although they come from hot climates, most of the
sorts will stand as low as thirty-five degrees without injury. Just
before and during the blooming period about sixty degrees is desirable,
but forty-five to fifty degrees will be better at other times. Where
room is lacking, they may, for the most part, be wintered over in the
cellar, as described previously for other plants (page 71). Propagation
is performed either by seeds or cuttings, the latter being the more
generally used, as they root very readily--just break a piece off and
stick it in the sand.
Considered from the layman's point of view, cacti are made up of two
classes: those which are valued for their wonderful flowers and those
which excite curiosity by their weird habits of growth. Some of the
latter--such as the Crown of Thorns and the Mammillaria--have small or
Specimens of this class, well cared for, are worthy of a place in any
collection of flowering plants. They will stand, especially during the
flowering period, weak applications of manure water.
The Epiphyllums or Crab cacti (Ephiphyllum truncatum and its
varieties) are by far the most valuable, because of their profuse and
long flowering season, especially as it comes in the winter when bright
flowers are scarce. E. t. coccineum, with deep scarlet flowers, is
one of the best. Ruckerianum, light purple with violet center;
Magnificum, white, slightly pinkish at the edge; and violaceum
superbum, white with rich purple edge, are some of the other good
varieties of these beautiful plants. Phyllocactus is perhaps the next
best flowering sort. The flowers are larger, more gorgeous, but borne
only for a very short time. P. Ackermanni is one of the best of these.
It has very large flowers, lily-shaped, bright red shading to light red
with the inner petals, and the long gracefully curved stamens add to its
beauty. It blossoms in May or early June, but the season is usually
limited to two or three weeks. The night blooming Phyllocactus, with
white flowers, is commonly confused with the Night-Blooming cereus.
Cereus may be distinguished by its angular stems as compared to the
broad flat stems of Phyllocactus. C. grandiflorus and C.
Macdonaldiae, the famous Night-blooming cereuses, have white flowers
which remain open only one night. They are, however, though so
transient, a marvelous sight. Prone to strange tasks indeed is the hand
of Nature which has fashioned these grotesque, clumsy, lifeless looking
plants to accumulate nourishment and moisture for months from the
niggardly desert sands, and to mature for a few hours' existence only
these marvelously fashioned flowers which collapse with the first rays
of the heat-giving sunshine. C. flagelliformis, and C.
speciosissimus, two very gorgeous flowered day blooming sorts, remain
longer, but they are not so hardy as most of the other cacti. Opuntia,
the Indian fig, is another flowering sort, though not so valuable. They
are grotesque in shape and the flowers, which are various shades of red
or yellow and two inches or so across, according to variety, look as
though they had been stuck onto the plant.
Of the other cacti commonly grown most are of dwarf form and a single
window will accommodate quite a number of them.
Echinocactus, the Hedge-hog cactus, is one of the best known of these.
E. myriostigma, the Bishop's Cap, is a quite familiar variety.
Echinopsis, the Sea-urchin cactus, is another queer dwarf type. The
flowers seem much too large for the plants, being sometimes half a foot
long. They are lily-shaped and rose pink or white, according to variety.
Pilocereus senilis, the Old Man cactus, is another sort which always
attracts attention in any collection. The stem is covered with fine
white hairy spines, three to five inches long, which give it a very
peculiar appearance. When kept in the house the hairs are likely to
become dusty and grimy. They may be protected by cutting two panes of
glass into four long pieces, just wide enough to square the pot, and
enclosing it, putting a fifth piece over the top.
Opuntia senilis, the dwarf prickly pear, is very similar to the above,
but indoors makes a larger plant usually, although much smaller in its
Anhalonium fissuratum, the Living Rock, is an other frequently
encountered and very interesting sort.
The Mammillarias are compact, neat little plants quite unique and
attractive in spite of their spiral rows of vicious spines. They grow
only a few inches high and have inconspicuous pale flowers of yellow,
red or purple, followed by the bright red little fruits which are one of
the most interesting characteristics. M. bicolor is one of the best
and most frequently encountered sorts. M. plumosa has fuzzy spines,
like the Old Man cactus. It can be kept clean by growing under a large
There are several succulent plants quite closely resembling cacti, which
need about the same treatment.
The century plant (Agave Americana) is universally known. There are
two sorts frequently seen, that with the green leaves and a variety with
broad yellow bands which is much handsomer. They make excellent formal
tub plants, standing almost any hardships and lasting for years. They
are easily propagated from suckers and grow quite rapidly. They are,
however, in the larger sizes very difficult to handle, armed with spines
at leaf tips and edges. Tub specimens are usually wintered over in the
cellar, or at the florist's. There is an unfounded superstition that
they bloom once every hundred years. They rarely flower when
domesticated. Repot as often as needed, in fairly rich soil, while
growing. Small plants are quite attractive in the house in winter and
may be plunged outside in summer. The Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia
splendens) is also quite well known. It makes a long tangled vine, full
of wicked short thorns and small, pretty leaves. The flowers are not
large but the bright red bracts add a touch of color and the plant is
covered with them most of the year. It must be carefully staked up and
trained, a short wide pot trellis being the best thing to use.
"Little Pickles" (Othonna crassifolia) is quite a favorite basket and
hanging plant. The odd, thick foliage looks like small cucumbers. It
must be given plenty of light, sunshine if possible, to produce its
flowers, which are small and yellow, in shape like those of the sun
pink, but smaller.
There are a number of other succulents sometimes used for house plants,
among them the aloes, mesembryanthemums (fig marigolds), echeverias (E.
metallica being the best sort), sedums and house leeks
(Sempervivums), among which S. globiferum, "hen-and-chickens," is
the most widely known. These do not occupy very important positions,
however, and space does not permit further description here.
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