I can’t help it. I’m fascinated by cactus.
Cactus used to be a non-category of plants to me. But here’s the thing: I love looking at them.
I’ve started a small collection. I’m wary of course, I know they bite.
Cacti are a little like having an exotic pet. You admire it, but keep it caged. And you certainly don’t expect it to snuggle with you.
Oh, the flowers!
And the Fibonacci spirals! Many of these are mammillarias, from the Latin for nipple. (I know. Pretty racy.) Regardless of whether they have minimal spines or are so thickly spined they look furry, all mams have nipple-like bumps. From the tips of each (the aureole) emerge the spines.
These are a different kind of cactus. They have a name that’s bigger than they are: Echinocereus rigidissimus var. rubispinus. The common name is rainbow hedgehog cactus. It’s native to Mexico’s Sonoran desert.
This is golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii). It combines really well with blue Echeveria imbricata, a hens-and-chicks succulent.
Cactus flowers turn into egg-like fruit, like these of Ferocactus wislizenii. They’re edible, but filled with seeds.Cacti are New World plants. The majority are native to the Southwest and Mexico, but a few are rainforest plants.
Yes, there’s such a thing as a tropical cactus. You’re familiar no doubt with Christmas and Easter cacti? Here’s an example of one of them, in the genus Schlumbergera.
I’ll leave you with this goofy one. No, it’s not a mammillaria. It’s Cleistocactus strausii. The common name is old man cactus, because it looks bearded. What do you think of the flowers?
Care: Cacti need superb drainage. Grow in potting soil that’s 70 percent pumice. These plants are water tanks, so their roots don’t know what to do with too much water. Let them go for weeks without watering, even in summer. Then water thoroughly. Withhold water during their winter dormancy. They need cold winter temperatures in order to bloom in spring, but not freezing temps—between 40 and 60 degrees is ideal. Give them as much sun as possible during the day, and if you overwinter them indoors, 40-watt fluorescent lights are fine. Cacti also need good air circulation; without it, mealy bugs and other pests may find and colonize them.