Saturday, November 19, 2011

Huggable cacti

I attended my first meeting of the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society nearly a half century ago...believe me, I find that a lot scarier than you do. I hasten to assure you that I was very young. My brother-in-law, Allan Taylor took me along (he has just built his extensive cactus garden--another story, another blog)...

Over the years I would drop in from time to time when CCSS had speakers like John Trager of the Huntington, or Gordon Rowley, or Bruce Bayer. I grew hardy stuff, and Cactus clubs are really about tender things like Astrophytum myriostigma, Ariocarpus fissuratus and of course Mammillaria plumosa, featured above. [those first two are hyperlinks, if you missed it!]Somehow, I've gotten more and more "stuck on" cacti and other succulents (obligatory pun) that my windows are suddenly crowded with these tender (and paradoxically tough) little minions in winter and I find myself performing that potentially painful dance all succulent fanciers know only too well, schlepping plants in and out in spring and fall. I have gradually come to realize that the three taxa I just listed (and which have graced my blog this year) are darlings of all cactus collectors for many reasons 1) they do take a modicum of skill for nurserymen to produce and gardeners to maintain 2) they are relatively rare in either nurseries or the wild and therefore "choice" 3) these are three of the least lethal cacti. You can pet all three of these safely. In fact, you could rub your chin (or other tender body parts) against them (depending on your peculiar bent, shall we say) and not hurt yourself. The first two are utterly lacking in spines, but in the Mammillaria, the spines are transformed into amazingly frilly and gentle snowflakes of softness. These form amazing snowballs of furry beauty with time, and studded with creamy flowers for much of the late summer and autumn, the plant is irresistible.

I will always grow and enjoy my hardy succulents....but more and more windows in my house (and even my office lately) are burgeoning with these chubby and prickly little imps. I can't imagine my home or my life without them! (Warning, however: I find I'm now president of the darned cactus club! You too may find yourself cheerfully lolling in the cactus patch if you don't watch out!)


  1. Since you are now president of the darned cactus club I've got a cactus question for you that I'm sure you can answer! Why do you occasionally see a "stripe" or section of long hairs, almost looking like fur, down one side of a tall cactus? I swear I read about this phenomenon once but I can't for the life of me remember what it indicated.

  2. Two years ago at Christmas I celebrated in Mexico City. I spent a lot of time in the city botanical garden. It was very small but very wonderful. It has a lovely formal display of native cactus, notably many mammillaria. It was my introduction to these sweet cacti. They are fabulous.

  3. Loree: I am a terrible imposter as Pres of the club: don't know half as much as one of our members who is a Sophomore in High School...I must ask him!

    I may have been to that very garden, Elizabeth...only 43 years ago! Was it in Coyoacan? The Mammillarias are probably the largest genus (or maybe that's Opuntia) in the Family and endlessly fascinating. One of my favorite spots on Planet Earth is the Mammillaria rockery at Huntington Botanical where I will be frolicking in a few weeks: woo hooo! You must go there if you haven't been there.

  4. It was in Chapultepec Park, Panayoti. The park itself is pretty great in terms of trees and plants and the city is full of these great little parks/gardens. I'm hoping to get to Huntington one of these days. Have fun!


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