Sunday, October 27, 2013

Monochromatic succulence: the Autumnal move.

Mammillaria plumosa
 Once you get beyond the spines, most people associate cacti with their miraculous flowers--which are so often garish magenta, scarlet, yellow, orange--you name it! Anything in the flagrant hot end of the spectrum...and then there are the other ones. You may be amused to compare the specimen above to what it looked like just two years ago! And to think I got a blue ribbon with that squinny little plant then: I should do pretty well with this one this coming March (show time!) if all goes well!

Astrophytum myriostigma
 Not in bloom right now, the wonderful texture shape of Bishop's cap cactus makes the flower almost irrelevant (although it can be quite pleasing in bloom). If you clicked on that URL you could see the flower, and compare the plant which has grown considerably in two years as well. This time of year cactus and succulent enthusiasts all over the Northern Hemisphere have moved most of our collections into greenhouses (if we are very clever or lucky) or more often, onto the window ledges around our homes. I don't know anyone who really enjoys this seasonal scramble--but once you have the plants placed and properly groomed for their winter's sojourn, I, for one, find it a great pleasure to sit for a minute and just contemplate these amazing plants. They always look so much happier in the autumn, after a summer in the open air, buffeted by breezes, enjoying real rains! The next six months are a bit of a trial for many of them, and the move outdoors in the spring is far more complicated and frustrating (it's so easy to burn plants after they've been cosseted indoors).

Contrasting colors and textures
 Of course, we plant nerds love the individual plant, but we come to enjoy the ensemble of many plants together: contrasting spine colors and shapes ultimately constitute a sort of garden in pots for the winter season.

Mammillaria candida
 Here is anew one for my collection I purchased from Harriet Olds, who had to divest herself of some plants as a consequence of a move. I have already gotten many times the purchase price by just hovering over this gem in a sort of Fibbanocian daze. I do love spines...

Agave Americana 'Variegata'
 I am not sure I trust the label on this one: it looks so petite and innocent. Staff at the gardens just moved three enormous specimens of this same taxon that weighed hundreds of pounds each. I wonder how long it will take for this to outgrow its welcome? I know the color is not exactly monochromatic, but the charm (you must admit) of this plant comes from contrast in colors more than its brightness of green or yellow!

Mammillaria sp.
Another hand-me-down from a member of our cactus club--namely, Dana Such. Dana is one of a handful of members who rake in most of the ribbons at the annual Show and Sale (the last weekend in March--put it in your calendar!). I couldn't believe she had this in a plant exchange a few years ago--and that no one else had grabbed it! If the terrible symmetry of these does not cast a bit of a Fibbonacci spell upon you, you are a tough customer indeed.  I do have the name tucked somewhere: if someone demands it I shall look it up.
Albino Ariocarpus retusus
I posted this on Facebook a few weeks ago--and it has put up another flush of those outrageous flowers. Most Ariocarpus bloom a virulent magenta. I have never photographed the magenta form of this species (incredibly enough), but do have pix of its cousin. Astrophytum and Ariocarpus are two of the most sought after (and therefore expensive) cacti: is it because both genera lack spines? Or their wonderful habit of blooming in the late summer and fall?  Or is it because they have perfected the monochromatic perfection of succulence. Or is it all three of these?

The wonderful symmetry and beauty of these plants sustains me throughout the winter (more than justifying the twice yearly shuffle in and outdoors)--and each year my windows seem to get a bit more crowded! Where on my property could I possibly put a greenhouse?


  1. Your Astrophytum myriostigma is the best that I have ever seen. I always look forward to it's display at the annual Show & Sale on the last weekend in March at DBG. These cactus and succulents are truly wonderful and fascinating. I refer to them as the Dennis Rodmans of the plant world because they are so bizarre and unusual.

  2. Thanks for your compliments, Keith! I'm busy grooming plants already and intend to bring home SOMETHING this year (you may have noticed I didn't do too hot in 2013...) In fact, I have a scheme to outdo Denver Botanic Gardens "official" entries--since I can't hope to beat the City of Denver's greenhouse displays! Competition--so annoying and yet so gratifying when you win!


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