Many of us, and perhaps especially children, are attracted by these exotic plants. They are often extremely cheap to buy. Many are miniature with a self-composed air and the charm of small ornaments; though they can shed alarming amounts of gravel on the carpets! Having bought the first plant, or received it as a gift, it is very easy to start a collection.
Unless a serious interest develops when investment in special greenhouses is likely, it can be satisfying to restrict your collection to the windowsill(s) and perhaps a conservatory or even two. These plants are generally content in a bright position but generally don’t enjoy being baked all day. They are more likely to produce flowers if they are fairly cool in the winter, being happy with a temperature of 5 degrees centigrade.
They enjoy plenty of water from spring till autumn. During winter many are happy with four months of drought. Others can become desiccated in the dry atmosphere of the house and may benefit from an occasional light misting or a very light watering. It is generally easy to buy specialist compost and to periodically repot them into slightly larger containers. With spiky plants try gently lifting them in a wad of newspaper. Note that the paddle-like leaves of Prickly-pears (Opuntia forms) can shed tiny irritating hairs – far more uncomfortable than simply being stabbed by a spine!
The top of the soil should be covered in a layer of grit or small pebbles. In the growing season application of ‘cactus food’ or much diluted general plant food can help. If treated correctly many cacti will flower, albeit briefly when the clear colours of their party dresses are a delightful bonus.
A few cacti that have regular shapes and, in some cases, stunning flowers:
Mammilaria bombycina. This makes a spreading colony of hairy silvered globes that carry both long and short spikes. There are around five hundred different species of generally rounded forms which often flower quite regularly.
Echinopsis forms such as Echinopsis ‘Oh Wow’ come in both long and round forms, some of which have stunning blooms.
Gymnocalycium paraguayensis charm with their characterful formation and often curious spines. These contrast well with the neat lines of many Mammilaria.
Optuntia ficus indica with its curious paddle-leaves marked with small golden aureoles.
And some succulents:
Haworthia attentuata with small spiky-fans having zebra stripes. There are other haworthias with curious foliage forms that delight the eye.
The delightful money-tree: Crassula ovata. This can become a substantial plant with round fleshy leaves and small starry flowers in winter. This is said to attract money to the home and can be an ever-growing feature for many years.
Many will know the Christmas or orchid cactus with cascading foliage that is beautiful in a basket. These delight with their profusely borne flowers. A good example being: Schlumbergera ‘Barbara’ with exotic fuchsia pink blooms.
And for something different:
Lithops forms, popularly called ‘Living Stones’. These disappear completely for part of the year when the ‘stones’ desiccate. An example being Lithops aucampiae with exquisite yellow daisy flowers in late summer and autumn.
Finally, for the adventurous, the amazing Pachypodium such as Pachypodium lamerei with silvery trunks and hat-like cap of leaves. This is called the Madagascar bottle-tree and is a great challenge if you have space and tolerant partners.
To view a selection of Cacti and succulents at Thompson & Morgan click here
Susan A Tindall