Introduction to Growing Succulents
Cacti and other succulents are fascinating plants to grow and they are becoming increasingly popular. Even if you don’t have a greenhouse or conservatory you can build up a collection of plants in your own home and still derive a great deal of satisfaction from them. Many species don’t need a lot of heat – some can be grown in the rock garden or border. And, unlike most other plants, they can thrive on a very intermittent supply of water!
Tropical plants can also give pleasure if you are prepared to give them a bit more attention – greenhouse treatment is generally necessary but the results can be literally fantastic, with beautiful and exotic blooms which will be the envy of all your friends! This Succulents Section will give all the basic information you will need to care for cacti and other succulents, and many types of tropical. Lists of plants, chosen for their general availability as well as their attractive appearance, are included with hints on their individual cultivation.
Growing cacti and other succulents
The growing and collecting of cacti and succulents has been a popular hobby in this country for many years. Their varied shapes and colours together with the coloured spines make them fascinating and their spectacular flowers are an added interest for the grower. Some of the larger types may not flower without very strong and prolonged sunshine, but many hundreds of other species should flower every year.
The growing of succulent plants is much easier than the cultivation of most pot plants. These plants are found in nature in districts where there is either little rainfall or the rain is limited to two or three months in the year, and so they are able to withstand considerable drought. By the composition of their skin covering they can conserve the moisture in their leaves or stems and do not wither or droop when they do not get watered.
There are many different species of succulents, many of which are erroneously called cacti. All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. Spines are found on all true cacti and these spines grown from a small tuft of hair or wool. This is know as an areole and no other plant has it. No cacti have leaves except the genus Pereskia. This plant has areoles and leaves and also a multiple flower, unlike true cacti which have a simple or single flower. The flowers of cacti have no stem or stalk, the ovary being connected directly with the plant. Exceptions to this rule are the Pereskias. Most cacti come from Mexico and the southern States of the USA, and also from many countries in South America, including Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. A few are found in the West Indies but none in Africa. India or anywhere in the east. South Africa is the home of very many of the other succulent genera grown by collectors.
Some species flower the year after the seed has been sown, while very many more can produce flowers within two years. As the native habitats of these plants are arid regions it is essential that they be allowed all the sunshine possible to enable them to grow at their best.
The flowers of most cacti are formed at the areole but a few genera produce flowers away from this point. Plants of the genus Mammillaria produce their flowers at the axil, the spot between the tubercles. This genus also makes new plants or offsets at the axil as well, whereas most cacti make offsets at an areole. The flowers of cacti vary considerably in size from ‘, inch in some mammillarias to 14 inches across in some of the night-flowering types. The larger flowers may not be produced in profusion but some of the cacti with smaller flowers can have rings of flowers all round the top of the plants for months at a time.
Cacti and succulents are often described as desert plants but this is not quite true. Many are found in prairie type country where there may be a few small trees and shrubs with coarse grasses intermingled. Some are found in good loam while others are found growing on rocks and the mountain side. Some of the best flowering cacti, the epiphyllums, grow in the forests of Brazil, usually on trees. Such cacti are classed as epiphytes or epiphytic cacti.