The Echinocereanae Aylostera

The Echinocereanae are a group of clump-forming cacti which generally have short stumpy bodies. They are distinguished for practical purposes as a group by the presence of ribs on the stems, although these may be arranged spirally as in the rebutias. and especially by the way they produce their flowers from areoles on the sides of the stems, normally on the previous year's growth. This differentiates them from the Echinocaclanae which produce their flowers at the top of the stem on the new year's growth.

Generally speaking the Echinocereanae include some of the best flowering species for the beginner, giving the lie completely to the idea that one must wait several years to obtain flowers on cacti. Rebutia kup-periana will flower well when only two years old from seed, when the plant is less than IJ in (4 cm) in diameter. They are generally early flowering varieties and they should be kept perfectly dry and as cool as possible, without actually freezing them, between September 23rd and March 23rd in our climate. In the spring water should be withheld from rebutias until the small red buds are visible round the base of the stem; even then it is advisable to wait a week or two and allow the buds to develop slightly as premature watering will encourage the production of vegetative rather than flowering growth. The rebutias. I find, tend to give an excellent guide to the watering requirements of other members of the group and these should be watered at the same time as the rebutias.

Aylostera deminuia is extremely typical of the group and flowers when three years old or occasionally even younger. The dark green plant bodies grow up 3 or 4 in (8 or 10cm) in height in cultivation, are broadly club shaped and are surrounded by about thirteen spirally arranged rows of flattened conical tubercles or warts which are, in fact, the rudimentary ribs of the species. The areoles produce small white radial spines between eight and ten in number with a little brownish fell in between them and the occasional central spine. The fiery-orange flowers are the most important feature of the plant, they are over half an inch (1 cm) across and are produced in greal abundance during May from the sides of the plant bodies. A large clump in flower is one of the finest sights of any collection, and the large number of flowers produced on older plants ensures a continuity of bloom throughout the whole month.

Similar species with club-shaped bodies are A.fiebrigii. which is slightly smaller bul has more numerous ribs and is much more densely covered with radial spines, and A.pseudodeminuscula. which has almost purple flowers and a glossy texture to the

Aylostera spegazziniana. on the other hand, forms cylindrical plant bodies which are not nearly so flattened on top as those of the preceding species. The tubercles are arranged spirally in eleven to thirteen rows round the glossy green plant bodies, and from these are produced areoles which are almost spineless at first, but later carry a few very short, rather bristly spines and the occasional central spine. A characteristic feature of the plant is the presence of a little brown wool in the areoles. The flowers also differ slightly from the preceding species in being more crimson than orange and rather larger in size, often over IJ in (4cm) in

Although it is possible to propagate aylosteras by cuttings, breaking off the clump-forming stems near the base and rooting them, it is more satisfactory to raise them from seed which germinates easily if the instructions on seed raising on page 95 are followed. For this latter course two separate plants are required and it may be necessary to divide the first clump in order to obtain this. Most cacti are self-sterile, meaning that cross pollination is required between two different plants of the same species in order to produce viable seed.

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