A cactophiles progress

Overall, the grower of succulents has fewer worries from pests than the cultivators of many other flowers and vegetables. It has been said with some truth that a cactophile spends the first half of his life trying to make his plants grow, and the second half trying to stop them. Overcrowding soon becomes a problem, no matter how large one's glasshouse, especially if seed is raised. Although one can go on adding shelves and hanging baskets, there comes a point when the plants are no longer accessible and begin

Below (6.26): Less of a menace now than before the introduction ol improved insecticides, the mealy bug (here on Opuntia) is about 2mm CAiin) long and covered in protective white wax

lo suffer from shading and neglect. Further hazards are discovered by visitors, who are almost afraid to move for fear of being stabbed and speared. Succulents are amazingly tolerant: many not only respond to annual repotting with vigorous growth and blooms, but if left alone in the same pot for years look none the worse. However, there is little fun in nursing mummified relics, and the grower has to be strong-minded and refuse additions unless he is prepared to part with others to make room. The adding and bartering is very much a part of the hobby. Often the outcome is that the cactophile turns specialist, concentrating on a single genus or group. This is both satisfying to the grower, who becomes an expert on his own chosen favourites, and helpful to the conservationist by ensuring survival of plants endangered in habitat.

Most succulents flower annually once they are mature, although they might miss in a poor season or if badly grown. Proper observation of the resting period is important: a plant forced into continuous growth may become a huge specimen but fail to bloom (6.2). Unbalanced nutrition, such as an excess of nitrogen, can have a similar effect. On the other hand, many succulents flower on the new growth, so that a plant that has not grown cannot be expected to oblige. Lack of sunshine is one of the commonest causes of failure to bloom in a country such as England, where an exceptionally fine summer can be a great stimulus to flower production. For a beginner seeking free-flowering succulents, the best advice is to visit specialist nurseries in the early summer and pick out plants in bloom.

Photographers find succulents extraordinarily attractive. The challenge of capturing a rare bloom at its peak of perfection, which may occupy a single night only (Discocaclus) or less than an hour (Anacampseros 12.3) is made doubly testing by the vagaries of the weather. A cactus flower may close up within minutes asclouds darken the sky.

The botanically minded keep records of their plants in a loose-leaf book or card index, giving each specimen an accession number-78/1. 78/2 etc-that remains permanently with the specimen even though the name on the label may change in the light of new knowledge. Facts on where the plant originated, its flowering, fruiting and seed set, and so forth can be added as desired. Records of this sort can help to fill gaps in our knowledge of many common succulents. Below(6.27): Gymnocalycium mihanovichii Ruby Bair ( Hibotan in Japan) needs a green roolslock lo keep it going Japan has introduced many such coloured cultivars

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