E to F Expanded - Cactus Club

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E to F Expanded

Plant of the Month > Species E to F

 Echinocereus baileyi is a smallish cactus, with stems to about 8 inches tall, and to about 3½ inches in diameter. The plants are initially solitary, but under favorable conditions, will eventually branch from the base, ultimately producing large clustering plants with up to about 30 stems. Its native habitat is restricted to the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma: I suspect that it grows at higher elevations and under somewhat wetter, cooler conditions than its relatives in Texas and eastern New Mexico. In my experience, it has proven to be one of the most adaptable and forgiving of all of the Echinocereus species, being the most cold hardy and moisture tolerant of the Texas Lace cacti, and faster growing, and a more reliable bloomer than Echinocereus coccineus (another desirable, and very hardy species of the Hedgehog Cacti); it is also more moisture tolerant and disease resistant than Echinocereus viridiflorus.....    


Echinopsis chamaecereus is another one of those old timers which has been a popular houseplant for many decades -  This is an attractive miniature plant with densely clustering stems, each measuring about 2/3 inch in diameter, and usually growing to a few inches in height, but occasionally growing to 6 inches or more. The stems are typically of an apple-green to greenish-yellow coloration, but in some clones the stems are of a bright yellow coloration - these clones typically lack a good percentage of their chlorophyll, and are therefore grown on grafts. When grown in very bright light, or otherwise stressed, some plants may produce reddish colored stems. The stems produce 7 to 10 shallow ribs bearing rows of short spine clusters. Areoles produce 10 to 15 whitish, bristle-like, spines which measure about 1/8 inch in length. The plants produce many offsets, and in time will produce an impressive cluster measuring from several inches to about a foot in or more in diameter. True to its common name, the individual stems are of a similar size to an unshelled peanut, and coupled with their shallow ribs, they do indeed resemble a peanut in general appearance. The stems are weakly attached; they are easily detached from the parent plant; these detached stems are easily rooted to establish new clusters.

The Flowers  of Echinopsis 'Vera Norman' are attractively colored, with light fuchsia petals with watermelon centers (my camera tends to artificially intensify colors and contrast: while I have tried to correct for this , these images may not quite match the colors of the flowers perfectly). The first flower on my plant, measured almost 3 inches across , and as this plant matures, I suspect that subsequent flowers may be somewhat larger. Sadly, the individual flowers are short lived - I have had 3 flowers on my plants, and and each of these only lasted a single afternoon, but the flowering period on established plants may last several weeks, as a mature plant will produce multiple buds, which will flower over a period of time (usually in spring, but possibly extending into early summer. Removing the many pups which grow from the base of the main stem should result in more blossoms, but new plants must be propagated from the pups or tissue culture, as the various hybrids and cultivars will probably not come true from seed grown plants.....     

Euphorbia cylindrifolia v tuberifera is one of the most distinctive and bizarre of the miniature Euphorbias from Madagascar; it produces a partially buried irregular caudex which may grow to about the size of a fist, with many nearly horizontal branches radiating from it. The stems are textured with leaf scars and minute stipular prickles, and are tipped in clusters of small succulent leaves which are grooved on their upper surfaces. These leaves are small, about 1/2 inch or so in length. These leaves are tough and often persist over several seasons. Leaf color can vary from dark green to purplish brown depending upon light intensity, and whether or not the plant is stressed due to drought or other factors (plants which are maintained at moister levels tend to have greener leaves which tend to persist on the plant: plants which are subjected to extended drought or which are grown under very bright light will tend to have browner leaves, and may only maintain a few leaves at the stem tips).....

 Euphorbia decaryi var spirosticha comes from the Didierea-Alluaudia forest (the so called Thorn Forests) in Southern Madagascar. It is listed under CITES Appendix 1, indicating that this species and its varieties are critically endangered - being at the edge of extinction in the wild. But paradoxically, this is one of the more commonly grown varieties of the Madagascan Euphorbias, proving to be both forgiving and adaptable: in my experience, it is very easy and amendable in cultivation, and is readily available from most mail order nurseries specializing in succulents, and may occasionally be available through companies offering plants suitable for bonsai....

Euphorbia eyassiana is one of a number of Euphorbia species from the Great Rift Valley which produces a mounds of thin, clustered, four angled, branching stems. This species distinguishes itself from a number of similar species by spreading from a  rhizomateous rootstock, producing thickets which may spread to several feet or more in habitat. The branching stems are 4-angled, about the diameter of a pencil, and can grow to heights just under 3 feet (the plants which I have seen in cultivation are typically much shorter; frequently growing to about a foot or so in height). In lower light, the central portions of the stems are colored a pale green, with darker green stripes at the stem angles. In very bright light, or when the plant is heat or drought stressed, the stems tend to take on more reddish hues. 4 needle-like and spreading spines are produced on each spine shield. The uppermost spines are significantly shorter, and the lower pair are longer. The flowers (cyathium) are minute - only about 2 millimeters across, and have orange to reddish colored glands

Euphorbia knuthii is one of those plants which earns its reputation of being an easy plant (it is practically indestructible), with seasonally rapid growth, and for producing remarkable, tuberous roots, which in many plants in cultivation are raised above the soil line so that these can be seen and more readily appreciated. Its thin stems are square in cross section, with two-toned variegation; the tubercles and "ribs" being a darker color, with other portions a lighter green. Plants grown under very bright light may tend to produce additional reddish pigments, and these plants may have a more grey to reddish green coloration to its stems. The stems branch from the tuberous base of the plant, and initially grow upright, but in time, as the stems become increasingly long, and too heavy to support their own weight, these eventually become more scrambling. Short spines are produced in pairs. The spines and spine shields are initially a coppery brown, but will eventually age to a more grayish coloration. This is one of a number Euphorbias which produce a caudex of large tuberous roots - in plants which have been raised from cuttings, these roots tend to be thinner (like branching, contorted carrots), and are more branched, eventually producing huge masses of many roots. In seed raised plants, the roots tend to be much larger (more yam-like in size and shape) and tend to be less branching. While the stems of plants in cultivation are seldom deciduous, it can be argued that this species is geophytic - with the majority of the plant (the tuberous roots) occurring underground, and (under conditions of extreme drought) the stems being shed to conserve water. As with most other Euphorbias, this species produces small greenish flowers (cyathia) which (when pollinated) will produce small capsules, each containing 3 seed. These capsules burst upon ripening, dispersing the seed, sometimes to distances exceeding 10 feet.

It has been asserted that if a person grows only a single plant of the succulent Euphorbias, more than likely, they grow Euphorbia obesa: such is the popularity of this species. It is the epitome of geometric simplicity: the stems of this species comes the closest to a perfectly spherical ball of all of the succulents which I have grown, earning its common name, the "Baseball Plant". In spite of its simple appearance, closer examination reveals some complexity: the stems are comprised of 8 very shallow ribs. These ribs bear minute tubercles at their centers, from which the flower buds emerge, and its nearly microscopic leaves are produced. The leaves are very short lived, appearing briefly at the growing apex of the plant. The stems are also marked with thin purplish striations - a trait which becomes more pronounced when plants are grown in bright light. With age, the plants may tend to become more columnar. In general, the stems are fairly small, usually growing to about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, although I have seen plants up to about 5 inches or so in diameter, and to about 8 inches tall in the largest plants which I have seen (one grower reports that his plant eventually grew to a height of 20 inches - which is so exceptional that I suspect that his plant may have been of hybrid origin). Unlike the growing habits of most of the other succulent Euphorbias, which tend to branch candelabra-style until they take up a significant amount of table, or floor space, E. obesa typically remains un-branched, remaining compact throughout its life, making it especially suited for growers with limited space.     

I have been a long time grower of the succulent euphorbias; I am especially drawn to those species with exceptional forms, highly patterned stem markings, and unusually colorful or interesting spines. Over the years, space considerations, and the growing requirements of many of my euphorbias (some do not fare well through a cool winter dormancy), I have been forced to pare down my collection to a relatively few plants. Euphorbia persistens is one of those few euphorbias which remain in my collection. This species has hit all of my "points"; first of all, it is long lived, and easy to grow, tolerating a wide range of growing conditions;  it is a relatively compact plant, producing densely branched mounds of succulent, and curiously twisting stems from a thick taproot (some growers may even opt to raise the root to expose it). While the root is a good size, I am not certain that I would regard this plant as a caudiciform. Young plants have carrot-like roots, I believe that as the plant ages, the roots may thicken, and may become more beet-like in their general shape. The stems are attractively marked - typically in light and dark green, but when grown in full sun, may take on more earth-toned or rusty hues. The spines are initially colorful, with new growth emerging almost a hot pink, and fading, first to amber/brown, and finally to a pale grey. The stems have the rudiments of a corkscrew twist, which is not quite as pronounced as it is in its close relative, Euphorbia tortirama. Interestingly, a percentage of these stems may actually twist one direction in one growing season, and may reverse direction in a subsequent growing season.

One of my favorite forms of the euphorbia family are the so-called Medusoids - named for the medusa or gorgon of mythology, these plants have a globose or sub-globose primary stem (the so-called "head" of the medusa), which is either ringed or surrounded by thinner, "arms" or branches which are typically covered with scale-like tubercles (the snake "hair" of the medusa). These arms are typically produced in spiraling whorls. The overall appearance of these types may vary from curious to very attractive. In many species, additional heads may be produced at the tips of the "arms", and these can be rooted to propagate additional plants: in some species, Euphorbia flanaganii for example, this may be the primary means by which the plant is propagated commercially. Many species are quite compact, and can comfortably grown in 3 and 4 inch pots, while a number of species  (Euphorbia caput-medusae and E. inermis) can grow much larger, with heads growing up to about 10 inches in diameter, and arms growing to a combined diameter of about 3 feet. This plant, origanally labeled as Euphorbia albipollinifera, is much more compact, fitting nicely in a 3 to 4 inch pot.....

Ficus palmeri, (the "Rock Fig") is a remarkable plant, native to the Baja peninsula, Mexico: it is one of a few species of figs which are adapted to arid conditions. Young plants will produce a large caudex fairly quickly, providing the growing plant a moisture reserve. Later in its life, when the plant has produced a sufficiently large root system to provide adequate moisture for the plant, the plant invests less energy in growing the caudex, and the plant takes on a more normal appearance, with the base of the trunk only a slightly enlarged. The caudex of young plants can grow quite large, giving them a form reminiscent of the "Desert Rose" (Adenium obesum); the bark is of a grey coloration and smooth, and the leaves are heart shaped, and are fairly large. In some plants, the leaf petioles and midribs are an attractive pink to reddish color, adding additional visual appeal (in my plant, the petioles and leaf midribs are uniformly green). Habitat photographs of this plant reveal another interesting trait of this species - especially when plants are growing on rocky terrain; the roots often envelope rocks in complex mats and webs, and in time, the roots fuse together (anastomosed) creating root networks which look practically fluid. Many growers raise their plants to show off the thickened roots. Bonsai enthusiasts sometimes grow this species on large stones or rock slabs in the hopes that their plants will produce similar looking root webs. As with all Ficus species, the flowers of this species are microscopic, and are completely hidden within a fleshy receptacle (the so-called "fruits" of the fig family). to date, my plant has never produced fruits, so I cannot report on their size and general appearance, but in most Ficus species, the fruits are typically pretty non-descript and are generally inedible in most fig species: no-one grows this plant for its fruits or flowers.

 Fockea edulis is one of  the more unusual and distinctive species of the Asclepidaceae, or the milkweed family, noted for its huge underground caudexes which can ultimately grow in excess of 21 inches in diameter, and tip the scales at over 100 lbs. The plants produce a branching tangle of vining stems, which in habitat, can exceed several meters in length. The growth of vines in some plants is said to become so rampant that it will eventually choke out the plants upon which they grow. Under cultivation, the growth rate of most plants is more modest, at least in my plants – with the vines adding about a foot or so of growth each year. The leaves are an attractive, dark glossy green coloration, and are oval to lance shaped, and are rather small, to about 1 to 2 inches in length and about 1 inch wide, although on my plants, these are smaller - to about half of the maximum size. In many plants, the leaf margins may be undulating, or “crisped”: plants with especially crisped leaves have been designated in the trade as Fockea crispa although it appears that most of the plants which are sold under this name are actually F. edulis.

Frerea indica is an unusual succulent plant from Western India, with succulent stems growing to about 1.5 inches in diameter, eventually producing mounded to scrambling plants with stems to about 20 inches in length. In habitat, plants will produce large (up to 3 inches in length) non-succulent leaves during the monsoon season; at this same time, plants will also produce smallish (to just over 1 inch), virtually flat, starfish-shaped flowers with maroon petals, decorated with irregular yellow streaks and splotches. The fertile portion of the flower, including the stigmatic slits and the pollinia are produced on a very small raised annulus at the center of the flower. During the dry season, the leaves are shed, and flowering virtually ceases. In cultivation, if plants are kept regularly watered, and kept warm year round, the leaves are more persistent, and the plants may flower virtually throughout the year - producing flowers on the newest growth. Plants in habitat typically grow on rocky crevices on steep hills and cliff sides. While plants are fairly readily available from a number of specialist nurseries, plants in habitat are extremely rare: the species is only know from 6 small localities with only a few plants recorded in each locality. This species was once listed by the IUCN as one of the 12 scarcest species in the world. One on-line source speculates that this plant became critically endangered as a result of  the extinction of the insect which is responsible for the pollination of this species flowers - apparently wild plants are not know to set seed in habitat, although plants in cultivation are sometimes known to set viable seed, suggesting that some insect species in other regions will pollinate these plants. This plant is still classified as endangered, although conservation efforts, as well as efforts to propagate additional plants from the remaining populations has helped to bring this plant back from the brink of extinction in the wild.


Furcraea selloa v. marginata

According to Botanica, this genus closely allied to Agave consists of about 12 species of perennial succulents with terminal or basal rosettes of sword-shaped, long fleshy leaves. Large panicles of broad, short-tubed flowers are produced in summer. Bulbils are often borne between the flowers. These plants occur naturally in semi-arid regions of the West Indies, Central and South America.

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