Trif­fids

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tongues sm

I’ve built up a collec­tion of cacti and other succu­lents over the last year or so. They’re desert plants from the Amer­icas and south­ern Africa which store water in their bodies, so they don’t need a lot of look­ing after, and they have a huge range of dramat­ic shapes, which explains why they’re such popu­lar house plants. They’re also cheap to buy- mine all came from the super­mar­ket, Wilco or IKEA and cost £2-4 each- and can live a long time if kept in the right condi­tions. (Opuntia cacti also produce deli­cious prickly pears and nopales pads for cook­ing). My current room has a large windowsill which gets some fierce sunshine around lunch­time, and is next to a radi­at­or which dries up the air through­out the winter, which is the ideal condi­tions for grow­ing them. I used to be into grow­ing orch­ids and indoor herbs as well, but they just don’t thrive in the condi­tions here.

windowsill sm

(The window stick­er is from the Margate Shell Grotto, some­where I really recom­mend visit­ing)

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Look­ing after succu­lents is pretty straight­for­ward. Often when you buy them, they don’t come with a card with the species name, but it’s easy enough to find them in a book or website because the shapes are so distinct­ive. Almost all of them like sun or moder­ate shade, and minim­al water anyway. At certain times of the year they like to be watered frequently and have some plant food, but it’s better to under­wa­ter them than over­wa­ter them, as the leaves can start rotting if the condi­tions are too damp. Most of the year I water them spar­ingly once a week at the base with a water­ing can, and in the months advised by my succu­lent-keep­ing book, I spritz the soil daily with water with a little plant food in. They like the soil to be well drained and the roots to not be soggy (they can rot like the leaves), so mine are still in the plastic plant pot, which is placed inside a galvan­ised pot or on a saucer, which they seem to like. Some­times if you’re lucky, they’ll grow a flower. Some of the cacti grow lovely red or purple flowers every couple of years.

little cactus sm

My grandad used to grow cacti commer­cially and compet­it­ively. At one point almost every flat surface in his house was covered with them. I don’t think I’ll ever get to that stage, but there is a big cactus still there in a pot in the garden I could take once I’ve moved house and have some­where to put it (my current accom­mod­a­tion is a little cramped, and doesn’t have a garden and is not the ideal spot for a big cactus with spines).

leaf window sm

I like the fact that the trans­par­ent ends on this Hawor­thia cooperi are called “leaf windows”. You can see the water-stor­ing jelly inside. In the wild the plants often grow half buried in sand or pebbles, to prevent them drying out, with the trans­par­ent bits poking out to absorb as much sun as possible.

old man cactus sm

The fluffy cactus is offi­cially called an Old Man Cactus (Ceph­alo­cereus senil­is). I’d like to get some more of them, but I haven’t seen any in the shops.

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Tentacles! Succu­lents prob­ably are space plants. Places like the Karoo look enough like other plan­ets.

aloe sm

A little while ago I got this Hawor­thia, a Crassula (aka a money tree) and an Aloe for 40p each. They were reduced because they looked really awful. They’d been kept at the dingy back of the store away from daylight, and prob­ably over­watered, and the leaves were rotting. I pulled off some manky leaves and left the plants to dry out in the sun for a week or so, and they’re grow­ing nicely now. You can see here where the outer leaves are broken and stained, but the new leaves grow­ing from the centre are healthy.

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At the front you can see the 40p Aloe plant. The Zebra Hawor­thia in the centre recently grew some flowers. It grew a giant stalk about half a metre long, with lots of buds with tiny little drab white flowers. It wasn’t very impress­ive to be honest. You can propag­ate succu­lents really easily from cuttings anyway. The plant at the back has a bril­liant name- it’s called “Crassula gollum“. I’ve had that plant for a few years now. It star­ted out tiny like the other one in the close-up shot in the first photo on this entry, but has just kept grow­ing. I should prob­ably repot it some­time soon.

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