Dwarf Cactus and Succulents


Often regarded purely as window garden plants, the dwarf species of cactus and succulents, which grow to about a foot or less, are very desirable as houseplants. They possess a great variety of unusual forms, and some are actually quite spiny.

One of the most peculiarly shaped is the “bishop’s cap” (Astrophytum myriostigma). The outline of this cactus is of a flattened globe, and at the most this plant grows to about only five inches in diameter. It has five or six very prominent ribs, on the edges of which the pale yellow flowers are borne.

The surface of the plant is more or less covered with a white scale-like growth which is actually clusters of minute spines. This plant seems particularly prone to rot at the surface of the soil, though. To avoid this you can graft it on a cereus.

Of the same general kind of plant is the sea-urchin cactus (Echinopsis). If it were not for the ridges these plants would look like gourds standing on their small ends. They sometimes reach a diameter of twelve inches, but if grown in the home they rarely exceed half that size. The stem has anywhere from a dozen to eighteen sharp ridges. The flowers are about six inches long, trumpet-shaped, and are either red, pink, or white. The two most commonly grown species are E. multiplex, with rose-red flowers that bloom only occasionally, and E. eyriesii, which has white flowers produced regularly.

One of the most curious dwarf cacti is the living rock cactus (Anhalonium engelmannii). This plant is also called “Dry Whiskey” because a very strong, intoxicating drink is made from crushing the plant and adding a little water.

Among the very smallest dwarf cactuses are the mammillarias, which seldom grow over six inches high. These get their name because they are covered with tubercles instead of ridges. These are usually set in rows which twist spirally around the plants. On the end of each tubercle is a cluster of small spines. The flowers are small and tubular, yellow, red, carmine, or purple. In a month or two after the flowers have disappeared a little red fruit appears, and is as pretty as the flower.

Mammillaria bicolor is a very handsome species, with white spines which lie flat on the stem. With M. plumosa and M. lasiacantha the spines are like fine white hairs. When grown under tumblers to keep the dust from collecting and soiling the hairs, the plants look like clumps of cotton.

The “old man cactus” (Pilocereus senilis) is another one of those curious fuzzy cactuses needing protection from dust. The hairs are from two to five inches long. The flowers, which are seldom produced in cultivation, are four inches long, and red. In a pot this plant rarely exceeds a foot in height, although it becomes a veritable tree in its native haunts.

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