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CACTUS – Viciously Spined Beautifully Flowered



CACTUS – Viciously Spined Beautifully Flowered

Ensconced on your window sill or arranged on a corner table these thorny plant can beautify any room more than flowers. All that it takes is merely an occasional loving glance. lf you are lucky, there will also be bewitching blooms fetching a few "Wows" from your guests, So pamper your house with wonder plant cacti says S.K. SACHDEVA and become a proud host.

With the increasing space limitations of an average house or flat, the area available for plants is rapidly decreasing. There are some remarkable plants which because of their resilient nature require little specialized care and hardly any space. They can comfortably be left behind for weeks without a bother and usual concern of plant welfare. ln fact they would appear healthier on return. Cacti- the slow growing plants of the family Cactaceae-once considered ominous, have now virtually become an obsession with people of all ages. Largely confined to hot , dry or desert regions, they extend from the northern limits of USA/Canada border through Central America and West- lndies into South American sub-continent reaching its southern limits in Brazil  and Argentina.


The outstanding attributes that have helped them create a niche in the hearts of millions include their evergreen perennial habit, great adaptability to adverse conditions, quicker multiplication through vegetative means and seemingly unending variation in shape, colour and exotic beauty of flowers. Cacti are not more than 20,000 years old and their fossilized remains are yet unknown. However, they acquired a remarkable variability in adaptation within this limited span of time.
These plants with a succulent stem and a wary outer surface that helps to reduce to water loss internally possess plenty of soft tissues capable of storing water'. More over, they display an inherent quality to swell and shrink, depending upon the amount of moisture in the surrounding air.
Their woody core and rib-structure do not let them lose their shape and collapse in times of drought. These features make them flourish extremely well within a temperature range of 34-42 C. They can definitely tolerate slightly higher temperatures also, if shaded.

The overall shape and appearance no doubt are attractive, but highly fascinating are the flowers which exhibit tremendous size variations and have a beautiful metallic sheen with colours varying from white to purple, from dark crimson to violet, from orange to pink and red, and from yellow to dark crimson. Based on shape, three categories of cacti, generally recognised are cereoid (columnar), globular (rounded) and epiphytic (segmented).
The fruits are mostly one- celled, non-poisonous berries. Cacti can conveniently be grown in clay pots or painted metal tins. Larger containers and trays are used to create mini gardens. However for greater visual impact, taller cacti are positioned at the back and smaller, mostly globular plants, at the front. A couple of hours of sunshine, reflected light for major part of the day and sufficient air are the ideal requirements for their growth. And if one desires to grow them in a greenhouse then the place, 'has to be sunny and well ventilated.
Experiments have shown that one need not be ultra fussy over soil requirements as majority of the plants grow extremely well in a soil made up of equal parts of coarse sand and any good humus (leaf mould or peat). To this small quantities of gypsum, charcoal, dried egg shells and bone meal may be added. A handful of inorganic fertilizer rich in potassium or phosphorus may be added to each 10 kg bag of mix.
To protect the plants against root mealy bug, addition of small amounts of paradicholor-ben zene crystals is advised. The soil mixture should be highly porous and use of heavy clay soil should be totally avoided.
Propagation of Cacti





Cacti are multiplied, both through seed and vegetative cuttings. The seeds have a thick coat which is impervious to water. ln nature, seeds of many taxa remain dormant even for years awaiting the right conditions for germination. Early germination can , however, be induced by either scratching these with sand paper or by keeping soaked seeds in a freezer for a few hours. The emerging seedlings should be transferred to shallow wider pots as these possess shallow spreading root-system. Further these should also be shielded from full sunlight until they have developed spines to provide protection. A much easier way to propagate plants through cuttings whereby propagules are separated from the main plants and put in a dry soil mix of a pot or container for about 2-3 days and then watered. Grafting is also prefened for which species of Cereus or Opuntia are used as stocks. Grafting is quite a crafty technique requiring almost equal diameter of stock and the scion.Both of these should be cut horizontally with a sharp razor to 'have flat and smooth surface . The central portion of the stock and the scion should be held together and tied with a string in the best possible way. At times unusual monstrous (with irregular shapes) or cristate (flattened and jointed) forms appear as a result from an injury to the growing point or region. ln a few cases, disturbances in the genetic make-up of the plant are responsible for their
formation. These unusual forms, which at times assume attractive shapes, can be perpetuated by removing the normal parts of the plant and growing in a usual way in separate pots or containers. Some common deformities noticed amongst these plants are splitting and anamolous growth (resulting from excessive use of fertilizers with nitrogen), brown scarring (due to strong sunlight), ringed growth deformations. (caused by erratic watering)'and rotting and collapse (due to poor drainage).
They are also prone to insect attacks. The most common visitors are ants which make use of the pots as their nests and damage the root system. For this, an occasional light dusting of B.H.C. is highly effective. Appearance of white spots or yellow mottling of cactus tissue may also be noticed. Mealy bug and Red-spider mite are, respectively, responsible for these. These may effectively be controlled by use c organophosphate based insecticider e.g. malathion. A spray of fine sulphur dust is enough to prevent these plant from fungal diseases. lf, however, th disease persists on, the best remedy is to remove the diseased portion.
The cacti will certainly flourish and produce healthy flowers year after year if :
a) we occasionally repot then take off about 1 inch of soil and replace it starve them a bit (as excessive foor promotes soft growth) examine drainage to ascertain over-watering ;
b)we totally avoid watering when thr sun is shining (as drops of water ma' act as a magnifying lens causing burnl on skin thus making them vulnerable to entry of disease).
Lastly one should restrain temptation to carve out any name or these plants as this expression o feelings invariably leads to the death of the prized possession.

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