Saturday, February 20, 2010

Yes, Mamm

I'm not a huge cactus fan, but I do have a few. When looking at other people's collections, what generally catches my eye are the large, showy flowers. "I need to get some of those," I tell myself. But then, whenever I am tempted to actually purchase a cactus, what genus do I gravitate toward? Mammillaria. It took me a while to realize this, since I suffer from partial cactus blindness--I have trouble telling one genus from another. While Mammillaria flowers are pretty, they do tend to be on the small side. But there is something about the shape of the plants and the patterns of the spines kept attracting me, so I bought plant after plant without realizing what they were.

And so the other day, while wandering through K-Mart, a display of fresh cacti and succulents caught my eye. In addition to purchasing a couple of small Crassulas and Sedums, I was enchanted by this little cactus:

My new purchase. A look through the Mammillaria pages at makes me think that it might be Mammillaria spinosissima 'Un Fico'

By now, my cactus vision has improved somewhat: I can usually recognize Mammillarias when I see them. But I thought this plant was charming, and I bought it anyway. If it does turn out to be Mammillaria spinosissima "Un Fico," then it will have fairly large flowers for the genus.

Here are some of my other plants:

Mammillaria elongata

A cute little NoId that I've posted about previously

Another NoId Mammillaria. M. karwinskiana ssp. nejapensis was once suggested to me as a possible ID.

I believe this is Mammillaria bombycina

I would like to talk about my very first Mammillaria, which was also my very first cactus ever. About ten years ago, my mother took a trip to Las Vegas. As a side excursion, she and her friends also visited the Grand Canyon. At a gift shop nearby, she spotted a tiny plant in a tiny pot with "Grand Canyon" handpainted on the side and decided to pick it up for her plant-loving daughter. She flew home to New York with it in her purse. (Can you imagine what airport security would say if you tried to put a cactus in your carry-on these days?) She told me "I thought you'd like this to go with your other cactuses." The thing is, I didn't have any other cactuses, and the only succulents I owned were some Sansevierias. My apartment had obstructed west windows, and wasn't sunny enough for succulents. But I was determined to keep my gift alive and well. I balanced the little pot directly on the top of a window sash, right near the lock, so it would get the most sunlight possible. Three years later, when I moved to Illinois, it was still alive and moved with me. In its first summer outdoors, it bloomed. It had kind of nondescript, straw-colored flowers, but I loved them anyway. It is in a bigger pot now, but it still spends winters on top of a window sash, for optimum light, and it blooms every year. I couldn't find a decent picture of it in bloom, but here it is now:

My mother's gift. It is a bit shrunken at the moment, since it doesn't get watered in the winter, but it will look larger and a bit less densely spined once its seasonal rest is over.

I've never been able to identify it, despite asking in a couple of different forums and poring over picture after picture. It is small, solitary and plain. But I will always treasure it. My mom died suddenly last year, so it is now something special to remember her by. It gave me great pleasure to be able to show it to her in bloom in 2005 when she visited me here in Illinois. And I'll always smile when I think about her with a cactus in her purse.


Positionality said...

Hey! As a fan and lover of cacti and succulents too I was wondering how you keep your cacti growing so well...especially the ones from K-Mart. I've bought cacti from Lowe's, Home Depot etc..and I will have them for about 6-9 months and they do fine, but then there comes a point where they sort of keel over, one actually got mushy and broke down itself... The ones that are still alive are very small and look very unhappy. If you have any advice I'd love to hear it! Thanks for sharing your plants

Ivynettle said...

I don't really like succulents in general, and cacti in particular, but I love the story about your mother!

Karen715 said...

@Positionality: I don't really do anything I consider special, but here is how I treat my cacti:

1. When purchasing, I examine closely for signs of disease or damage.

2. I always repot into clay pots. Because they absorbs moisture, they are helpful against overwatering.

3. I let them spend summers outdoors in the sun, after acclimating them by first placing them in a shady spot and moving them to progressively brighter spots every few days. I let the rain water them, unless we get a prolonged dry spell.

3. In the winter, I keep them indoors in a cool, reasonably sunny spot, and I don't water at all from late October to mid-February.
@Ivynettle: Thanks.