Saturday, September 10, 2016

Succulents: A lifelong obsession

When I was eight years old I begged my parents for a cactus. I think I had been flipping through some of my mom's gardening books and ran across the succulents section and found things like this:

Lithops, or as I like to call it the tiny butts plant.
Weird fuzzy cacti, similar to one my sister once grabbed as a toddler.
It was not so fuzzy below the surface. More spiny. :(

I thought to myself "this is the weirdest type of plant I've ever seen in my life, I have to have one." My parents said it was the easiest birthday purchase they'd ever made. They bought a $5 miniature cactus set from Walmart and I was beside myself with happiness. Not just one cactus, but FOUR to raise all on my own.

There were actually two cacti and two aloe in the pack. They were the following types:

Ruby Ball Cactus which I named Eenie
 (Actually it turns out that this one is two cacti grafted together!)

Aloe Juvenna, which I named Meanie
Haworthia, which I named Miney

Pilosocereus Azureus, which I named Moe
Eenie and Meanie made it a few years. Eenie's red cap eventually rotted from overwatering. Our cat knocked Meanie off of the desk a few too many times. However, Miney and Moe are still alive and kicking, making them the oldest cacti I own. They are both approaching the two decade mark!

The succulents initially came in teeny tiny pots with labels that said "these will grow to 3 inches tall." I guess they only meant if you kept them in that exact pot, because Moe is now a good foot and a half tall...

Moe doesn't know the meaning of chill.
Eventually Moe will fall over or break, but with a bit of luck I'll be able to save the top half for re-planting. Hopefully that doesn't happen for another several years though. I don't want to go through the trauma of trying to save a 20+ year old cactus until I have to. :-/ 
Miney gave me a good scare a few years ago when I moved into my current apartment. I put it in a sunny window and left it, as I had always done in my parents' house. However, it turned brown in a few months! I was sure I'd lost a succulent, but I moved it to the kitchen table in less bright sunlight and kept close tabs on the soil moisture. Now a few years later Miney is doing very well! It lost a good bit of growth, and used to be much bigger than it is currently, but now I technically have two Mineys- there was a "pup" or side growth off of it that is in the same pot but has developed as a separate plant.

Miney today

It turns out that taking care of succulents mostly involves NOT giving them much in the way of food or water. A "neglected" cactus is a happy cactus. You do have to check on them to make sure that they're not sitting in moist soil for more than a day or two and that the leaves look green and full, but other than that I've gone a month at a time without watering my indoor succulents. I actually lose more to overwatering than underwatering. They tend to mold or turn to brown mush if watered too frequently.

I now name very few of my plants in case of sudden plant death, but I do have some more succulents that I've grown fairly fond of. One is another aloe, though I'm not sure of the type. It was a gift from my grandad to my mom in a pot with several other succulents, most of which are still at my parents' house. I liked this particular one so my mom said I could have it. It's been with me for about 10 years now. I recently got a pup off of it, which has been developing nicely.

Pup from the aloe which has grown a new leaf bud in the past three months. It liiives!

Aloes are slow growers, especially in pots. None of my aloes are very big except for....

Ursula 1 and Ursula 2, the Aloe Vera
A gift from a friend before they moved, Ursula the Aloe Vera plant has survived dividing twice now. The smallest Ursula is currently putting out a new leaf to make up for the ones that have faded in trying to grow proper roots. In the picture you can see a tiny leaf bud growing in the center of the plant. It also liiiives!

I wonder how big this one will get?

Some succulents do very well at growing fast. My portulaca plants have not only taken over their pots but have produced tons of offspring that I'm putting into different pots. The Rose Portulaca has been doing amazingly well this year in the heat and will probably be a repeat purchase next year. I'll try bringing one of the Rose Portulacas inside for the winter, but chances are it won't do very well considering it's been outside its whole life and is an annual plant.

 Rose Portulaca, happily taking over the world.

There are lots of other succulent plants that I would like to try growing. I particularly like the look of things like string-of-pearls and various types of sedum. Maybe someday I will have an entire rock garden for my succulent plants. Wish me luck!

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