June 9, 2006

Shake Your Rebutia

The Bolivian cactus Rebutia pulchella
What's wrong with people? Why don't other people grow these? Ther are SO many genus and species of various South American Cacti that are remarkable growable; plants that just need the simple conditions of a cold dry winter windowsill that is sunny, or a poarch that doesn't freeze, or a garage window, where they can be forgotton, literally, from October until April, and then watered. And look what happens.

Now, granted, I never really had success with these plants until I built the greenhouse, where they survive total neglect and abuse, but I think I am having some success because they can get ice cold, near freezing, which is what really triggers them to bloom, and I can keep them bone dry and still give them direct sun through single pane glass. But I do know that I have a studio room that is unheated with southern exposure windows, so one could try these over-blooming cacti if you have such a place as a cellar window that stays cold in the winter and gets sun.

Rebutia perplexa

I first became introduced to these blooming cacti during a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show one year. A gentleman there exhibits an spectacular display of cacti, in fact, almost unbelievable in it's diversity. I then foudn a book on Echinocerus publishedc by Kew Monographs, where it talks about the popularity of collections in the UK of blooming cacti in unheated small greenhouses, much like an alpine house. Here in America, I think it gets too cold in the north east for many of these South American beauties, but there are many other cacti that can live outside if given the right conditions. But I wanted to grow these in pots. After finding a few genus to try, I discovers that there are many Bolivian cacti that have an amazing range of flowers. Rebutia, Lobivia, Notocactus - try google and see what you can find. Even on eBAy, there are many available, most under $5.00 US.

Lobivia arachnacantha with it's dark stem color and spider-like thorns

I potted my collection up in a loose, fast draining mix composed mostly of sand and pumice, with some peat and perlite added. The plants are kept in the sunniest part of the greenhouse year round, and simply get waterd occaisionally starting once buds form in May, and then throughout the summer. In the fall, I withhold water, and the pots are pushed up right against the glass, where they get full sun in the winter, but ever frost over a bit on cold nights when the temps ouside fall to below zero F and the glass frosts over. This cold, triggers the plants to bloom, and many cacti can indeed freeze if they are kept dry, and the cell walls are less turgid.

A collection of blooming cacti at the Chelsea Flower Show

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