Sunday, February 8, 2009

An Old Cactus

Actually, two. Since I have had a compulsive collector mentality most of my life, one of the types of objects that I used to collect was cactus plants. I seriously collected these in my early to mid- teens. To this day, I still have a few survivors from this collection.

One of my pet species of cacti is the Astrophytum myriostygma. The colloquial name for this plant is "The Bishop's Cap" a name taken from the five-ribbed shape of the plant. I have two of these plants, one I acquired in 1966, and the other around 1974. They were both about the size of a half-dollar when I got them. The older one seems to have grown much more over time than the "younger" one. The older one is about eleven inches tall and the other one is still only about four inches tall.

When I moved from California to Washington state in 1987, I left my cacti at my mother's home, including the Astrophytums. There, they languished in a state of minimal care, dying slowly but steadily one by one. In January, 2007 while I was visiting my mother, I took a look at these remnant plants as I always did on such visits. I decided to cull out several (including the Astroplytums) and take them back to Washington with me. I figured that if they remained where they were, they would eventually succumb anyway, and if I took them with me and pampered them they would stand some chance of survival. These plants are native to central and northern Mexico, a dry climate. Washington state is not a natural climate for cacti, and this is why I left them in California in the first instance. I was just going to do the best I could and see what would happen.
To relocate these plants, I broke them out of their clay pots and removed the soil from around the roots. To transport them, I wrapped them in newspaper. I'd seen cacti shipped through the mail before like this, and figured it probably wouldn't hurt them for a week or two. When I got home, I replanted them in new pots with sandy soil that would assure good drainage. I place them outdoors (in a mini-greenhouse) during the "good" weather season from approximately April until September or October, then move them back into the house in a window for winter hybernation. In nature, desert cacti normally spend their hybernation in a cool, dry atmosphere. During the hybernation period, they are only given trace amounts of water to keep the roots from drying out completely.
Since relocation to Washington, these plants have thrived and grown, however slowly with plants of this nature. The younger of the two (35 years) bloomed last summer with a yellow flower. I'm still waiting for the older one (43 years) to demonstrate it's happiness.

When we look at these relatively small plants, it's hard to fathom that they could be so old. Normally, small plants do not have that kind of long life.

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