Cactus plants and how to keep them. Are you in love with cacti?

Cactus plants and how to keep them. Are you in love with cacti?

What is it about cactus plants that is so appealing? They are prickly beasts that can sometimes rip open your skin and tear your clothes. You can't really stroke or hug them without a little fear. They can poke you in the eye and leave prickles in your fingers. Most of them are at home in arid, inhospitable landscapes where survival seems to be 'on the edge'. But never has there been such a strong following of all things ugly, prickly, statuesque and, well, weird, in terms of house plants. Why?

F‍irstly, a word of warning: don't allow anyone to sit on the 'mother-in-law's cushion'. These spherical beauties have a strong, shapely presence but there is nothing cushion-like about the feel of them :). They sit on your shelf like a giant, spikey blob. And then you grow to love their shape and fierce cloak of daggers.

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Why do people grow cactus plants?

The fact is, that presented en-masse there’s practically nothing better than a cactus collection. Give them some iconic pots and a shabby chic background and there you have your living art scene of creative genius. Or invest in just one enormous specimen and watch your visitors’ jaws drop in wonder. What’s more, life doesn’t come much easier in terms of care. A cactus plant’s needs are simple: strong light; free draining compost and the occasional watering is all that’s required from their curator.

‍Some cacti have a tall, stately and even ghostly form, including the highly unusual Euphorbia ingens 'White', pictured below. These are rarely available, but their close relatives, Euphorbia ingens, are generally freely available.

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Social sharing sites

The popularity of cacti has come about largely through social media and photo-sharing sites such as Instagram and Pinterest. They do, after all, make a pretty amazing photo scene. So much so, that cactus emojis, bunting, clothing logos, vases, mugs, decorations, jewellery, candles, lamps and even condoms now depict the shape that most of us have come to admire. 

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There are entire London stores selling statuesque cactus for hundreds of pounds each, through to tiny pin-prick plants for a fiver. The shops act as a gallery in which to display the plants as artwork. It’s all about image in this showy world where we like to project ourselves in a particular way. It seems we are all looking for the ‘wow’ factor and cacti can provide this. We use them as cool sculptures and they don’t even mind if we forget to give them anything in return.

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Different cacti forms

There’s more to a cactus than the iconic candelabra, cowboy shape, although good specimens of this nature are highly sought-after. There’s a vast variety of forms – and it seems that scars and a bit of ‘history’ makes most of them more appealing. ‘Corking’, for example, is when the trunk or stem turns wooded and dense with age. Brown scuffing and scaring on the fleshy foliage can enhance the perception of ‘wisdom’ that these dignified plants possess.

The bigger the better, cacti plants awaiting despatch

Quite rightly, many species of cactus can’t be taken from the wild because they are protected by a treaty known as Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This agreement between governments aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

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Succulents and cacti can be grouped together, not because they are the same species, but because they like similar conditions and are generally fairly drought-tolerant.

Variety is the spice of prickly life

Cactus growing can’t be rushed. Slow and steady wins the race. So, any sizeable cactus plant that you purchase will have years, if not decades, of sunshine behind it.  Here’s a brief description of some of the most popular beasts of the cacti world:

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Echinocactus grusonii

The famous ‘golden barrel’ or ‘mother-in-law’s cushion (above). You really wouldn’t want her to sit on this big, spikey mound. The examples generally offered for sale measure around 30cms across and can cost around £100 or so. All Echinopsis-type have a spherical form and they are often called sea-urchin or hedgehog cacti.

Hugely in demand are the candelabra-type cacti that can easily grow to 2m high or more, given ideal conditions and a big pot.

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Euphorbia eritrea, lactea and acruensis are not strictly cacti, but they form various groups of the most iconic ‘cowboy’ or ‘candelabrum’ style plants that appear on tee shirts and, well, just about everywhere. These handsome and stately giants can easily grow to two metres tall, given a robust-enough pot and appropriate amount of sunshine. They’re a plant that needs a tall ceiling: a giant statement for the brave! Expect to pay anything from £20 through to £500, depending on the size. There’s also a rather striking Euphorbia ingens ‘White’ which has a ghostly form.

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A monster of a cactus!

Then there's Cereus 'Monstruosus' (above). This is somewhat distorted and rather monstruous and it's not always available. This makes it even more desirable, of course!

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Lots of people are in love with Opuntia, with their flat pads and tremendous prickles. These are known as the prickly pears and their fruit is edible. Native to North America, it has large, paeony-type flowers during the season.

Of course, there are others too, including 'living stones', tiny succulents that look like pebbles.

If you love the weird and wonderful world of cacti and succulents, visit Perfect Plants Ltd for a walk on the wild side.