WHAT ARE CACTUS AND OTHER SUCCULENT PLANTS

It is a remarkable fact that there is probably no family of plants which as a whole has aroused the interest and curiosity of plant lovers to such a degree as cacti. Nearly everyone is familiar with at least one kind of cactus, but to distinguish between members of the cactus family and the many other succulent plants requires a little knowledge. Cacti form a separate family of succulent plants characterized by the fact that, with few exceptions, they bear no leaves, or only very small, insignificant ones. They have, however, developed highly distended, juicy green stems, frequently of strange shapes, which, besides fulfilling the general purpose of serving as ducts or reservoirs for the storage of water and nourishment, also carry out the physiological processes of the missing leaves; besides this they are mostly heavily armed with spines and glochids, or barbed hairs. The spines grow from areoles which look like miniature pincushions.

This group of plants may be divided into leaf and stem succulents; that is, species with thick and juicy leaves, or with excessively thick and fleshy stems and branches; there are also species with fleshy leaves and stems.

Many of these succulents are veritable plant gems, so intricate in form, delicate in colour, and beautiful when in flower, that they cannot fail to arouse our admiration. The most remarkable forms are probably to be found amongst the Mesembryanthe-mums , which have in recent years attracted so much attention by their protective adaptation in form and colour to their environment, a phenomenon known as “mimicry”.

A very large number of succulent plants are endemic to Africa, but they are. To be found in all countries of the world, wherever vegetation from any cause whatsoever experiences difficulty in obtaining its water supply. They occur in the arid deserts, on high mountains, or in cold regions where the absorption of water is rendered difficult owing to intense cold, amongst rocks and sand through which rain-water drains quickly, or in brackish areas where salt impedes the absorption of water by the plants.

These conditions have given rise to very great modifications of plant structures and functions, enabling the plants to store and conserve water, to reduce loss of water from transpiration, and to increase rapid absorption by the roots.

The plants are diverse in form, and grow in almost any conceivable shape. Some are as large as trees, and some the size of a button, but all are fascinating. fig.the temperature, especially at night, begins to fall. Succulent plants require protection from frost. The best winter temperature for greenhouse or window collections is around 45 °F., but if the temperature now and then drops a few degrees at night, it will not harm the plants. In the home, where fires or central heating are in use, rooms can become very warm, and the air very dry; these conditions are not relished by most plants, but succulents are scarcely affected, another proof that they are the most suitable plants for modern dwellings. This warm atmosphere in winter, however, tends to keep succulent plants growing instead of entering, as they should do, upon their winter s rest which is necessary for the production of their flowers the following season. In such conditions, therefore, it is wise to bear this in mind and keep them in a cool position.

Whilst most cacti and other succulents require plenty of light and sunshine, some prefer shade or half shade. Rhipsalis, Epiphyllums and their relations thrive best in shade with only about two hours sunshine late on a sunny afternoon.

Seedlings also should have some shade from strong sunshine, especially during the hotter hours, for they are yet tender and too much sunshine may disfigure the plants through burning.

Other plants, such as Crassulas, Haworthias, Gasterias, or Ceropegias prefer half shade. All succulents need plenty of fresh air.

Frames, greenhouses, etc., should be well ventilated at all times whenever weather conditions permit.

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