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PLANT OF THE MONTH

Along with other articles, columns and club updates, each monthly issue of the Henry Shaw Cactus Digest includes an article or two on members' favorite cactus and succulent species. The articles typically include photos and facts on the plants' natural origins and distribution, growing conditions, common and scientific names, care and cultivation tips, and helpful hints for encouraging flower production.
 
Follow the links below this month's offering(s) to enjoy previous Plants of the Month or click to read a sample of the HSCSS Digest in PDF format.

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August 2019 -- Astrophytum

By Pat Mahon
 
One very unusual cactus genus that blooms this time of year is Astrophytum. At the society's summer show in 2017, there was a beautiful Astrophytum myriostigma that had an unopened bud that eventually opened up and bloomed in the sun on the show floor. This genus is known for large, silky-sheened, highly petalled flowers. They are gorgeous!
 
Astrophytum consists of only five accepted species endemic to the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico and southern Texas. A. caput-medusae is still fuzzy on where it fits within the genus.
 
The name Astrophytum is derived from the ancient Greek "astron," which means star, and "phyton," plant, in an obvious reference to the majority of the species' bodies having star-shaped forms. All these cacti share a very similar funnelform shape and a silky perianth (sepals and petals). Some of the species have spines, and some lack spines. Almost all have some sort of hairy scales covering the body or in beautiful patterns, and woolly areoles.
 
Nearly all astrophytums are considered easy to grow, and apparently are easy to propagate from seed. Each species is described below.

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Astrophytum asterias. This species resembles a sea urchin, with many patterns of hairy scales in varying amounts. Completely nude examples also exist, as well as several types of variegation. These were once found throughout parts of Texas and seem to historically have had a wide distribution. These days, the distribution has been reduced to possibly 5.000 plants in one locality in Texas.
 
Flowers are silky yellow with red centers. The bodies are similar in shape and appearance to those of the attractive lophophora, and also form slightly tuberous taproots.
 
Astrophytum capricorne. One of the two species with spines, these seem to be very rewarding plants. Although seedlings are easy to find, they don't get the attention they deserve from beginners. The plants are forgiving in cultivation and seem to be able to bounce back from whatever human error you throw at it.
 
As seedlings, they are tiny, spiny, ugly things. Fast forward a few years, and the plants begin to become more globular and sport the beautiful yellow flowers with red centers. In time, and if encouraged to grow a larger root system, they will begin to grow in a columnar manner. The long and wiry spines lower on the plant seem to fall off with age.
 
Astrophytum ornatum. The other spiny species, this one is a little more difficult to find in cultivation. The plants sport more organized, small and angry little spines on the areoles along the ribs. Personally, I find them the most beautiful plants in the genus. Most sport hairy scale patterns that become more dense in mottling at the apex of the stem.
 
Similarly to A. capricorne, A. ornatum begins globular and over time becomes columnar. Flowers are monochromatic, ranging from white to yellow.
 
Astrophytum myriostigma. One of the most common astrophytums encountered in cultivation, these present an endless supply of body shapes, color forms, variegation and amounts/patterns of hairy body scales. There are several subspecies that also sport incredible texturing on the bodies.
 
Many Japanese cultivars, such as Kikko and Super Kabuto, have become the most prominent trendy and expensive examples in the genus. Like the other four species, these eventually (and more quickly) grow to be columnar. Flowers range from silky white to yellow.

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Astrophytum caput-medusae. The oddball species that doesn't quite fit in the genus was also the most recently discovered (2001) from a small population in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and possibly another department. These have typical Astrophytum flowers: funnelform, yellow and with woolly pedicels. Altough the tubercles are fingerlike, there is an areole on each, also covered in hairy scales.
 
The major difference between A. caput-medusae and other astrophytums is that the plant's body is reduced to a cylindrical mass with paperlike bristles originating at the base of the tubercles. They also seem to have the development of a tuberous root system. A. caput-medusae does not hybridize with other species in the genus and seems to be difficult to propagate by seed.
 
Because these are still uncommon in cultivation, they are offered both grafted and on their own roots. Grafted plants will need adequate watering for the rootstock so tubercles do not dry and wither. If on their own roots, plants can withstand a little less watering due to the formation of the taproot. In any case, these cacti should be potted in a fast-draining mix, possibly supplemented with a little organic matter for a minimal amount of moisture retention.
 
Almost all Astrophytum species grow in the presence of other plants (i.e., agaves or bushes), which help shade their bodies from the intense sun and create organic matter in the root zone. Most of the species seem to enjoy watering during active growth, tapering down in the winter. In the case of A. caput-medusae, seedlings and mature plants seem to favor a little extra watering, possibly because of the reduced body size. It prevents tubercles from shedding.
 
Astrophytum is another genus of cacti in which all species seem to be good candidates for any level of cactus-growing experience. From other growers' experiences, the seeds of all astrophytums -- except A. caput-medusae -- are easy to germinate and grow. They survive well through winter and hopefully will reward you with blooms in time for the next cactus show!
 
Sources:
Die Kakteen -- Volumes I, IV: Astrophytum -- H. Krainz
Wikipedia -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrophytum
CactiGuide.com -- http://cactiguide.com/cactus/?genus=astrophytum
Llifle Encyclopedia of Cacti -- http://www.llifle.com/Encyclopedia/CACTI/Family/Cactaceae/1845/Astrophytum_myriostigma
http://www.llifle.com/Encyclopedia/CACTI/Family/Cactaceae/1464/Astrophytum_asterias
http://www.llifle.com/Encyclopedia/CACTI/Family/Cactaceae/3564/Astrophytum_capricorne
http://www.llifle.com/Encyclopedia/CACTI/Family/Cactaceae/3593/Astrophytum_caput-medusae
 

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August 2019 -- Dyckia

By Bob Williams
 
In most hobbies, there is a certain degree of risk. Ours is no exception. We deal with sap from euphorbias. We put up with glochids from opuntias. Large spines from almost any family of cactus act like needles. All of these have caused a lot of discomfort to us all. They are things that we choose to accept.
 
Plants in the genus Dyckia may be some of the worst offenders regarding risk. To top it off, these plants are not considered succulents by definition, in that they do not store water in their leaves or bodies. But they are such good-looking plants that many in the succulent hobby grow them. The question is how care for these plants differs from that for traditional succulents.
 
Dyckia is a genus of plants in the family Bromeliaceae, subfamily Pitcairnioideae. The genus is named after Prussian botanist, botanical artist and horticulturist Prince of Salm Reifferscheid-Dyck (1773-1861). The only information I could find about why these plants were named for him is that the plants were introduced in Europe during the early 19th century, and this was a way to honor his achievements.
 
The subfamily Pitcairnioideae contains some of the most primitive Bromeliad species. Most Pitcairnioideae genera are saxicolous (living on or around rocks) or terrestrial (growing in the ground). Dyckias fall into both categories, although most are strictly terrestrial, and all do well when grown as strict terrestrials.
 
The majority of the approximately 120 different species of Dyckia are native to central Brazil, with some found in Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia. Most are found growing among rocks in warm, sunny areas ranging in altitude from sea level to 6,000 feet.
 
As stated earlier, Dyckia plants are not true succulents and do not store water. When they go through periods of little or no water, dyckias go dormant and eventually wilt. However, the plants will rebound quickly with little to no damage when watering is resumed. This is in large part due to where they grow in habitat -- areas that get large amounts of rain during the rainy season and very little moisture during the dry season.
 
A question you must be asking is: "If these plants aren't succulents, why is this guy writing about them?" Well, the photo at the beginning of this article shows a plant that was entered in the HSCSS show. Below is a photo of flowers on another entry. Dyckias in many ways resemble a yucca, and their flowers could be those of a haworthia, aloe or euphorbia.

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There are a few Dyckia species whose leaves form such a tight rosette that you cannot see through to the top dressing. How do we care for them? According to all of the documentation I read, these are very hardy plants. Potting is similar to potting succulents. The soil should be well-draining. It can contain some organic matter. The root systems of these plants are larger than those to which we are accustomed. When potting, slightly overpot. The pot should be at least the size of the plant or slightly larger.
 
These plants flower in the spring. The flowers can be red, yellow or orange, on a thin stalk that emerges from the side of the plant. The stalk length can range from about 5 inches for a small species like D. choristaminea to more than 6 feet for D. maritima.
 
One feature that makes dyckias different from most bromeliads is that they bloom year after year, while most bromeliads bloom once, then die. When the flowering starts, this is the time to start watering. Even though they are drought-tolerant, dyckias like to be watered. The soil should not be soggy, but kept moist. If the soil dries out, the plants will start to go into dormancy. This is something you want to avoid.
 
During the growing season, dyckias should be fertilized with a half-strength solution instead of the normal quarter-strength solution. During the winter, watering should be cut back, but not eliminated. The soil can be allowed to dry out some.
 
These plants can be grown in full sun. If they are grown in low-light conditions, the leaves will change color. When bringing these plants indoors, choose a place that gets as much sun as possible. Dyckias can tolerate temperatures over 90 degrees as well as an occasional frost. They cannot tolerate prolonged periods of freezing temperatures. They are not winter-hardy in our area. Dyckias are used as landscape plants in northern Florida, parts of Texas and California.
 
These plants can be propagated by seed or offsets. Some information I came across says that dyckia seeds are viable for a short period of time, so buying seeds may be iffy. Another drawback for seed propagation is that dyckias hybridize very easily. The plants you get may not be what you were expecting.
 
The more common way to propagate is by offset. This is where care should be taken. Most Dyckia species have leaves armed with sharp spikes that make working with the plants painful. It is often difficult to separate pups from the mother plant. You should remove the plant from its pot and try to work on it from the bottom. Leather gloves, a sturdy knife and pruning tools all come in handy when it is time to separate and repot large clumps of plants.
 
When you separate a pup, try to preserve as much of its root system as you can. If it has no roots, treat its base with rooting hormone before potting. Plant the offset in a fairly small pot using a well-draining mix and leave it there until the plant has a chance to establish itself. Most pups are slow to root and start growing. When the plant's root system fills the pot, move the plant into a larger pot.
 
There is a ready supply of these plants available online. You have the option of getting the "native" species or take your choice of many hybrids. If you are willing to take on another physical risk, this can be an interesting plant to add to your collection.
 
Sources:
Bromeliad Society/Houston -- http://bromeliadsocietyhouston.org/genera-intro/dyckia/
Bromeliads.info -- http://www.bromeliads.info/all-about-dyckias/
Gardenista -- https://www.gardenista.com/posts/gardening-101-dyckia/
Dyckia Brazil -- https://dyckiabrazil.blogspot.com
 

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