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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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July 2019 -- Matucana

By Nikki Murdick
 
Having just read the first article in the March 2019 edition of the British Cactus & Succulent Society journal, Cactus World, entitled "Matucana, a Fascinating Genus of Peruvian Cacti," I was very excited to see one of these for sale at the members sale in April. So, of course, one came home with me. Then, as we always do, it was time to research the new plant. Here is what I found.
 
Matucana is a genus of cacti that are small, usually less than 12 inches tall, and mostly globular, although they often become more columnar as they age. They have tiny, flexible and widely spaced spines, which are sometimes slightly curved. Although the cacti are usually solitary, some may form clumps as they age.
 
This genus of cacti is found only in Peru, with the original plant found about 50 miles east of Lima. They are found at altitudes from 6,000 to 13,000 feet in the Andes Mountains.
 
The flowers are most often red, but can be pink, yellow or orange. They occur once the plants are 2 to 3 years old. The flowers appear at the apex of the plants (apical bloom) in the late spring and summer. They typically open at night and last from two to four days.
 
This cactus was first discovered near the town of Matucan in the mid-1800s by Friedrich Otto, although some say it was identified by Baron von Winterfield. Otto called it Echinocactus haynii, but it was later renamed by Nathaniel Britton and Joseph Rose in 1930 as Matucana, after the town where Otto first saw it.
 
Of course, there are some discussions that state the original plant was actually found near the town of Obrajillo, north of Lima, by von Winterfield. Additional variations of this plant were identified in the 1950s by Werner Rauh and by Friedrich Ritter. Curt Backeberg formed a subgroup or subgenus he called Submatucana for those plants which had fewer supination, were less resistant to low temperatures and were also less resistant to rainfall. This subgenus is no longer considered valid.
 
Currently, The Plant List states there are 45 scientific names of species rank for the genus Matucana. Of those, 25 are accepted species names, 36 are considered synonyms, and three are unresolved. Following are the accepted names: M. aureiflora, M. aurantiaca, M. blancii, M. calliantha, M. celendinensis, M. currundavensis, M. formosa, M. fruticose, M. hastifera, M. haynei, M. huagalensis, M. hysteric, M. intertexta, M. krahnii, M. madisoniorum, M. mirabilis, M. myriacantha, M. myriacantha, M. roseoalba, M. oreodoxa (the one I currently have), M. pallarensis, M. paucicostata, M. polzii, M. pujupatii, M. ritteri and M. tuberculata.
 
Sadly for those of us who would like to collect these plants, it is often difficult to find different varieties. The Cactus World article provides specific information on 10 that are more easily found.
 
Matucanas are considered easy plants to cultivate if their original habitat is considered when deciding amounts of water and temperature levels during the summer and winter. Their tolerance for cold weather depends on the altitude at which they are found, but the majority do not tolerate temperatures below 32 degrees F. It is said that the forms with more dense supination are more likely to tolerate lower temperatures.
 
All of the forms are sensitive to overwatering, so should be watered only during the growing season. These plants have thin, fibrous roots instead of taproots. They prefer higher temperatures in the winter and very little water, if any, or they will lose their roots and die. They also do not like extremely high temperatures above 90 degrees F in summer and prefer to have filtered sunlight during the warmer times of the year. These plants also do not like to be crowded and prefer to have moving air during warmer weather.
 
Since these plants typically grow in steep and inaccessible places, they prefer very porous and quickly draining soil which has a large amount of gravel included. They also grow best when fertilized every two weeks during the growing period. They seldom need to be repotted, and care must be taken when repotting to not break too many of their fragile roots.
 
Matucanas are easily reproduced by seed. Just place the seeds in a wet bed of fine soil and keep them warm. The seedlings should be repotted when thorns appear at the apex, usually at about 3 years old. When repotting the seedlings, care must be taken, as the roots will be very delicate. If you have a plant that has formed a clump, then the offsets can be removed to grow new plants. The section cut or removed from the original plant must be left to dry for several days so the wound can heal. Otherwise, they tend to rot.
 
As with most of the South American cacti, one must remember they need strong light, although not always direct sun, and they need weekly watering during the growing season. During their dormancy, matucanas prefer low temperatures and only enough water to keep the roots from dying. It is said that if one can follow this regimen, then this plant will thrive and bloom profusely.
 
Sources:
The Complete Guide to Growing Cacti & Succulents: A Comprehensive Guide to Identification, Care and Cultivation, Miles Anderson (2006)
CactiGuide.com -- http://www.cactiguide.com/cactus/?genus=Matucana
Beginner's Guide to Cacti & Other Succulents, John Ellis (2004)
Cacti and Succulents: An Illustrated Guide to the Plants and Their Cultivation, Graham Charles (2007)
Cactus: The Most Beautiful Varieties and How to Keep Them Healthy, Elizabeth Manke (2000)
Seeds Cactus -- http://seedscactus.com/en/search?orderby=position&controller=search&orderway=desc&search_query=matucana
The Plant List -- http://www.theplantlist.org/browse/A/Cactaceae/Matucana
Wikispecies -- https://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Matucana
World of Succulents: How to Grow and Care for Matucana -- https://worldofsucculents.com/?s=How+to+Grow+and+Care+for+Matucana
 

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July 2019 -- Dorstenia

By Bob Williams
 
The ficus tree, fig trees, Osage orange, Dorstenia gigas -- a strange combination of plants, but they do have something in common. They all belong to the family Moraceae.
 
Moraceae is sometimes called the fig or mulberry family. This is a family of flowering plants consisting of 38 genera and over 1,100 species. When looking at the four plants above, one would wonder how members of the genus Dorstenia could be like an Osage orange.
 
The Moraceae family is comprised mainly of woody plants. Dorstenias are mainly succulent. Most are small, growing to a height of 10 to 20 inches. Dorstenias do share some common characteristics with their plant brothers. The sap of species in the Moraceae family is milky white, but not poisonous like that of euphorbias. The flowers are inconspicuous, and they produce compound fruits. The other interesting fact is this family traces its "roots" back 135 million years.
 
According to most literature, there are from 110 to 170 species in the genus Dorstenia. About 10 to 15 species seem to be of interest to those of us in the succulent hobby. D. gigas and D. foetida are two of the most common.
 
The genus is widespread, occurring in northeast Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Madagascar, and Central and South America. Only one species is found east of Saudi Arabia, in the tropical forests of southern India and Sri Lanka. Dorstenia is named in honor of the German physician and botanist Theodor Dorsten (1492-1552).
 
There are many uses for these plants. In Oman, the tubers of D. foetida are cooked and eaten. A powder made from the rootstocks and leaves of D. contrajerva is mixed with tobacco to improve the taste of cigarettes.
 
There are also many medicinal uses for these plants. D. psilurus is used in African folk medicine in case of snakebite, rheumatism, headache, stomach ache or hypertension. It is also used in cancer and diabetes treatments. A good description of the medicinal uses for dorstenias can be found on the Science Direct website at https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultur al-and-biological-sciences/dorstenia.
 
One of the more distinct features of dorstenias is their "flowers." Dorstenias are sometimes called shield flower plants. The flower is not a true flower, but a pseudanthium (Greek for "false flower") -- clusters of bisexual flowers on disc-shaped receptacles that are variable in size and shape. The female flowers within the receptacles mature first. The male flowers are scattered among the female flowers, concentrated on the outer edge of the receptacle or separated by a flower-free zone at the outer edge.

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Dorstenia species have drupelike fruits that are embedded in the "flowers." A drupe is a seed pod that has a fleshy outer layer with a single seed inside. A special feature of dorstenia drupes is that they explode to release and scatter the seeds. The seeds can be cast out 3 or 4 feet from the plant. If you want to collect seeds, some sort of fine netting is required, as the seeds are small. Expect some sprouts in nearby plants in any case.
 
Some documentation on dorstenias states the plants are not self-fertile and that two plants are needed for pollination.
 
The plants seem to be fairly easy to grow. They can take full sun and like higher temperatures. Like all succulents, a porous soil is a must. During the growing season, the plants appreciate a fair amount of water, but allow the soil to dry slightly between watering, making sure it never dries out completely.
 
During the winter months, dorstenias tend to go at least partially dormant and exhibit some leaf loss. A small amount of watering is required. They should be kept in a warmer room during the winter. They show some stress when kept where the temperature goes below 50 degrees.
 
Dorstenia gigas is one of the species I have in the genus. This is the largest species of the genus and is found on the island of Socotra. This plant can grow to 15 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter. As the plant grows taller, it branches out and becomes shrublike. In cultivation, the growth and branching resembles that of an adenium.
 
At the last meeting, I was asked to write an article on dorstenias. I am always open to suggestions on a Plant of the Month. These articles are for our members. If anyone has a suggestion, I will be glad to research it and write an article. Please contact me at rusty342@aol.com.
 
Sources:
Wikipedia -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorstenia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moraceae
The Plant List -- http://www.theplantlist.org/browse/A/Moraceae/Dorstenia/
Llifle Encyclopedia of Succulents -- http://www.llifle.com/Encyclopedia/SUCCULENTS/Family/Moraceae/16420/Dorstenia_gigas
 

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