From the Digest

Hellmann’s Hither & Yon: Quarantined With Cacti & Succulents

Plants inject beauty and surprises into our lives when we let them. This cold-hardy Echinocereus triglochidiatus will lose its lovely purple color and become solid green as temperatures rise.

By Mike Hellmann (April 2020)

It is indeed a concerning world in which we’re living right now, with so many new and unprecedented things happening at such a fast pace. We’re living one day to the next, not knowing what the next day will bring. And, yes, stress levels are high. I’ve been through my share of calamities and associated stresses over the years, as have most of you. One of the things that did help get me through was the ability to spend time with my plants. A trip to the yard, basement, greenhouse, upstairs window sill, wherever … allowed me a temporary break or catharsis from all that was taking place at the time.

Plants offer so much. Often overlooked are the joy, appreciation, beauty, surprise and awe that they silently inject into our lives when we let them. Nature has a way of doing this with just about all of her creations. Pets, birds on the back-yard feeder, trees, spring-blooming bulbs in the yard – all contribute to the same feeling of relief or temporary reprieve from what life has put on our plate. So, please find solace in your plants as much as you can. Many exciting things are happening right now with the spring season, so hopefully all of you can take some time to enjoy them.

I’m hoping that all of us, including our family and friends, remain healthy, that this current situation is temporary, and that its negative effects on our lives are short-lived. Not being able to predict the future leaves some future events in doubt. Our club’s April plant sale has been canceled, for example. This is unfortunate, as we had several first-time vendors lined up to provide some really neat plant material. We’ll just need to postpone this for another time.

The leaves of Yucca pallida (Texas blue yucca) shine a vivid blue in bright sun.

The Kansas City Cactus and Succulent Society has informed us that it is canceling the Mid-States Conference that was to take place this June. The group hopes to host this event in 2022, which is the next time this biennial convention can take place. My heart goes out to this group. Besides the normal stresses of hosting such an event (and there are many!), they’ve had to seriously plan while, at the same time, not even knowing if it was going to take place. The club remains optimistic and is moving forward with plans it hopes to bring to reality in two years.

Please consider attending this conference if you are able. It took me several years after joining this group to finally attend a regional conference. I do regret not having taken advantage of such events sooner than I did. The CSSA Convention will take place in Colorado Springs, Co., next summer. It’s a bit further away, but I can guarantee it will be a great experience.

(For a sample of convention content, visit the Cactus and Succulent Society of America website at to view complete video presentations from the 2015 and 2017 CSSA Conventions. The 2019 presentations will be posted when they become available.)

Many of us know the feeling of being kind of an anomaly. As we’re watering, transplanting, moving things around and just looking at our plants, quite often our family, neighbors and pets watch us and our peculiar, obsessive/compulsive behavior. I often feel like a pet salamander in a fishbowl at which everyone stares, just waiting to see what I do next. When we attend these regional conferences and national conventions with other like-minded hobbyists, we then realize there are many more just like us. We’re then in a world where we can absorb information, ask questions and learn from others’ trial and error, as well as accomplishments.

Here, plants are displayed and sold. Enlightening speakers share trips from exotic lands, as well as places closer to home, showing us the environments from which plants come and the flora and fauna that share the same. Other program topics include cultivation, propagation, workshops, etc. It’s not just during these programs that information is absorbed, but also during meals, after hours at various social gatherings and around the sales tables. Please plan ahead and try to attend one, if not both, upcoming events if you can possibly make it happen.

Speaking of plants and their soothing ways, I took a couple walks around the yard last Sunday. The temperature was hovering around 36 degrees F, with a bit of a breeze, snow changing to rain and sleet before returning back to snow … and quiet. With all going on, I was pleasantly surprised as I approached the hardy cactus bed on the side of our driveway. Here, both cacti and succulents are slowly swelling and beginning to part with their stressed winter colors.

Caused by natural pigmentations, the attractive red color in this sedum is the plant’s natural defense for surviving cold winter months.

Streaks and smears of wine red brought on by winter stress show well on some of the sedums and echinocereus. That contrast against the rest of the gray and green stems/bodies, combined with the earthy colors of rock and gravel, is truly a beautiful sight. In a way, it was kind of symbolic, especially given the current circumstances.

I’m sharing a few photos of some plants that have thrived outside for two to five years here, enduring our extreme and fickle weather. There was a time not too many years ago that I would have thought this garden to be an impossible feat. But many high desert plants can survive here outdoors 12 months a year if a few rules are followed. These plants, when combined with some creativity, compatible rocks and old pieces of driftwood or juniper, can create a mesmerizing rock garden.

This hardy cactus phenomenon has really increased in popularity over the past five or so years with many of our members. No greenhouse is necessary, and plants are readily available from some of our vendors, as well as other members. If you haven’t dabbled in this part of the hobby yet, please give it a try.

It does take an investment of some sunny space, drainage material and physical effort, but in my mind, that effort will be rewarded many times over. Start small and build out as you gain confidence and success. You’ll then realize the beauty that such a garden provides for each and every month of the year.