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Workshop on Glimpse into the world of Cacti

Members of the cactus plant family are unique and tend to exhibit a wide range of shapes and sizes. Most – but not all – cacti have spines and the plants come in all sizes and shapes, from short, round plants to tall, narrow ones, etc. Even though these succulents can be found in many parts of the world, most cacti species except four tropical species are native to America. Like every group of living things, the differences between different cacti species vary considerably. Each cactus species is well adapted to growing in specific areas that experience a certain climate.

Though the Cactus plants don’t require regular watering and seem like an easy-to-grow and hardy plants, there’s much more to them.

To learn more about these beautiful species of plant kingdom watch our workshop “Glimpse into the World of Cacti” with our speaker Dr. Vikranti Sailor. She’s a doctor by profession in Gujarat and has a keen inclination towards gardening. You can connect with her on Instagram at “the.plant_doc”

Vikranti and her world of Cacti:

“Hello, everyone. Welcome to another workshop by TAOS. Today we have with us, Dr. Vikranti Sailor. She is a doctor by profession, and she loves gardening. Today she will shed light on cacti and tell us how her love for cacti began. So, let’s get started,” said Zehra.

“Hello. As Zehra said, I am into medicine professionally. My love for gardening is inherited from my parents. After graduation, I had some free time, and I started gardening with cacti. Since then, my siblings and I started gathering knowledge on this species, and it goes on to date. So, cacti are a dessert variety it comes under the umbrella of Succulents. However, they are somewhat different from succulents. Their leaves are modified into thorns to store water, and the stem carries out photosynthesis. Since they are desert plants, they are very hard to pollinate. They develop very beautiful flowers, and when they bloom, the pollens are propagated by insects. One thing about them is that not all of them are desert varieties; some of them even grow in tropical areas,” said Vikranti.

“Can you elaborate on the difference between cacti and succulents that you mentioned earlier?”

“The most important thing that we find in cacti is its areole. It is the place from where the spines come out. Succulents can have small spines and can also be fleshy, but they essentially lack the areole. This is what differentiates them from succulents. As part of my collections, I have a laminaria cactus and also a fish hook cactus. The spines of the fish hook cactus are bent in structure, essentially where they derive their name from. There is a seed pot from where the seeds come out, and they get further germinated. I also have a golden barrel cactus which flowers only after they have lived for 30 years.  They are very hard to come by and tend to grow very big in the first 30 years. Then, I have a Gymnocalycium, which develops a very beautiful flower in spring. Their spines, buds, seeds, roots, everything grows from the areole. Apart from these, I have a boxing glove-cholla, prickly pear, Opuntia Tuna Monstura, Copper King named after the copper spine it develops, a golden lace cactus named after its golden spines, etc. Then, there is a beautiful variety called the old man cactus, a ragged tear-shaped cactus called the Bunny-ear cactus, a Trichocereus Grandiflora, etc. 

I even have a Euphorbia Leucadendron, which is a succulent. If plucked, they release a whitish sap liquid. That is why they are named Euphorbia. Then, there’s an Indian fig plant, which is known as a prickly pear. They flower easily. Moon cactus, which is often popular, is also present. You can see the rootstock here, the dragon fruit, and the scion. Since the plant doesn’t have chlorophyll, it needs to be grafted on a rootstock; otherwise, it won’t survive. They generally have a yellow and red color. Other than that, I have a peanut cactus and a fishbone cactus, and pencil cactus. I also have many succulents, which I will talk about next. So, I have a string of bananas, malaphora, which generally flowers after 12-1 pm in India; there is the Snake plant which is a moonshine variety which I have propagated from a cutting,” said Vikranti.

“The same Snake plant that is popular as an indoor plant?”

“Yes, since their light and water requirement is less, they are often grown as indoor plants. Not all succulents come from arid, desert regions; some are tropical. They, therefore, adapt to the climatic conditions on their own,” said Vikranti.

Snake plant doesn’t have spiked. How do we know it’s a succulent?”

“Because it has got fleshy stems and leaves where they store water. They share this feature with Succulents. 

Apart from the above-mentioned plants, I also have a collection of:

  • Chain plant, named after its structure.
  • Haworthia, which is currently in the blooming stage.
  • A jade plant from which we have made a bonsai. This is around three years old. 
  • A silver dollar plant, which derives its name from its leaves. They are characterized by aerial roots.
  • A baby sun rose plant, which grows beautiful tiny flowers.
  • A snowflake of Aloe vera, which has very beautiful tiny flakes over it.
  • A Euphorbia, which characterizes variegated foliage.
  • A pregnant Onion succulent, named after its looks.

“How do you remember so many names and species?”

“We have internet today, so whenever we come across a new plant, we look up on the internet for it, and then follow the recommendations as stated there.”

“How many species of plants do you have?”

“Almost about 200 varieties, considering both succulents and cacti. So, we also have a dragon fruit plant, which has been grown from seeds that are similar to sesame. It hasn’t flowered yet. Cacti also have the characteristic of bisexuality, which is why they can be propagated from the same plant,” said Vikranti.

“Next, I will talk about the soil composition that we use to grow our plants. The soil requirement varies based on the temperature of the surrounding. In our case, we use 40% scent, 40% of cocopeat, and 20% compost. We also add perlite according to availability and neam Khali, which acts as an insecticide. The soil must have good drainage capacity, or the roots might rot. The water requirement depends upon the season and the area where you live. In winter, we water it once a week, and in summer, for two to three days. As for the light requirement, they are considered to be kept in direct sunlight. It’s best to keep them away from harsh sunlight,” said Vikranti.

“Is there any cactus species that can be kept indoors?”

“There are many species that can be kept indoors, but they need to get proper exposure to sunlight. Otherwise, they will become leggy and will exhibit stunted growth. So, we will continue with the propagation of cactus now. They can be grown from the offshoots that grow alongside the main mother plant. So, you have to take a good planter, use the soil composition we have discussed earlier, and then plant the offshoot 2-3 days after you have plucked them. Be sure to choose a proper planter, and not a very big one, because we tend to water the soil according to the size of the planter and not the offshoot. You can graft them to ensure faster and better growth. For cactus-like Opuntia, we can just cut or remove the pads of the mother plant and then plant them separately to propagate them. Grafting is another method we can use. However, rootstock might cause problems in providing nutrients properly to the plants sometimes. You can propagate them from seeds, planting them directly and keeping them from harsh sunlight. Another harsh and cruel method often used is to hammer a hot nail, which damages the vital part of the cactus. This stimulates the areoles on the sides to grow more. We first frow them in water, then later transfer them to the soil. We have to give time to the plant to adapt to the new environment. They need to be watered more in the initial 2-3 days since they were previously in water. After, the concentration can be reduced. Coming to fertilization, it can be done with both organic and inorganic ones. Organic ones are available as premix solutions, bone meal, neem khali, etc. Bonemeal has a greater amount of phosphorus which is good for the plant. Fertilizing the cactus should only be done when winter dormancy is over; that is, temperatures are above 20⁰c. During spring, they are ready to flower,” said Vikranti.

“When coming to problems associated with cactuses, choosing the right container is crucial, as we discussed earlier. They can have pest attacks, which can be cleared off with a concentration of over 70% alcohol. In the case of a meal bug, it can be cleaned with soap and water. Also, overwatering might lead to fungal infections, which become very hard to get rid of. I will demonstrate the grafting of a cactus now. There is a rootstock or a lower stock that you can graft. When choosing a rootstock, it should be in the growing stage, and it should be plump and watered 24 hours before the grafting. The shoot needs to be removed while grafting. You can use sterile blades to graft and keep tissues handy,” said Vikranti.

“Can we use scissors to cut the cactus?”

“No, because it would be very difficult. We also need to ensure minimal cellular damage, and thus, can’t use scissors,” said Vikranti. 

“The thread you are using is a normal thread?”

“The thread which has a bit of stretching capacity, such as woolen ones, is preferable. Thin ones can damage the plant. You can also use cello tapes to fix this. You have to cut in one straight line, and you need to cut the edges. This is known as Camphoring. You will find a vascular ring in the middle which is also found in the scion. The two need to be similar. Then you have to cut the sprout and the root minimally. Then you need to tie them to keep them in tight contact and cover it with a polythene bag. Keep them in a shady place for 7-10 days, and the grafting will be done. There can be cases where the scion is not attached very well to the rootstock, so the rootstock will not be able to provide it with much energy, so it needs to be done carefully. When talking about some beautiful plants that can be propagated, the Umbrella palm comes first. To propagate it, you have to cut its stem and then dip it in the water upside down. This plant requires frequent watering, so take care of that too,” said Vikranti.

“Can you elaborate on the medicinal benefits of Cactuses?”

“The juice from cactus is said to be consumed as it is very good for health. Even dragon fruit has got very important medicinal benefits. Some cacti are also used in making anti-aging medicines,” said Vikranti.

“That was an interesting session. Thank you for joining us today.”