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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 types of cacti or succulents. Follow the links below this month's offering(s) to enjoy previous Plants of the Month.

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October 2006 -- Epithelantha

By Pam Schnebelen, Education Chairwoman
 
The succulent plants in the Epithelantha genus are slow-growing, dwarf cacti native to the Chicuahuan Desert from the southwestern United States into Mexico. They grow in the open desert in shallow soil. Epithelanthas grow alone or in clumps in the full sun.
 
At first glance, they look like miniature mammillaria globes, with spines radiating out from the tips of the tubercles. The white/yellow spines are so thick and the tubercles so small, the medium-green epidermis of the plants can barely be seen.
 
These plants bloom in late spring and early summer, their dainty, baby-pink flowers barely emerging through the spines on young tubercles close to the growth point. As they are generally self-fertile, flowers are followed by large, conspicuously red fruits that pop out above the plants to invite birds in for lunch.
 
Growing epithelanthas is easy, provided you have bright light and a porous, quick-draining soil mix. However, the plants will rot if left wet too long. Propagation is by seeds and offsets.
 
Most taxonomists now recognize only two species of Epithelantha: bokei, Boke's Button Cactus, and micromeris, Button Cactus. Micromeris has several recognized subspecies: greggii, unguispina, pachyrhiza and polycephala.
 
In the Henry Shaw Cactus Society show, epithelanthas are favorites in the miniature cacti classes. They also show well in the white-spined group.

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October 2006 -- Echinocereus

By Chris Deem
 
The old dirt road curves along its dusty way in an almost forgotten part of southwestern New Mexico. The barbed-wire fence goes on for miles, guarding nothing. Near a rotting wooden fence post grows a small echinocereus cactus. It is 2 inches tall and covered with hard comblike, pinkish-white spines.
 
Overhead, a tangled mound of tumbleweeds, trapped by the fence, has blocked the sunlight for weeks. In this unnatural darkness, red spider mites appear. Seeming to sense the cactus's weakness, they swarm over its small body.
 
Echinocereus rigidissimus are found in New Mexico, Arizona and the northern Sonora in Mexico. The more commonly known variety, E. rigidissimus v. rubispinus, grows in Mexico in the western Chihuahua and the Sierra Oscura.
 
These cacti are grown for their colorful spines and large pink flowers with white throats. The rubispinus variety, known as the Rainbow Cactus, has spines with a very deep pink coloring. Echinocereus produce green seed pods after their spring flowering.
 
Echninocereus prefer sunny locations with good air movement in summer. In the winter months, keep them dry and cool in a bright area. They need a long, dry winter rest to promote good flower bud formation.
 
Dr. George Englemann -- doctor, scientist and mentor of Henry Shaw -- described several echinocereus or "hedgehog cacti" in the 1800s.

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October 2006 -- Stapeliad

By Pam Schnebelen, Education Chairwoman
 
The stapeliad genera belong to the Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed) family, tribe Stapelieae. These genera are all stem succulents with thick, soft, juicy branches with low ribs or tubercles. They do not have leaves.
 
Their five-pointed, fleshy "starfish" flowers have intricate color and structural patterns. While the flowers are amazing visually, they often smell like dead meat to attract their pollinators, flies.
 
Most stapeliads come from the desert areas of southern Africa, though a few reside as far north as Spain and as far east as Burma. While these plants evolved for dry climates, most adapt to our wetter home and greenhouse environments. In fact, most of these species are very easy to grow.
 
Stapeliads do best with the brightest light possible all year long. Their potting mix should drain well, as the plants easily rot if left in a wet or moist pot for very long. In the summer, be sure the mix is completely dry before watering again. In the winter, water the plants when you see a slight shriveling of the stems.
 
Mealy bugs are the worst enemies of stapeliads, so keep an eye out for those nasty, fuzzy white specks. (The only good mealy is a dead mealy! Stabbing them with a toothpick is quite satisfying.) Black rot can also affect these plants. If black patches appear, cut them out immediately.
 
Stapeliads propagate readily from stem cuttings. Seeds germinate easily in two to three days. Seedlings should bloom in their second year. For maximum floral display, repot frequently. Flowers only appear on newer stems, so older stems can be removed without losing flowering potential.
 
Genera in this group include Caralluma, Diplocyatha, Duvalia, Echidnopsis, Edithcolea, Frerea, Hoodia, Hoodiopsis, Huernia, Huerniopsis, Luckhoffia, Orbea, Orbeanthus, Orbeopsis, Pachycymbium, Pectinaria, Piaranthus, Stapelia, Stultitia and Tavaresia.
 
There is a special class for these plants in the Henry Shaw Cactus Society show. In 2006, Nikki Murdick took first place with her Stapelia nobilis.
 
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