Prickly Love

By Bonnie Grant | January 13, 2021
by Bonnie Grant
January 13, 2021

I have always had indoor cactus, even in college when I was a kid. At that time, it was one of those grafted varieties with a bright pink top and grayish green base. I now know this was likely a moon cactus, but at the time my knowledge was all devoted to things like literature, theology, and philosophy. I worked and went to school full time and didn’t have time to devote to learning about plants. Boy, has that all changed.

My first little cactus seemed to thrive in my rather dim dorm room. Interestingly it is a manmade attempt to recreate a natural phenomenon. In the wild such colorful cacti are mutants and eventually the bright top will fall off the base host. It will quickly die as the colored part lacks chlorophyll, essential for photosynthesis and plant survival. That is why the base or rootstock of these little grafted specimens is so important. The base gives the entire plant the ability to harvest and use sunlight. A fun little fact, and one I didn’t know until about ten years ago. 

Collecting Desert Plants

In my 20’s I began to collect cacti and succulents. I was especially proud of a large jade plant that has since gone to a friend but became a little tree. My fascination with desert plants included a host of other types of flora but my cacti were my pride and joy. I have specimens that are several decades old and have survived several moves. Unfortunately, when we moved to the Washington coast, the location wasn’t particularly sunny and many of my prickly friends were not happy. 

Enter grow lights. These are super important if you have little natural light. We have a few dotted around the home that will help facilitate photosynthesis. We also use a dehumidifier regularly to keep the humidity levels down in the home. Readings of 60 or more humidity levels are common in the mornings in winter and would promote fungal disease and rot. 

I have also branched out from just desert plants into tropical cacti. These are great low light cactus. The most well-known of these is probably the holiday cacti such as Christmas cactus. My Christmas cactus has not bloomed since our recent move, but I am hoping for some buds this year. Plants, just like people, have trouble adjusting to new locations and can take some time to reach full health. The cactus is thriving otherwise, I just need to be patient for the gorgeous hot pink flowers. 

My Current Indoor Cacti

As I sit writing this in my office, I have the mentioned Christmas cactus at the window, but it is also partnered with a bromeliad, jade, ferocactus, ponytail palm, echinocereus, and an echinopsis. There is also a cactus dish with numerous tiny, indoor cactus specimens. In other rooms of the home, there are large and small cacti and succulents. Outside, in the freezing cold, is a prickly pear cactus. It came from the northern Californian mountains where it enjoyed hot summers and warm springs and falls. It also got a good dose of mountain freezing, so I am hopeful it will survive. It belonged to my spouse’s father who recently passed, and we are hopeful it will enjoy its new environs. It is too big to bring inside so, fingers crossed!

Cacti are easy to grow, although they can have their issues. I like to take all my little guys outside for the warm season and bring them in during winter and their dormant period. So far no one has complained too loudly, and they seem to grow well with the addition of their grow lights and the low light cactus thrive in any room. You can be assured that I will add to the collection and enjoy all the different textures, shapes, and colors of both tropical and desert plants.  

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