We need your ailing plants for discussion at our plant clinic this coming Tuesday, 21 May! In addition, Mark O’Connor will give a talk on cochineal farming: the use of a certain type of scale insect for the production of dye. Cochineal are commonly farmed on Opuntias. All welcome.
Over on the main BCSS website you can read an online article on Disocactus phyllanthoides (Plant of the Month in May), written by one of our members, Mark Preston. He gives regular talks on epiphytic cacti at other BCSS branches – in fact, he will be giving a talk on Schlumbergera at the Birmingham Branch later this year in November.
Some members of the branch went to see Rene Geissler‘s marvellous collection in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, last weekend. We were made very welcome, the cake was fantastic, and yes, we all bought a few plants off Rene too. It is a great place to visit – see the photos below.
Interesting talk in April – who would have thought that cacti grow so near the Arctic Circle?! We had Andrew Gdaniec taking us on tour. He is a Kew Diploma student with a Birmingham past (he spent some time as a gardener at Birmingham Botanical Gardens) and bound for Gibraltar, where he is due to take up a post with the local Botanical Gardens.
His trip to Canada took him to the northernmost known cactus habitat (in the Peace River area at Fort St John, British Columbia) and through some stunning landscape. The species with the most northern distribution is Opuntia fragilis. Three further true species can be found growing in Canada: Andrew saw Escobaria vivipara and Opuntia polyacantha in southern Alberta, and Opuntia humifusa in the Point Pelee National Park (the southernmost point of mainland Canada). Opuntia x columbiana is another Canadian cactus. It is considered a hybrid between O. fragilis and O. polyacantha, but this is a plant needing further study, Andrew reports: in Alberta, both species grow together without producing this hybrid. A Canadian location of Pediocactus simpsonii was reported but never confirmed. Andrew failed to find it, but he is hoping to look for it again.
This travelogue tied in neatly with our March talk on cold hardy cacti; the four Canadian species mentioned above are certainly ones to try in a raised bed as they have adapted to very cold winters (down to -40C), constant strong winds and hot summers. Andrew shared pictures of cactus plants from different locations, habitat information, the Canadian flora and fauna more generally, and of course the magnificent scenery. Many thanks, Andrew!
Other Branch news: We welcomed a new member (Hello Howard!), and there is a change to the programme: Bob Potter’s talk on Caudiciforms is postponed until July, and Mark O’Connor’s talk on cochineal farming is being brought forward to May. His talk will be combined with a plant clinic – so we will soon need your sickly looking plants to discuss at our meeting on May 21st.
Finally, don’t forget we will be visiting Rene Geissler this coming Sunday. Do join us if you can (please contact Mark beforehand).
Our Branch will have a stall with sales plants at the Winterbourne Family Day this coming Saturday (20th April) – do come and find us there! Bugs, Bees, Plants and Trees is on from 11am till 5pm; entry charges apply. See http://www.winterbourne.org.uk for more details.
We have our next meeting tomorrow (16 April) – Andrew Gdaniec will be taking us ‘cactus hunting in Canada’. All welcome, time and location as usual.
Finally, there was a touch of spring in the air last week. Here are some recent photographs of plants from the greenhouses at Winterbourne…
Please note that the show schedule for our Annual Show (26 May at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens) is now available and can be downloaded here. Gill Mills, the Show Secretary, will need your entries by 23 May.
Sorry for the lateness of this write-up – just where has the time gone? Actually, our next branch meeting is not far off now (Andrew Gdaniec will be speaking on 16 April on cactus hunting in Canada).
In March, though, we had Stuart Estell reporting on the successes and failures of growing cacti outside in the microclimate of his raised bed in the middle of his Bournville garden… and as a special treat he also introduced us to another of his passions: hardy carnivorous plants.
His raised bed is built from breeze blocks. It measures 8×4 ft, with a base that is deeply dug into the soil and filled with coarse rubble. The soil for the plants to grow in primarily consists of gravel (8-15mm) and less than 20 per cent top soil – “enough to give plants something to anchor into, but nothing that would trap moisture”. When constructing a raised bed it is best to build it against a south-facing wall which provides some shelter from wind, but Stuart says even in the fairly exposed conditions of his urban garden some cacti grow well, notably Opuntia compressa, Opuntia fragilis and Echinocereus viridiflorus. The following may also do well: Cylindropuntia spinosior, Cylindropuntia arbuscula, Opuntia erinacea, Echinocereus adustus, Echinocereus knippelianus, Escobaria vivipara and Pediocactus (on their own roots – these are expensive subjects for experiments, success cannot be guaranteed!)
As our meeting room was inaccessible to begin with, we had the opportunity to have a look around the reserve collection some of our branch members help to look after. See the pictures below.
Don’t forget we’ll be having Stuart Estell with us again this coming Tuesday – he’ll be introducing us to cactus cultivation out of doors (in the wonderful Birmingham climate). We meet as usual at 7pm for a 7.30pm start at Winterbourne.