AGM 2013 – New Chairman

We have a new branch chairman for 2014: Arthur Wilkes takes over from Mark O’Connor, who held three important branch posts in the past year. He will continue to be Secretary.

The new programme of talks will be posted to all BCSS members in the Birmingham area early in the new year. We’ll start off 2014 with a Plant Clinic (21 January); in February Stuart Estell will be giving a talk on the smaller Opuntias; and for the March talk we welcome back Trevor Wray who will be sharing with us his Andean Adventures (featuring lots of Copiapoas, Gymnos, Opuntias and stunning landscapes, so I am told).

I’ll update the programme page during the Christmas holidays.

Meanwhile: merry Christmas!

The Lights at one of Cologne's Christmas Markets: Christmas Stars / by Mararie on Flickr

The Lights at one of Cologne’s Christmas Markets: Christmas Stars / by Mararie on Flickr

Coming up: AGM and Christmas Social

Please note that our AGM is coming up next Tuesday, 10 December. Please come along – it is your chance to have a say about BCSS branch activities in 2014 and the way the branch is run.

Following the official part of the evening we are planning to have Tea and nibbles; please could everyone bring something along?! Thank you!

November 2013 Meeting: Schlumbergera / Mark Preston

Schlumbergera hybrid / copyright Martin Heigan (on Flickr under CC licence)

Schlumbergera hybrid / by Martin Heigan on Flickr

Our last talk in 2013 was Mark Preston’s excellent introduction to the six species of Schlumbergera – of which the ‘Christmas Cactus’ is one. This is a group of epiphytic or lithophytic cacti (i.e. they root in organic matter on trees or on rocks respectively) that have been adapted to environmental conditions one tends to associate more with Bromeliads and orchids: relatively low light levels, high humidity and relatively steady, moderate temperatures. Stems are flat and leave-like, the flowers large.

Although we have come to call all Schlumbergera ‘Christmas Cacti’, only one of them actually does flower around Christmas, and that is  Schlumbergera x buckleyi. It is actually an old hybrid, dating back to the middle of the 19th Century, when William Buckley crossed S. truncata and S. russelliana. Three seedlings of this cross were released at the time; this is the one that entered cultivation most widely and is still occasionally available for purchase.

One of the two parents of the true ‘Christmas Cactus’  is S. truncata, which was the first species of Schlumbergera to enter cultivation in Europe, in the early 19th Century. Interestingly, it is a species that illustrates the pitfalls of early conservation attempts, as cultivars and even hybrids were re-introduced into the wild when the plant became threatened due to over-collection and habitat loss. “No-one knows exactly what the real thing looks like”, Mark says, although he reckons that Andreas Hofacker’s photo in our last post might be very close to S. truncata proper. In fact, the same photo is printed in the latest issue of the German DKG journal, indicating that it is indeed S. truncata from the Organ Mountains in Brasil. S. truncata produces zygomorphic flowers in October; its fruits are red.

Schlumbergera russelliana, in turn, is the type species of the genus (i.e. the species for which the genus was created by the French botanist Charles Lemaire). It is closely related, and similar looking, to S. truncata, growing at higher altitudes and flowering around March with symmetrical flowers; fruits are green.

The Schlumbergera species with the blousiest flowers is undoubtedly S. orssichiana: large and of somewhat drooping habit. This is a relatively recent introduction, from the late 1970s, and it makes an attractive if temperamental plant to grow, Mark says.

Schlumbergera opuntioides in bud / by Blossfeldiana on Flickr

Schlumbergera opuntioides in bud / by Blossfeldiana on Flickr

And Schlumbergera opuntioides (pictured above and below) is the oddest of the bunch, its stems very much looking like Opuntia pads. Mark reckons that this is a juvenile form that never matured. S. kautskyi was mentioned (a recent discovery; very similar to truncata but with ribbed ovaries instead of smooth ones and a shorter stigma) and S. microsphaerica too (more an alpine, growing high up in permanent fog zones and difficult to grow under UK conditions).

Schlumbergera opuntioides in flower / by Blossfeldiana on Flickr

Schlumbergera opuntioides in flower / by Blossfeldiana on Flickr

How to grow them? Mark recommends using an open organic compost – moisture retentive but never soggy: S. orssichiana in particular is very sensitive to overwatering. Keep out of direct sun and sheltered from wind. Temperatures during the summer should not be too high (mid-20s Celsius – a greenhouse is likely to get too hot for them). In winter some species (notably S. truncata and S. kautskyi) can withstand fairly low temperatures to around freezing, but note that low winter temperatures do have an effect on the flower colour. This is most pronounced with the yellow-flowering hybrids: they turn pink.

Cactus of the Year 2014: the Christmas Cactus

Schlumbergera hybrid / copyright A. Hofacker

Each autumn, the German equivalent to the BCSS announces a ‘Cactus of the Year’. For 2014 they picked the Christmas Cactus Schlumbergera. Look on their website for an article on Christmas Cacti; there is an English translation available for download too.

Don’t forget our talk on this subject this coming Tuesday, 19 November, with Mark Preston. Usual time, usual place. All welcome!

Bob Stanley’s Mammillarias

Mammillaria canelensis - M. semperviviii - M. heyderi var. hemisphaerica

Mammillaria canelensis – M. semperviviii – M. heyderi var. hemisphaerica

It is a little over a year now that Bob Stanley passed away – a Mammillaria specialist who lived in the Birmingham area. Although Bob was not an active member of our branch his father Albert spent many years with us as a very valuable and popular member, also specialising in Mammillarias.

Bob Stanley was particularly known to members of the Mammillaria Society, where he was a regular contributor to the society journal, covering cultivation as well as taxonomy of Mammillaria. Apparently self-taught in German, he translated two important monographs on the genus into English: “Die Gattung Mamillaria” (1991, 2 vols) and “Die Gattung Mammillaria nach dem heutigen Stand meines Wissens” (1987). When Bob’s collection was broken up, a fair number of his plants came to Winterbourne where they will now be kept.

Below you can see pictures of some of Bob’s plants that are now in the care of the staff at Winterbourne and the BCSS Birmingham volunteers.

Mammillaria petrophila - M. meissneri - M. microcarpa - M. canelensis Rog 657

Mammillaria petrophila – M. meissneri – M. microcarpa – M. canelensis Rog 657

Mammillaria multiseta - M. M. hahniana - M. spec.

Mammillaria multiseta – M. M. hahniana – M. spec.

Mammillaria cinobiltinei

Mammillaria cinobiltinei

Coryphantha jalpanensis - C. asterias

Coryphantha jalpanensis – C. asterias

Thelocactus bicolor

Thelocactus bicolor

Whilst on the subject of Schlumbergera…

For those of you with some knowledge of German: cultivation advice from the famous cactus nursery Haage in Erfurt, Germany.

Coming up: November meeting

Schlumbergera / by epiforums on Flickr

Schlumbergera / by epiforums on Flickr

Our November meeting will be on Schlumbergera, or Christmas Cacti as they are also known. Mark Preston will be sharing his advice on growing these plants successfully – on Tuesday, 19 November, 7.30 pm at Winterbourne. All welcome!

October 2013 Meeting: Flowers in my Greenhouse / Arthur Tomkins

It is the time of year to look back on what’s done well this year, and Arthur kindly showed us pictures of plants in his splendid collection: large bowls of Mammillaria bombycina, Neoporteria flowers that almost seem to glow from the inside, Thelocactus conothelos var. aurantiacus with a very unusual flower colour.

Below is just a small selection of his plants in flower. This was a well received, informal talk, and it was great to see so many members attending!

Autumn Show 2013

We’ve had well over 300 entries for this year’s Autumn Show (and a large group of visitors from South Wales Branch) – our organizers were well pleased. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

Unfortunately low light levels in the hall mean that taking photographs with simple cameras is a little tricky. I managed a few, however. The Prickly Pear has been grown expertly on the wall of the Winterbourne Orchid House, so I hear. Sadly, those espaliers are no more since the Orchid House is being refurbished… Anyway, they made a nice entry for the novelty section in our show.

Coming up: October meeting

Some of Arthur's Mammillarias in flower this year

Some of Arthur’s Mammillarias in flower this year

Slight change of programme: Arthur Tomkins and Derek Castle will be giving talks this coming Tuesday, on plants that have done well for them this year. Time and place as usual – all welcome!