February meeting

Unfortunately Stuart had to cancel his talk on Tuesday. We are currently looking for an alternative talk to offer that night, so please bear with us!

Auction list

Please find here the list of auction plants for 11 May. Further information and photos will follow in due course!

Auction of Derek Castle’s collection

Some of you may well know that Derek, after quite some soul-searching,  has decided to put his collection up for auction. Meanwhile a venue and a date had to be found – it will be on Sunday 11 May, at Winterbourne (viewing and sales from 10 am, auction will commence on 11 am). I will add in due course a detailed list with auction and sales plants, and more pictures will follow too.

The auctioneer has been found as well: it will be Stuart Estell.

Derek Castle in his greenhouse / by srboisvert on Flickr

Derek Castle in his greenhouse / by srboisvert on Flickr

Coming up: January meeting

Hope you all had a good break over the Christmas period! We shall start off the new year with an informal plant clinic: bring along any plant of yours that you think doesn’t look right, or take a photo of it, so that we can share advice. Depending on how many plants we have to discuss, Derek decided to show us some slides as a bonus, and there will be an opportunity to have a look around the Winterbourne reserve collection of cacti and succulents if you are interested.

Do come along if you are free – on Tuesday, 21 January, from 7 pm at Winterbourne. See here if you need directions.

Programme page updated

The new programme for 2014 is online now – see here.

Happy holidays!

Christmas Card / by Stephen Rees on Flickr

Christmas Card / by Stephen Rees on Flickr

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!