February 2013 Meeting: Continental Collections / Derek Castle

Our most recent talk introduced us to some cactus nurseries and private collections on the continent, mainly in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Derek made several trips to the continent in the 1980s, together with other members of the branch at the time (Graham Charles, Philip Blackman). Those must have been the golden days of continental cactus crawls, given that collectors tend to order plants via the  internet nowadays.

This talk really was about the plants the group saw – beautiful large show specimen, rows and rows of sizeable sales plants. Some of the souvenirs brought back from these trips are still growing in Derek’s greenhouse, and some he later donated to the Arid House of Winterbourne Gardens.

The De Herdt nursery in Belgium probably was the most famous nursery collection they visited; the Heidelberg Botanical Gardens (where Werner Rauh was in charge up until 1982), the Palmengarten in Frankfurt and Keukenhof in Lisse were perhaps the most famous public plant collections en route. And one collector ingeniously converted his outdoor swimming pool into a substantial greenhouse.

This was a most enjoyable talk by one of our most knowledgeable branch members. Thank you, Derek!

Programme for 2013 now complete

This year’s programme is now complete – September’s meeting will be with Alasdair Glen, who will be giving a talk on Neoporteria/Eriosyce.

Coming up: February meeting

Next week, Derek will be introducing us to “Continental Collections” – based on visits to continental nurseries in the 70s and 80s in particular. We meet on 19 February, 7.30pm at Winterbourne as usual. All welcome!

There have been a few amendments to this year’s programme – do have a look at what is on offer. Details for the September meeting have yet to be confirmed.


As mentioned by Derek at the last meeting, there are a few videos available on this site. You can watch:

  • an interview with former branch chairman Vic Knight on Conophytum and Lithops
  • Derek and Arthur potting up a large Euphorbia at Winterbourne
  • a brief introduction to plants of the genus Cleistocactus
  • and a tour of the Arid House at Winterbourne.
Arid House at Winterbourne / by srboisvert on Flickr

Arid House at Winterbourne / by srboisvert on Flickr

January 2013 Meeting – Plant Clinic

Just a handful of plants were brought along, but it was a lively evening nonetheless, with people exchanging ideas on how to combat red spider mites or what may cause a fungal infection on almost felty succulent leaves (aphid droppings perhaps?).

We then discussed different methods of seed raising – when it comes to cacti, most branch members appear to favour sowing seeds on sterile soil in single pots tied into freezer bags rather than larger plug trays. One should note that this method generally does not work for the other succulent plants, as they are prone to damping off (i.e. rotting) in stagnant moist conditions. The BCSS has published cultivation leaflets for more on common pests and diseases on succulent plants, as well as seed raising.

One good place to look for advice on how to grow cacti and other succulents is the BCSS Forum. Or, if you are local to Birmingham, you can come to any of our meetings and ask questions about your plants. That’s what we are there for.

Coming up: January Plant Clinic

Happy new year everyone! We have our first meeting for 2013 this coming Tuesday evening (15 January, 7 pm for a 7.30 pm start at Winterbourne as usual).

Please bring along any plant you seek advice on. We will try our best to offer help. You can have a look at Stephen’s account of last year’s event.

And just in case you were wondering – the 2013 programme is still not finalized, but I will update our website as soon as I have received it.

Things to look forward to

The Branch is planning two plant shows in 2013, with the Annual Show on 26 May and the Autumn Show on 6 October. Both shows will be held at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

We will also be back at the NEC for BBC Gardeners World Live (12 – 16 June).

Talks this year will include Bob Potter speaking about Caudiciforms and Mark Preston speaking about Schlumbergera. Plus we will have a Plant Auction again.

A full list of events will be on our website in due course.

Schlumbergera / by epiforums on Flickr

Schlumbergera / by epiforums on Flickr

Christmas Lights in Las Vegas – Happy holidays everyone!

as found here: http://www.shardsofblue.com/blog/2011/art-2/photography/christmas-cacti-las-vegas/

as found here: http://www.shardsofblue.com/blog/2011/art-2/photography/christmas-cacti-las-vegas/

December 2012 AGM – New Chairman

We had our AGM on Tuesday – and our current Chairman, Stuart Estell, announced that he would like to step down from his post. He has done a tremendous job heading this Branch and putting together such varied yearly programmes of talks – thank you, Stuart, for all your hard work!

Mark O”Connor, our Branch Secretary, has volunteered to take on Stuart’s role. He will remain in his post of Branch Secretary, and he will still be in charge of the branch library too.

Other branch news included:

– Although the 2013 programme is not yet complete, we will begin with a Plant Clinic for the January meeting (Tuesday, 15 January, 7 pm for a 7.30 pm start, Winterbourne). If you have plants that don’t grow the way you’d like them to, please bring them along. You will (hopefully!) get expert advice on plant cultivation, pests, propagation etc.

– We will again be attending Gardener’s World Live at the NEC with a stand this summer.

– The Branch has taken on part of a large collection of Mammillarias, which will be kept with the reserve collection at Winterbourne. Photos to follow!

November 2012 Meeting – Pediocactus in Habitat / Trevor Wray

Habitat of Pediocactus despainii (Utah) / by USFWS Mountain Prairie on Flickr

Pediocactus is a genus of mostly rare and rather cryptic plants, although unexpected aids to find them in their natural habitat appear to be fenced-off areas and surveying tags! For most of the year most Pediocacti are very difficult to spot – plants of most species remain small and are partly buried under ground during the dry season in very open, rocky, semi-desert situations.

Pediocactus despainii (Utah) / by USFWS Mountain Prairie on Flickr

Pediocactus despainii (Utah) / by USFWS Mountain Prairie on Flickr


Pediocactus winkleri in habitat (Utah) / by USFWS Mountain Prairie on Flickr


The type species is Pediocactus simpsonii (see previous post), growing in high-mountainous areas in south-west USA (Washington and Montana to Arizona and New Mexico). It is the most widespread species of Pediocactus, and the easiest to grow from a genus that, on the whole, is notoriously tricky to cultivate. In habitat it receives moisture early in spring when snow melts and later in autumn when the plants plump up a little and form their flower buds. During winter they are mostly covered in snow. By contrast, its close relative Pediocactus knowltonii has a very restricted distribution range and occurs naturally only on one site (La Boca). There are now two other sites close by where this species has been naturalised.

Eight of the nine recognised species are described here. Only P. nigrispinus is missing – Trevor has not found that one either!

BCSS Oxford Branch have habitat pictures on their website.

As for their cultivation – this is not easy and works best if plants are grafted on hardy Opuntia; growing them on their own roots is a real challenge.

Other news from the branch: we have a new member (Hello Arthur, and welcome to the branch!), and next month we’ll meet on Tuesday, 11 December, for the AGM and Christmas social.