All about Succulents & Cacti: What I’ve learned so far (Part 1)…Moon Cactus!
Hello everyone and in today’s post I’m going to be starting a new series with you where I talk about what I’ve learned about succulents and cacti…so far! I’m still very much a beginner, but I’m always learning more about these fun plants and how to care for them. If you also care for these plants or have been curious about them, please join me in this new series!
Bad Luck, but getting better!
I will start by saying that I’ve never had the greatest of luck with house plants, mostly because I didn’t do my research first! This usually resulted in me choosing plants that would get bad pests, I would under or over water, or not give enough sunlight too. I was always intrigued by cacti with their unique biology and looks, and most importantly…the reputation of actually being hard to kill.
This led me to finally purchasing my first cacti! A gymnocalycium mihanovichii! Or in simpler terms, a Moon Cactus! Which leads me into my first topic about succulents and cacti….
What is your name?
You walk into your local hardware & Gardening store, and in their garden section you are presented with a fair selection of succulents and cacti. One catches your eye and you bring it home. Later, you admire your new prickly friend when a question arises, “What type are you exactly?” Which leads to more important questions of caring for your new plant, but the tag just says Succulent with the same generic care directions that you find on almost all other plants of this type.
If this sounds familiar to my fellow beginners, I was and still am there with you. While the popularity of these plants have skyrocketed in the last few years, most places that sell these guys, don’t really tell you what exactly you are buying. And when you start searching online it can be even more confusing since you almost always see the scientific name. This is important because some plants can share a similar common name, but actually be two different types.
It takes a little searching and some decent photo identification, but I was finally able to identify (or nearly identify) all of the succulents in my collection! Not all plants have the same care. Yes, they all need sunlight, good draining soil, and watering, but these things can differ from plant-to-plant.
Gymnocalycium Mihanovichii (Aka – Moon Cactus or Hibotan Cactus)
So not only was this my first ever cactus, but it has also been the one I’ve learned the most from. Boy! I had no idea what I was getting into!
To explain, this is an extremely common cactus that you find in stores, and a lot of people purchase them since they are often colorful and seem easy to care for–simple enough. What I’m sure many causal buyers don’t know (And I certainly did not know this when I first bought this little guy), is that you are actually purchasing two different cacti for the price of one! Say what?
There is a common practice within the art of cacti propagation (aka growing more cacti or succulents from pieces of the mother plant) called grafting, and it’s basically what it sounds like. You have one type that is essentially the host body and another type that is grown on top of the host. This is what makes the classic look of a Moon Cactus. The part that is actually the Gymnocalycium Mihanovichii is the distinctive red, yellow, or orange head. The green stock is usually something in the Hylocereus genus (More to come on this!).
There is a reason why you often see this cacti grafted to a host, and that is because the Moon Cactus cannot actually produce its own chlorophyll! How wild is that?
And sadly, I have to be the massager for some sad news to all my owners of these cute guys, but even with the best care possible, these cacti have pretty short life spans, which was sadly my experience with my yellow/orange Moon Cactus.
A Common Problem
One day when I was checking on my cacti and succulent family, I noticed that there was something wrong with my Moon Cactus. The neon bright yellow head was turning brown at its base (the space between the head and the green stem). I wasn’t sure what was happening but I knew it wasn’t good.
I quickly learned that the common problem with these plants is rot in the rootstock, but mine was having rot in the head only. After more online searching I did find others having a similar rot problem to mine! This rot is most likely caused by a bacterial infection between the two grafted pieces. I didn’t want to lose the whole cacti and according to what I was reading, if the rot hadn’t reached the stock, that piece could be saved.
I did some more reading…and came to the conclusion that the moon cactus had to be cut from the stock. With a sterile knife I beheaded the poor mushy cactus from the stock, and luckily I saw no more of the infection. In my research during this ordeal, I learned that when you cut a cactus in this way, you can put a type of sulfur powder on the cut to help close the wound and keep out more bacteria. This powder can be tricky to find though, but an alternative is actually cinnamon! This is what I used in this situation and on all my other emergency cuttings, and it works perfectly so far! The rootstock has survived, and in fact it’s thrived!
Hylocereus Undatus (aka – Night-blooming Cactus)
I believe that this is the exact species of my rootstock, which is actually a vining cactus! After cutting away the rotted Moon Cactus, this guy just took off. It has grown many off shoots, which is why I needed to desperately remove it from its original overcrowded pot (consisting of all the first succulents I got, which at the time I thought it was a good idea, making them all roommates–I’ve learned to more careful now).
As you can see from the photo, it has a number of areal roots, which is typically a sign that it needs more water, just another reason for it to be transplanted. I wanted to maximize drainage this time, so as a bottom layer I placed some pebbles, and then sand (about ½ inch) to top its new soil. I definitely foresee needing to put it in a much bigger and deeper pot in another year or two.
Final Fun fact–another name for this guy is actually a Dragon Fruit, which is so cool! Yes, I do mean those strange fruits you can find in some grocery stores to eat! I really hope this guy continues to grow big because I would love to see it bloom and possibly produce some of these fruits!
Thank you so much for reading! If you like this new series of blog posts then do let me know in the comments below!
Do you have any succulent or Cacti care recommendations? What are your favorite types? 🙂