Contents Volume 21. No 1

Spring 2010


Editorial and more Trevor Wray
Multiflorum? Andrew Dowsett
Dear Auntie G  Gertrude Greenfly
Aloe vera, the Medicinal Aloe Trevor Wray
A few more cactus yarns Doug Rowland
Autumn Adventures Roland Tebbenham
Odds and Ends..... Monadenium shubei
Cactus display at Kempston
Sedum telephium

Cover picture: This Eriosyce subgibbosa (or Neoporteria subgibbosa.var subcylindrica as I call it) was grown from seed set in 1984 and has flowered like this for all but the first few years. Only the top of a 22 cm high plant is shown. This sort of cactus is tough; this one has survived many incursions into the frost zone. Moderate water in the warmer months, fresh air and occasional fertiliser are the primary requirements. Then just enjoy those flowers. It is a native to the coast of Chile and Kattermann says that some plants are so close to the sea that “spray from the surf keeps the plants continuously wet”


EDITORIAL and more.....

Welcome to this issue of Northants News, the internet edition of the magazine of the Northampton and Milton Keynes branch of the BCSS

Weather station

I received a useful gift last winter; a weather station that monitors both indoor and outdoor temperatures. Also the maximum and minimum temperatures are recorded and shown for the day and the device can be checked to view the history for the coldest (and hottest) time. My use was obviously to check that all was well in the greenhouses.

Within a few days I noticed that the temperature outside was plummeting and moved the sensor to one of the heated greenhouses. Whoops! The overnight temperature showed a minimum of -2ºC. That’s on the middle of the staging - I was aware that there was usually a little freezing near the glass, but... Still no harm done and I set the electric heater a twitch higher. Incidentally the minimum recorded in the cold greenhouse over winter was -6ºC (water in watering cans froze solid) and in the garden -11ºC. (The brass monkeys froze solid) Global warming is coming they say.

My first habitat cactus

Later in this edition you will read of Doug Rowland’s first sighting of a cactus in its native habitat. My first succulent, or rather my first real succulent (ignoring all those European sedums, sempervivums and pennyworts) was a Dudleya at Mormon Rocks in California. Nearby but seen afterward was a small plant of Opuntia basilaris. Now this is a really common cactus of the desert southwest and often spectacular with its large pink blooms. The common name is ‘beaver tail’ as the pads resemble these, though you would not want to pet this beaver tail because of the itchy glochids. I am pleased to note that this plant was the more unusual ‘little beaver’s tail’ the small growing variety brachyantha, a native to this part of California.

Those of you who fly into Phoenix International will be pleased to know that the giant saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) is easily visible as the plane comes in to land and sharp eyed cactophiles would probably spot some large Ferocactus. The route taken is directly over Shiprock, a distinct landmark in New Mexico which Don Campbell wrote about last issue. As I look down I wonder about those Sclerocactus mesae-verdae lurking there.

Committee biscuits

Just as a bye the bye the FL is the programme organiser for the Weston Favell Garden Club and on various church based committees. She also notices things. She noticed especially that at the cactus club committee meetings held here the members always eat up all the biscuits. None of her committees ever eat many biscuits. Something about cactus people? Just thought you should know.

A little poser

I was updating the list of books I hold here and was idly thumbing through a tome to find details of the author. In a flora dedicated to the succulent plants of an area, there were the genera Salsola and Suaeda (both in the Chenopod Family), Polycarpaea (Caryophyllaceae family) Campylanthus (Scrophulariaceae), Astydamia, (carrot family) and Sonchus (daisy family). Now these are fairly obscure plant names; I hope I have spelt them correctly as in that list there are seven unrecognised by Mrs. Dell’s spellchecker, (which is very well trained). My question is - which country or area would you find them?

Hint. Remember I said they were in a book of succulents? Well there were also Ceropegia fusca, Senecio kleinia, Euphorbia balsamifera and Aeonium simsii so you may well guess now. I have grown all these at some time and they are native to the Canary Islands.

As to the ‘obscurities’, they are succulents, (to some extent), and you are welcome to grow them. However don’t bother to exhibit them in a BCSS show. If they are not in the Guide to Shows, (and they aren’t), they are not ‘official’ BCSS succulents and would (or should) be disqualified.

By the way, the book is the Flora de Gran Canaria Volume III Las Plantas Succulentas, so you will have guessed it is in Spanish. It has some exquisite illustrations; Monanthes polyphylla looks a gem. The authors are Mary and Günther Kunkell. The umlaut (good gracious, it appears I just spelt that correctly), in that name reminds me…


Oh dear, what does one do in the depth of winter? (If, of course you can’t afford to go somewhere warm). So I find myself researching cactus locations and information for a future field trip to the US desert southwest. The small print at the end of one article led me to my KuaS journals of the 80s: the journals of the German Society, unfortunately in German. Well, what else?

I have some translating software with my computer but decided to use the free internet stuff. Might be better. First I had to OCR the article. The computer scans the type (Optical Character Recognition) and translates that into (digital) text. Unfortunately the umlauts, they are the double dots above some ‘u’s and ‘o’s, do not scan well and I have a lot of work to do. Then the character ß (as in groß) comes across as l3 (grol3) and needs correcting. ß is actually the equivalent of ss and if you pop that in you have ‘gross’ which we will recognise (as will the French, Italians and Spanish) as something to do with size.

However as my work progresses I turn an article from 1980 about Sclerocactus pubispinus into something with some readability. As I translate each paragraph I gain some insights into the species. There are some puzzles until you realise that every time you see ‘bleed’ it means ‘flower’

‘Because I needed photo admissions with bleeding’.

I did wonder how ‘Sauna’ popped into my document but looking back the software had simply translated the Utah town of Salina.

German compound words can be quite intimidating but my on-line translator had no trouble with ‘Trassenbeschreibung’ and popped ‘route description’ into the frame immediately.

Alternatively the untranslatable compound German words can be split into their elements to give some idea of what is meant.

one finds the cacti only on the stony-clayey hills which are covered with grass and Wustenstrauchern’.

The elements of Wustenstrauchern translate as ‘wild stagger’. (I think) I am not sure what it actually means but I know the feeling of ‘wild stagger’ in the desert. It comes from looking for too long for a small cactus in the desert sun.

Still at the end of a few hours work, while listening to some most entertaining music on my computer, I had achieved some insights into the species. However the sentence which I had most empathy was near the end and stated, ‘The USA still own gigantic areas of untouched nature’. Written in 1980 that is actually very true, even in 2010.


This year we have an exciting programme of events at N&MK.

Roland has put together a great bunch of speakers for our entertainment. Habitat talks on Socotra, Bolivia, Mexico and Madagascar, ‘genera’ talks on Thelocactus, Haworthia and Echeveria, and Paul Hoxey, on his ‘favourite cacti’. I wonder if that is cultivation or habitat. Paul is a great cultivator and is very widely travelled in cactus country.

Outside of the Abington Community Centre our year starts with the Auction at Nether Heyford in April. Buy some plants or sell some, or just come for the bacon rolls. Just come anyway!

Then we have our Branch Show in August to support, a Zone Show in May for keen exhibitors or simply to see some great plants or browse the plant sales. You could round off the year with the Kempston Show on August Bank Holiday Monday,

With missionary zeal our (Cactus) world is spread by the sales team at various plant sales through our area. Why not come along and support the home team? Either side of the table you are welcome.

This year also brings us a National Convention, (every four years so a ‘must go’). Lots of good things there. People to meet. Expert speakers. Probably the plant sales of the century!

Nearly forgot, our branch are the hosts for the Zone Open Day in July. Apparently I will be at a Ruby Wedding binge. The FL says that as it’s my own I’d better go.

The details of these are in the programme and monthly bulletins.

2010 (2)

Now it is March we are probably starting to water our plants. Day length increases and our greenhouses (or windowsills) become more comfortable for plants (and growers). But don’t forget to ventilate that greenhouse because you can still boil the lot!

As seeds sprout and those fabulous flowers open we remember why we grow these prickly customers. Very satisfying.

Mustn't wax too lyrical. Enjoy the magazine.







Northampton and Milton Keynes Branch of the B.C.S.S.

Back issues of the NMK Branch magazine

Northants News Volume 20.3

Northants News Volume 20.2

Northants News Volume 20.1

Northants News Volume 19.3

Northants News Volume 19.2

Northants News Volume 19.1

Northants News Volume 18.3

Northants News Volume 18.2