Contents Volume 21. No 2

Summer 2010


Trevor Wray

The Lake District and the BCSS

Trevor Wray

Summer Flowers

Roland Tebbenham

A visit to Southfield Nursery 

Trevor Wray

Arizona in December

Don Campbell

Augea capensis

Trevor Wray 

Plants, People and Things      (The N&MK Annual Show)

Trevor Wray

How does your Convention Grow?      (The BCSS Convention 2010 Part 1)

Roland Tebbenham

How does your Convention Grow?      (The BCSS Convention 2010 Part 2) 

Trevor Wray

Notocactus ‘peach flowered’

Cover picture: Our picture this issue is a Notocactus ‘peach flowered’ for sale at Bryan Goodey’s Southfield Nursery. The purists will be dismayed that there is no species name, but it is a hybrid. And a very attractive one at that! There is more on this successful UK nursery by following this link.



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

Hon. Seed Distributors

I had to drop something off at Jeff and Diana’s in early February. You know they are the BCSS official seed distributors? (And what a good job they do!) Anyway, I casually asked how the seed distribution was going and apparently things were now a trickle, (after the December deluge).

While I was there I took a look at the seeds that were left in the racks. Still some interesting species left but the Ariocarpus had flown off the shelves in December I was told. I idly picked up some random packets. What on earth was Encholirium? (No, Mrs Dell’s spellchecker doesn’t know it... yet.) A quick Google search showed it was a Brazilian bromeliad named from the Greek ‘enchos’ (spear) and ‘leirion’ (lily). So a spear lily seems a reasonable plant to grow with cacti. The item has a Marlon Marchardo field number and locality. Probably needs a bit of warmth if it grows with cacti. The internet shows some species grow quite large and they resemble Dykia.

The largest seeds still available were those of Moringa oleifera. I thought I knew the genus (the computer certainly does). Wikipedia tells us that this is a tree native to India but widely cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical places for food. Apparently the green pods are prepared like beans and have an asparagus taste. The mature beans are eaten like peas or roasted like nuts. The flowers are edible when cooked and taste like mushrooms. The roots are shredded and used like horse radish, though they contain a potentially fatal nerve poison so better stick with the more traditional relish. Will it fit your greenhouse? Only if you are at Kew or Wisley – it grows to 12 metres (40 feet).

There were several contenders for smallest seeds. We held Conophytum seed packets up to the light. Were there any there? The seeds of many members of the Crassula family are noted for their small size (wind blown seeds of many colonise bare rocky places) but at least we could see them. There were still seed of Dinteranthus vanzylii left (to my surprise, I would count them choice) and these were also tiny.

A most interesting half hour with some insights into the world of seeds. Thanks Jeff and Diana.

Aeollanthus subacaulis var. linearis

We much enjoyed Bob Potter’s talk on Socotra, (or Soqotra as he preferred to call it). There were some strange succulent and xerophytic trees on the hillsides. He also brought an interesting and different range of sales plants which included a curiosity with the name Aeollanthus subacaulis var. linearis. It was too small to guess its possibilities in a succulent collection; imagine we are looking at a Cyclamen corm with a hairy top, but a snap-shot of the label reminded the Ed to look it up… on Google to start with…

I learnt from the ‘Flora of Zimbabwe’ that it was a perennial herb, growing from a more or less spherical tuberous root. This might be its claim to ‘succulence’. It is interesting that a synonym is Plectranthus subacaulis. Plectranthus is a plant I vaguely know from a newly acquired plant, (but widely grown) P. ernestii on my windowsill upstairs. They are both members of the Labiatae family, which you will recognise as the mints. So maybe aromatic foliage with this one. When it grows it.

Anyway I also noticed you can buy one from ‘Exotica’ for about £5.50.

Should you buy one and want to exhibit it at a BCSS show please note that it is not an ‘official’ succulent. If it is not named in the 9th Edition of the BCSS Handbook of Shows it is NAS (Not According to Schedule). No matter how ‘succulent’ you think it is. Strange thing is if you give its Plectranthus name you are OK. And you should exhibit it in the PEPE class. That’s Peperomia. Is this an unlikely scenario? Yes. Read on…

Aeollanthus subacaulis var. linearis

Scilla violacea

When you visit other branches to give talks they often ask the visiting speaker to judge the side table competition. We do the same at N&MK. On my travels there was a nice Scilla violacea in a vague class. (Nice succulent?) Fortunately I was able to identify three nicer succulents in the class. Did you read the article above? Well Scilla is another non-succulent. NAS at the BCSS, at least in shows. But please don’t let this stop you from growing a curious genus with interesting flowers. There are at least a couple of ‘honorary’ succulent species.

The two species mentioned here bring to our attention that the definition of what is a succulent plant is open to interpretation. Succulence in stems, (cacti, stapeliads, Euphorbias, etc.) and leaves, (Crassulaceae, mesembs succulent Composites etc) is generally obvious. However root succulents are a matter of personal opinion. But when you want to exhibit the fringe succulents at BCSS shows we must be guided by something. It is the current Handbook of Shows. Which brings me to…

The Handbook of Shows

We are currently working from the 9th edition of the BCSS Handbook of Shows. It is refined, as the Shows Committee of the BCSS think fit. Generally like goes with like. For instance in the Guide the Pediocactus Group includes plants of Pediocactus, Coloradoa, Echinomastus, Navajoa, Pilocanthus, Sclerocactus, Toumeya and Utahia. These genera are normally considered as either Pediocactus or Sclerocactus these days and are noted as difficult to grow in the UK. However Sclerocactus in the NCL (New Cactus Lexicon) now also includes Ancistrocactus, Glandulicactus and Neolloydia (which are all in the Thelocactus Show group in the Guide.) there is a problem there for botanists and the Shows Committee. The rest of us just try and exhibit our plants in the right class. And quite frankly anyone who can grow Sclerocactus and Pediocactus on their own roots deserves a gong anyway.


From OCR last issue (you recall this is where printed text is scanned to make a digital file), to simple slide scanning this issue. You will remember that in February the branch borrowed Sonia Barker-Fricker’s Dudleya talk from the BCSS slide library. As a member of ta committee and unable to attend (roll on retirement), I offered to be at home when they were delivered… put them into slide magazines for the meeting… and took the opportunity to give myself a private presentation. Saved a quid for the raffle and a few pence on the petrol as well. (OK, I’ll have two tickets next meeting. I robbed the taxman on the petrol.) While they were here, I thought I might scan a few but got carried away. And I scanned the lot.

Now the specification to scan a simple copy of a slide ‘to have a look’ is pretty easy. You can do it on some flat-bed scanners. The BCSS has a national programme to save and archive in a digital form these historical records. Since I have the equipment I scanned the slides at the required resolution, OCRed the commentary and scanned a Dudleya article by Sonia and her obituary.

As I looked at the slides and made the adjustments, I thought about the genus. Here are some species that are startling in their beauty. Some are just plain weird, though interesting. We noted that Sonia’s views show these are plants that grow in beautiful coastal habitats. On a dream holiday I will travel from Oregon south along the coast and into Baja California looking at Dudleyas. And the scenery. You can read more about these plants in the ‘Dudleya’ September 2004 special edition of the US Journal available from the branch library.

For my money the best ones are Dudleya brittonii, D. anthonyi, D. pachyphytum and D. gnoma. If you apply the water and fertiliser generously D. pulverulenta will make a spectacular large white cabbage.

The Great Cold Winter of 2010

Yikes, it was cold last winter. In our branch and on my travels, many growers spoke of many plants lost. I have a personal theory that cold is accumulative; those plants which are like potatoes and blackened by frost immediately will probably die. Others are not so simple. In my cold greenhouse the recorded low was - 6ºC. This was before the coldest period, when those new fangled wireless temperature sensors I had, packed up from battery power loss. I suspect at least - 8ºC, maybe - 10ºC. Water in a watering can was frozen solid for a month and I am sure the plants were the same. So what survived? Well experience has tempered those I try in these conditions – I transfer some to a heated greenhouse.

The Number 2 (cold) greenhouse is a leaky greenhouse. This is why No 3 was built. Generally, all the wet plants died, both cacti and other succulents. Except Conophytum; I really admire these plants that can take all we throw at them. The open garden next year?

Joking apart, who were the survivors of the worst winter for 30 years? There was a big range of small sales plants there. All the cacti (that were dry) survived. There were a good selection from the Crassulaceae. Sedums and Crassula survived almost untouched. From Adromischus some survived. However the choicer A. herrei forms mostly died; but not all of them, suggesting that the freezing triggered the botrytis (moulds) that these are prone to even in heated greenhouses. Previous experience of these and choicer Crassulas suggest these are hardy but that the humid atmosphere of our greenhouses in winter brings in the grim reaper, (or great composter). Echeverias were also unscathed. Even E. tolimanensis which I rate as one of the choicer kinds.

In the ‘don’t try this at home’ list of survivors were my seedlings of Mammillaria pectinifera, and rooted cuttings of Pelecyphora aselliformis and Avonia alstonii. I suppose that since the last grows near Euphorbia meloformis in habitat I should not be surprised, since this has survived several cold winters.

While I am commenting on the effect of cold in the greenhouse perhaps I should mention succulents outside. The Sedum kimnachii, a Mexican species I have written about before, was devastated and much was reduced to mush. However, a close inspection revealed live shoots deep in the bush and I have cut it back. This plant is long flowering and worth preserving. Plants of the similar looking S. compactum flowered in the cold greenhouse in mid-April and then on outside pot plants in May. The cacti I have grown in cold frames for many years, Sulcorebutia, Rebutia and Opuntia kinds were unfazed by the cold. They were kept dry from October till Spring.

Good news from the plant losses? Well the top dressing and spent compost goes back into the general compost used for herbaceous plants. Recycling! Then the best news is that garden pests will have suffered a major blow. Let’s hope this applies to those western flower thrips and vine weevils that can be eliminated from greenhouses but hop back in from the garden to re-infest our plants.

Finally, last week I was sorting some Sempervivum hybrid sale plants which were growing outside unprotected by glass. Nestled in one of them was a self-set seedling of Dudleya farinosa. Who would have thought that a species which grows at sea level in California, (where they surely never have frost), could survive the worst winter for 30 years in England? I am often amazed by our plants.

USA 2010

I am dashing off this issue of NN, (I hope it doesn’t show too much), after four weeks touring the rare cactus habitats of the desert southwest. There were successes and failures. There always are. Amongst the pleasures was to walk among flowering plants of Sclerocactus nyensis (left). Downside was to see previously vigorous colonies of Sclerocactus littered with dead plants. S. polyancistrus in particular has taken a hammering in the last two years. Optimistically the seeds are still viable in the ground and maybe the plants will re-colonise these habitats. Unfortunately not in my lifetime of visiting them.

This issue of Northants News

Roland brings us summer flowers, how appropriate, and Don Campbell a novel way of spending Christmas. Well I thought it made a nice contrast and I am trying to get the FL interested. There are reports from the National Convention and our Branch Show. Then there are some fillers from me.

Above: Sclerocactus nyensis in flower in pumice in Esmeralda County, Nevada. It also grows in Nye County!

Enjoy and good growing.




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

Back issues of the NMK Branch magazine

Northants News Volume 21.1

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