Contents of the Spring 2012 Northants News

        Three more difficult species              Doug Rowland

I have persevered for some years with the following tropical species, and pass on these notes on the successful cultivation of them.

Cycas revoluta

Family Cycadaceae. This is not a succulent plant at all, though at first glance it may resemble a trendy caudiciform plant. The habitat of this species is Japan, where it grows slowly into a small tree. The species belongs to a very ancient botanical order of plants which do not have flowers. The male plants produce pollen, and the females, cones, which when pollinated produce good size naked seeds.

Several very tough and rather indigestible fern like leaves will sprout from the growing point, eventually dying back as new leaves appear, leaving a stem  consisting of leaf bases, and not being succulent at all as they appear.

This is perhaps the most common Cycad in cultivation, and is ideally suited to light, warm 70F centrally heated living rooms. It grows and thrives in this half shade situation. Plants need to be watered at monthly intervals all year. If grown in a succulent plant greenhouse and not watered regularly, the leaves and stems will gradually die, and a few very cold winter nights will soon finish the plant off.

Plants can be propagated from seeds, which are sometimes expensive and not very fresh. A successful seed is one with a root tail sticking out of one end. A continuous 70F bottom heat is required for success.

But perhaps it is much easier and better to wait for an end of season half price sale like I did. 

cycas revoluta

Above: Doug's Cycas revoluta. Is it a succulent? No, but an honory one surely.

Melocactus matanzanus

Melocactus matanzanus

This is probably the most common species of Melocactus in cultivation. Perhaps because a plant filling a 5” pot will soon produce a reddish brown bristly cephalium and some small pink flowers and eventually, seed berries. The habitat of this species is Northern Cuba, so it is a truly tropical plant.

These days, many plants are field grown in the Canary Islands for the European trade.

Winter care should be extended to Melocacti with cephalia and they are best brought in for the winter season and placed on top of the telly, where they cannot see the programmes. Overwintering in a 60°F glasshouse is not quite safe. A Melocactus with a cephalium that loses its roots is sometimes loath to grow any more.

Propagation is from seeds, which grow painfully slowly here and can take sometimes, ten years to reach the cephalium situation. But really, it is better to buy a plant, keep it dry and overwinter it in a 70°F centrally heated living room. 

Above: Melocactus matanzanus, a choice small growing species.

Euphorbia lactea ‘cristata’

These chunks of cristate Euphorbia are often sold as grafted plants, and occasionally you can find different colour forms with pink, red or yellow edging. Do not be deceived by these plants, which are very tropical from habitats in Eastern India, Sri-Lanka, and the Moluccas (Indonesia). The species is also naturalised in parts of the West Indies and Florida. It is a tall treelike rampant grower with three and four angled stems.

In cultivation, grafted crests do not overwinter very well even in a 60F glasshouse and are best brought inside for winter at 70F. My own plant is now several years old, and like most cristate plants, produces a few normal stems.

Propagation. Well if I did I would need more space indoors, so decided that one plant is really enough.


Euphorbia lactea ‘cristata’

Above:  A cristate Euphorbia lactea in Doug’s collection

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