Contents of the Summer 2012 Northants News

                    A Day in Denver                                       Trevor Wray

 At the end of our recent US trip the FL and I had the day to spare in Denver before our long night journey home. Many Brits would settle for a day at the shopping malls and outlets but our suitcases were already bulging. A gentle day at the Botanical Garden was indicated; pack our suitcases first, over to the gardens for the Conservatory before it got too hot, a stroll to every corner and a late lunch in the air-conditioned restaurant. Afternoon temperatures were indicated in the low 90ºs F so we could chill out.

It was not to be - the Garden was only open for the morning, apparently there was a weekend plant sale on and the place was closed to aid preparation. Revised plan was a dawn packing session and we were at the doors of the garden as they opened at 9am. The Conservatory was as I remembered it from a previous visit, a jungle of well grown tropical plants. Some orchids were especially outstanding but it was the display of poisonous tree frogs Phyllobates in jewelled yellow and black jackets that took my eye.

My previous visit to the Garden had been in early April when flowers in the open had been sparse following Denver's harsh winter and late snowfall. Now in mid-May there was a riot of colour. The herbaceous borders were in full bloom with many attractive plants and there were many irises and peonies which rate among my favourite plants. The Japanese Garden was a restful delight with shade, dwarf trees and reflections across the traditional lake.

 Tranquil view in the Japanese Garden at Denver BG

Colourful bearded irises.

As a botanical garden I would rate Denver as very much a gardeners' garden. The hard landscaping is very artistic and complemented by the planting which only vaguely follows botanical classification. However most of the plants are clearly labelled which is a help.

Naturally I wanted to see the succulents and there is a well grown collection under glass. Strangely this must be one of the coldest places in the garden; the air-con was working full blast. Perhaps this was a throwback to years ago when this building was the alpine house! Anyway the plants looked well on this regime. Just outside is a large alpine garden and it was full of flowers but very hot.

The outdoor plantings of native succulents were quite new on my previous visit and have mellowed well. There were many cacti in full flower and a couple of 'triglies' were doing their thing. I have to explain that this is my name for plants of the Echinocereus triglogidiatus group and I include E. coccineus. They are difficult to name with certainty. Most Americans would simply call them 'claret cups'. The two seen in my image are the giant form typically seen at White Sands, NM and a regular version. All spectacular when seen in habitat as well. You will see that in the garden cacti associate well with California poppies. However, in the wild the species seen with southern Californian and Arizona cacti is the similar Mexican poppy. There were many Opuntia species, both prickly pears and chollas, in bloom. These plants are often planted in urban gardens for their drought and cold resisting abilities. I was not surprised to see the choice small growing Escobaria leei planted in a niche on the rock garden. this species would be overgrown by poppies and more vigorous cacti in the succulent beds. Finally there was a neat Echinocereus viridiflorus in a trough of native plants. We were to see that in the afternoon.

Flowering plants of Echinocereus reichenbachii ssp. baileyi outside at Denver BG

 Echinocereus triglochidiatus

In the afternoon our US sat-nav led us nearly unerringly to the Will Hayden, Green Mountain Park on the outskirts of Denver. We had enjoyed the civilised environs and cultivated plants at the Botanical Garden, but there was still time for a last 'wilderness' experience. Green Mountain Park is a series of rolling grassy hills and although I use the adjective 'wilderness' because the vegetation type is natural and apparently mountain lions live here, the area is widely used for leisure. Cyclists on mountain bikes and joggers were often encountered. We failed to see the mountain lions.

Echinocereus viridiflorus and Pediocactus simpsonii in the turf.

I have been here twice before. Once in mid-April when it was freezing and snow still lay on north slopes and once in mid-May when thunder rolled, it was trying very hard to rain, and it was nearly freezing. None of these conditions would be conducive to seeing the three common species of local cacti in flower you might think.

Now it was mid-May again and the temperature had reached that predicted low 90sF. Well, back in mid-April Pediocactus simpsonii had been in flower despite the cold. It seems to need only the sun to open its blooms.

Echinocereus viridiflorus (remember I had seen that in the morning) was in bud in April 2006, but the flowers were closed in May 2006, due to clouds or cold. Now in the heat it was in full bloom. We could see flowers everywhere in the grass, even where the plants were not too evident.

This is one of those species, like small Pediocactus, that retract into the soil in the heat of summer and the cold of winter and pop up to flower and set seed in spring. The species is reported to have a strong scent, perhaps to make up for its small, green-yellow flowers. Certainly my cultivated plants have a rich citrus scent. Would the FL oblige? It's my arthritis you understand... and there could be snakes and prickly pears and other hidden cacti and someone has to drive the car to the airport. Sue duly reported no scent and I took the picture.

I also captured Echinocereus viridiflorus and Pediocactus simpsonii together. When I featured a similar image in the Spring issue of NN in 2005 I explained they were cuddling to keep warm, but at 90ºF I am not sure what these are doing.

The prickly pear here is the common Opuntia polyacantha and was covered in buds. I captured just one yellow bloom open. This version had pretty lethal spines and a good encouragement to mountain bikers to keep to the trail.

Left: Echinocereus and Pediocactus on Green Mountain Right: E. viridiflorus in flower 

So a great end to a great holiday. Sue will remember the grizzly bears of Yellowstone and I can dream about an afternoon on Green Mountain. Oh, by the way, there were some really beautiful wild flowers open beside the cacti.


P.S. I was led to Green Mountain by Don Campbell - see tribute below.


                    Don Campbell                                       Trevor Wray


Don Campbell has written on many occasions for NN about habitats in the US. There have also been the odd pictures of his cultivated plants. Reading the newsletter of the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society I see he has been awarded the Mary Ann Heacock Award from the local society. Don wrote…

During the past 25 + years I’ve thoroughly enjoyed CCSS and the many opportunities membership has provided.

And while I’ve gained valuable knowledge about succulent plants, their habitats and how to care for them, I most value the camaraderie and friendship associated with membership of CCSS.

Over the years there’s no doubt but that I’ve been the primary beneficiary of this relationship.

Thanks to all of you for helping me develop into the unrepentant cactophile that I am.


Don Campbell

Well yes Don, well written. And I am fully aware that I picked your name and email address up as a contact in the area and thanks to your generosity have on several occasions been led to the habitats of both common and rare cacti in your homeland.  And your ‘yard’ (garden) and the native cactus gardens in Grand Junction are very well worth the visit. (many of my UK cactus friends and some Czech contacts have also benefitted. Your pot cultivated plants  are a credit to you and we have featured a few images over the years here in NN.

But that is your accolade. I was wondering what I might be known for at our local cactus branch.

I have paraphrased your text.

During the past 40 + years I’ve thoroughly enjoyed membership of the BCSS and the many opportunities provided.

And while I’ve gained valuable knowledge about succulent plants, their habitats and how to care for them, I most value the camaraderie and friendship associated with membership of BCSS.

Over the years there’s no doubt but that I’ve been the primary beneficiary of this relationship.

Thanks to all of you for helping me develop into the unrepentant cactophile that I am.



And I see that Don is signing himself ‘cactophilitically’ Don. Did he learn that from me, or me from him? Or from Gordon Rowley?



                    Some thoughts on seeds                        Doug Rowland

 Doug brings us some of his insights into his long experience with seed raising and seed dealing.

Growing from seeds

This is not the easiest form of propagation. The rooting of detached stems, cuttings, spare rosettes and offsets in spring is much more rewarding. However if you have lots of patience and are used to disappointments then seed raising is for you.

Make up a soil mix of half general potting compost and grit, and place in 2” or 5cm pots. Lightly tamp down and sprinkle seeds on the surface and insert label with full name of species. Invest in a tin of Cheshunt Compound and stand pots in the mix until soaked. If this fungicide is not used, seeds from wet berries will promptly rot off and grow some beautiful mould for you.

Place pots on heated base of propagator. Cover with lid and make sure seeds are kept moist at 70ºF. Germination should take place within 4 to 14 days. And, if the seeds are not viable, never! Remove lid of propagator and spray from above about every two days, using your Compound mix. Seeds will now grow very slowly and need daily care. Some may disappear and others will grow on well, but there is always a chance the mice or livestock will be present, and an occasional spray of insecticide is favourable. Conophytum and all winter growing seeds are best sown in autumn and other seeds in spring. I found that the most rewarding seeds to grow were Mesembs, Aloe, and Agave.

 Doug Rowland 

June 2012

 Seeds - Importing

The European Economic Community consists of 27 member States, and for the purpose of trading, is regarded as a single country by the rest of the world. No Customs Labels are required on postal items when goods pass over international borders within the Community. This means that plants and seeds may be sent easily and quickly into Member States.

To import seeds in to the Community, they must be clean, dry, and free of all debris and livestock or insect presence. However, Appendix A CITES seeds will require paperwork. It is not very practical or possible to produce desert plant seeds in quantity in the United Kingdom. But with it being so easy to import seeds into the EEC, home production is hardly worthwhile.

Seeds arrive here from many different sources. Some seeds are produced in central Europe in cultivation under glass, where they have hot, dry summers, which brings out the flowers and camel haired pollinating brushes. In the United States, many cactus plants are grown in boxes in cultivation, and again these are producing seeds in quantity as well as in outdoor beds. Under glass, many Mesembs, including Lithops and Conophytum, whilst Agave, Dasylirion and the like will produce seeds outside along with Yucca. Mesemb, Aloe, and Ferocactus seeds come in from RSA occasionally with a few Cycas species which are very heavy and rather expensive to airlift. Australia and North Island of New Zealand often supply Agave and assorted seeds of Cactaceae as well as Fern spores which grow on well if sown when freshly gathered. From India attractive and strange tree seeds can be obtained. South American Cactaceae seeds come in from Chile, Argentina and Peru. But in general, many seeds offered in lists are produced in cultivation.

Some species of desert plants are almost impossible to grow in cultivation due to requiring specialist soil, extra heat, or, like Ariocarpus, take ten years to make a small plant. The Pediocactus and Sclerocactus groups are all nigh impossible in cultivation, and to possess a plant it may well have to be grafted on to hardy stock. Being in the seed business is rather like entering a hopeless struggle. Everyone wants the seeds that are difficult or impossible to obtain or grow, and no one seems to want seeds of general desert plants which are plentiful, quicker and easier to acquire.

Upon arrival, all seeds have to be examined and hand sorted, occasionally washed out of capsules such as Lithops or Dinteranthus. Occasionally seeds of Crassulaceae arrive in very crushed capsules and are almost impossible to clean, and of short viability. Sometimes dealers send a half lot of immature seeds, which have to be hand sorted also. But the biggest problem with seeds is their viability. Some, like Mesembs have 10 years, most Cactaceae two years, and Asclepiadaceae, just a few weeks. Lots of dealers advertise freshly collected seeds, and I am afraid that the term freshly is used rather too loosely.


This is rather more complicated and difficult than importing. All the main English speaking countries have strict rules except Canada, which is OK so long as you do not include any seeds of pines. So, let us start with the USA. Until a few years ago it was the ‘Land of the Free’, but nowadays seeds require to be accompanied by a Phytosanitary Certificate or a Permit with conditions, to be obtained by the buyer. Seeds of Lophophora williamsii and its congeners are completely banned as the plant, though native to Texas is regarded as a narcotic. Australia has a problem with invasive and noxious species. They have a list of species that are allowed into the country, but every pack of seeds is detained and examined and all packets must bear the full botanical name of the seeds inside. Lophophora williamsii is also banned here and in New Zealand.  Unfortunately, new colour forms of some Lithops species do not appear on the list and are confiscated and destroyed. New Zealand has a similar system, but here the packets are detained and opened. Lots of small native alpines are threatened and smothered by invasive species brought in, such as heather, by Scottish settlers many years ago, and now rampant and thriving.

Many West Indian countries require Phytosanitary Certificates which usually cost £100 plus each, and each little packet is opened and seeds, sometimes resembling dust are examined. Often seed packets are not resealed properly, and occasionally seeds escape. Israel requires in addition a chemical treatment, now impossible to do yourself any more under the health and Safety Regulations. It is unfortunate that Customs authorities treat five seeds in a packet as they do a ship load of grain. Occasionally these people make their own rules like the Indian Customs man who wanted to do a germination check. But fortunately there are ways and means and occasionally, a little common sense.

But usually the better and more amenable countries are Canada, India, Russia and its Republics, Thailand, and South Africa which has problems with invasive species also. With these kind of difficulties, many suppliers are reluctant to send seeds to countries outside the EEC.


Bank charges on foreign currency cheques are usually around £15 plus each, and occasionally cheques and payment drafts are charged for at both ends. Commission is also charged on the purchase of currency notes, which can easily disappear in the post to South Africa and South America. Often a claim for loss will not be settled for at least six months, as foreign post offices do not usually reply to Royal Mail enquiries. So, an exchange or swap is sometimes an easier way out of a difficult situation. I also found that Air flight charges on large Araucaria  seeds from Australia and Cycad seeds from Africa were prohibitive. There are other problems to face such as the increasing cost each year of 2 ¼“ glassine seed packets. These are usually only available through a local wholesaler, who adds on his share of the cost. The printing of seed lists in quantity with coloured covers was becoming very expensive and with envelopes, stickers and stamps ran to around a cost of 75p inland and twice that overseas a few years ago.  There are also a lot of list-collectors about, as only half the lists sent out are purchased from. Often orders would come in from lists up to 10 years old. Later on we had our list copied by a computer cum printing machine where sheets of A4 went in at one end, and A5 booklet seed lists came out the other end at fractional prices. We also found that it was too expensive to airmail plant labels and so-called ‘permanent’ pens to overseas countries, items not being very good value for money.

Summarizing, selling seeds outside the EEC is fraught with difficulties of one kind or another. Nowadays, with a very shrunken hobby, members are not growing from seeds as they used to, and consequently a much reduced number of species are now available.



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