Contents Volume 25. No 1

Spring 2014

Editorial and more Trevor Wray
Agave victoriae-reginae - why we should all grow one Tina Wardhaugh
Ernest Hepworth F.R.H.S. Doug Rowland

Haemanthus coccineus

Roland Tebbenham
A Visit to the Lüderitz Peninsula Trevor Wray

Cover picture: 

Cover picture: OK; it’s not a cactus and it’s not in flower but I like Tina’s Agave image. It is Agave victoriae-reginae ‘White', a variegated form of this popular species. Tina writes more for us on page 6.

That's the printed edition, best that you click here!



EDITORIAL and more.....


Welcome to the Spring edition of your magazine.


I have heard some of the wise men recommend sowing mesemb seeds on Christmas Day; I was away at Christmas so it was not to be. Nothing should interrupt the eating and drinking. On my return I started the task. In that kind of nothing time between Christmas and New Year. Sowing a few dozen kinds of Lithops gave me a chance to notice that there is quite a difference in seed sizes. Lithops lesliei were big enough to see easily and L. amicorum were pretty small. This reflects a little the size of the mature plants but the Cole’s have a lot more experience and comment that there is little correlation between seed size and the adults. I sowed several packets where I could see the tiny seeds clustered at the bottom of the clear envelopes. How many seeds in the packets? Ten to twenty was my guess. Then I went on to the brown paper ones. With these it looked as if it might be impossible to actually find the seeds but I had forgotten that the Mesemb Study Group seeds were folded into little tissue ‘pockets’. You certainly need a steady hand. And don’t of course sneeze!

The plants were in a cheap electric propagator in a cold greenhouse and to my amazement most had shown some signs of germination within two weeks. I say ‘to my amazement’ but I am always amazed when any seeds sown by me pop up. Bolstered by my success I sowed a further few dozen, all mesembs but just a few Lithops. There were loads of seeds, (which must be the smallest surely?), in the Dinteranthus packets and loads of them germinated. Again the Lithops did well but the others were a bit sporadic. I should point out that many of these packets had been sitting around here for years. So I conclude that Lithops seeds remain viable for years.

They say that seed should be sown evenly, (that is of course all sorts of seeds, not just succulents). So exactly how steady was my hand with these small seeds? I could see the evidence; some were perfect, little seedlings popped up uniformly across the pot, and some were terrible. Watering the second trayfull I had a little accident and the surface was inundated with a tsunami. Dozens of Dinteranthus were in half the pot and I wouldn’t be surprised if some had actually jumped out of the pots. I will have to look carefully at the developing seedlings.

I look forward to watching my little seedlings develop.

An Aeonium imposter

When I was in Lanzarote last Easter I was allowed time off from ‘grandparenting’ to look for succulents. Not just the wild species in habitat but the cultivated ones in gardens and urban landscaping. There are many very nice plants in the middle of roundabouts!

I was interested to see in a garden what I thought was an attractive variegated form of an Aeonium I had not seen before. I scrounged some cuttings and thought I would have no problem rooting them on my return.

As it happened we returned home via Wisley Gardens, (well you couldn’t drive past, could you?). There in the Conservatory I saw the same plant. Not an Aeonium as I thought but the label read Dracaena reflexa ‘Song of India’. Now that my interesting Aeonium was a Dracaena it was obviously going to be more difficult to root so I popped the potted cuttings in a clear plastic bag. I was right, only two of the three cuttings rooted; Aeoniums always have 100% success.

I looked up Dracaena in the Monocots volume of the IHSP. They are in their own family with Sansevieria and Dracaena reflexa was not listed so not a succulent species. I must remember to keep it watered. An attractive plant for a garden in Lanzarote.

The deepest dark of winter

I was reading a newspaper article about an Essex nursery using LED lights to ripen strawberries at the end of the season. This got me applying a bit of lateral thinking, well it was the New Year.

At this time of the year (January) in NN country it gets light at about 8am and dark at 4pm and the days are even shorter in the north of Scotland. I have tabulated the midwinter day length results from some cactus and succulent habitats for comparison. (See below)  

Mid-winter day lengths





Northampton, England



7hrs 43mins

Grand Junction, Colorado



9hrs 31mins

Mexico City, Mexico




Cape Town, South Africa



9hrs 54mins

Buenos Aires, Argentina



9hrs 50mins

I was wondering how much effect the day length had on growing our sort of plants. Obviously although our winters have shorter days than what we think of as typical cactus and succulent country, our day length is longer in summer.

I think the main disadvantage of our acceleration into short days lies with Mesembs and members of the Crassula family. I grow quite a few of these. Many of these make most of their growth and flower as it gets cooler, (and days get shorter). By the time some of my Lithops flower there is too little sun for the flowers to open. Would a bank of LED lights turned on for an hour or two in the evening help? Would I ever see Lithops optica rubra in full bloom?

If you hear reports of a deranged NN grower wandering around his greenhouse with a torch every dark evening you will know you read it here!

The good news is, that as I write this on January 3rd, I see the days are already nine minutes longer than the shortest day. Roll on summer.  

The Winter of 2013 / 2014

What Winter we all say? I don’t know about you but this winter has been almost unbelievably mild. There have been just a few slight frosts but the thermometers record that none penetrated the greenhouses, even the unheated one. I am not sure that this is good news for the plants, mild weather means cloud so less sunshine. I do know that there has been a massive saving in heating costs, (and in the house as well.) Might be able to afford a decent holiday somewhere hot!

Of course there was a downside to the mildness. Rain. The wettest weather since records began and flooding in many parts of the country. Nothing adverse here but  many garden plants which normally cause no problems seem to have drowned. Oh well…

So is this where we get ‘nipple cactus’ ?

In the schedule for a London flower show I noticed...

13 Flower definitions

For the purposes of this show the following definitions will apply:

A cactus is a succulent plant characterised by the presence of areolas: an areola being a small cushion of woolly-felt or hair from which spines arise.

There were a few other insights into succulents...

A houseplant is a plant which can be grown in a living room and which remains attractive throughout the year. Succulents qualify, but plants, which die down or lose their leaves, do not.

Succulents are plants adapted in stem and leaves to conditions of drought, usually with fleshy leaves and few breathing pores.

If you can’t see what is wrong with these best consult the committee, (for an even more confusing answer).

A bit of fluff on the side

I was putting up a new greenhouse for the FL the other day. Yes I know that’s four in the garden but it’s a small greenhouse and a big bit of garden.  The FL insists on one of her own. Apparently I am too untidy to share a greenhouse with. And she is going to padlock the door. (She says.)

I have now erected seven aluminium greenhouses in my lifetime and it never gets any easier. Each make has its own quirks. The new one has double doors (very handy this) and these took as long as the rest of the assembly together. Naturally once you have put both doors together the wrong way round the nuts and bolts do not come apart easily or fit well after. The air was blue to put it mildly!

So the point of this little story…? Owning a greenhouse, even a small one, adds a whole dimension to growing plants. It’s a pity that no cactus or succulent will cross the threshold of this one.

And the bit of fluff? That’s the strips of furry stuff that go down the sides of the doors. To keep the draughts out you understand.

More on the Wiltshire Show

I reported on my visit to judge the Wiltshire Show last year. Looking back through the images I found this picture of Pediocactus knowltonii. When I first saw an amazing cluster of this species at the National Show held at Kidlington, (when the species was fairly new), I was amazed. The cognoscenti soon told me it was grafted. Dreams shattered.

However this image is a plant I had to judge. With more experience I now know that P. knowltonii is closely related to P. simpsonii, perhaps, (they say), it is a dwarf mutation or a juvenile form of this.  Certainly P. simpsonii is the easiest Pediocactus to grow and even I can cope with it. So the experts say P. knowltonii is similar but I have never tried it on its own roots. My grafted plant grows OK and flowers every year to remind me of a windy hill in New Mexico. It has remained solitary.

What about that cluster at Wiltshire? Well it was a great plant. And was it grafted? I suspect perhaps some years back yes. Maybe, possibly, err… Still a plant I would like to have grown myself. How did I judge it? Shame to say I didn’t record any other exhibits from the class and I can’t remember the result. But I like to think I gave it a ‘First’ card.

A fine plant of Pediocactus knowltonii

The dilemma when judging such plants arises when you see the graft junction. An unbelievable plant, vigorous, evidence of flowering, clustering, you have the vision, becomes more believable when you can see the Echinopsis that is providing the roots and the vigour. Still I am a great believer in the ‘condition’ of the plant and unless the plant is just too wonderful; I might just push the top dressing over the stock and give it a ‘first’ anyway.

Global Village

A few generations ago families tended to stay local. Now a local, English acquaintance of mine can look forward to the first Christmas for many years with her three children. They are domiciled in Canada, New Zealand and Gloucester. A global village.

Years ago we were regaled by a few explorers who had visited Continental nurseries. Now it seems many troop off every year to invest in the latest novelties, habitat or specimen plants. So too, the Belgian ELK, (a general market in plants from across Europe with talks in varied European languages), is a major factor in the UK cactus calendar.

There were really intrepid explorers who had been to the US, then to Mexico. Local Doug Rowland brought us stories and pictures of huge cacti, both natural and cultivated; also snakes to marvel at or scare. South Africa was visited by Tom Jenkins and we were amazed by the spectacular desert views and especially the colour and condition of the succulents he saw there and brought us in his pictures.

These days we can hop on a plane and be whisked to these habitats. (Though I am not sure our 30 hour flight to Argentina with two stops was exactly ‘whisked’.) Car rental is a doddle, book your accommodation on-line, at a budget level to suit, and cruise around the plants your friends have told you about. Maybe they have given you a GPS location so you can find the actual plant. Easy-peezy.

Or you can take a guided tour; many are arranged to some quite exotic places. All you need is money; but on the plus side you get a lot of species for your dosh.

The succulents of the world are now truly in a global village.

Enjoy the magazine!

Cactophilitically, Trev



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

Back issues of the NMK Branch magazine

Northants News Volume 24.2
Northants News Volume 24.1

Northants News Volume 23.3

Northants News Volume 23.2

Northants News Volume 23.1