Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rik Rak cactus

 I have decided to do plant profiles.  I like them.  I like reading other peoples plant profiles.  I also like having info readily available, and I like doing the research, although I don't like having to re-do the research when I forget something and don't have it saved anywhere.  Besides, it seems to come naturally to me, because I grew up with my mother... She liked plants, but she thought that plant tags were ugly and ruined the looks of the plant, so she would throw them away.  Then there was always some confusion a few months later about what the poor plant was... so at a young age, I learned to write stuff down in a little notebook. 
     However, as I got older, I've developed a total inability to keep track of notebooks, random pieces of paper, etc.  A PC or smart phone however, seems a bit harder to misplace.  Usually.  Yesterdays post on the Bad Hair Day cactus was the beginning of this I suppose. 
     Basically, I'm  writing these to keep as a reference for myself, but I do hope that you, Dear Reader, might find something useful in here too. 
     All that said... todays plant is (drum roll please...) Rik Rak Cactus.  Some of my research also says it's called Moon cactus or Queen of the Night.  I've heard a couple of dozen plants go by those names... but not this one.  Oh well... the actually botanical latin name is Epiphyllum anguliger.  They are native to the rain forests of Mexico, and are epiphytes.  Epiphytes are the princesses of the plant world... growing in an elevated status in the trees, never deigning to touch the ground like those (sniff sniff) COMMON plants.   
Despite this princess attitude... the Rik Rak is a dead common houseplant, and not particularly demanding.  Like most, if not all, of the Epiphyllums, they are adapted to living in the nooks and crannies of trees in the rain forest.  These nooks collects dead leaves, moss, bird droppings and such, giving seeds or broken leaves something to root in.  While this growing medium can be very rich, there usually isn't much of it, so the plants depend on the daily rain and extremely high humidity to provide moisture.  As the plant grows, it continues to gather debris in its roots.  
I acquired this specimen last June at Lowe's hardware store, on the clearance table for $4.50, and it has about doubled in size since then... or it would have if I'd stop taking cuttings off it... more about that later.
A close examination of the plant,  which I like to call 'forensic gardening,' exposes the plant for what it is.  Not so much a single plant as a collection of about 20 cuttings.  
Now, there's a definite reason for this. 
In a nutshell, to turn a single cutting into a plant that's big enough for the nursery to sell would take a year or more.  That's a huge investment of time and resources, space, fertilizers, care, wages, electricity for artificial lights and heating... etc, etc, etc.  This would make the plants expensive to produce, and expensive to sell.  By putting several cuttings in a container, when each cutting produces 2 to 3 new leaves, the pot is full and fluffy, and you can sell it within 1 to 3 months(depending on the species and type of plant)  It's much more cost effective. 
The problem for the home gardener is this... sure it's a great looking pot now, but each and everyone of those cuttings has the potential to become a full grown plant that's about 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide.  And it's not going to do that while crammed in there with its 20 cousins, there's just not enough room, nutrition or, well, anything...
Fortunately, while these are quick growing for a cactus, they're not that quick growing.  Sometime next spring I'll split this into separate pots.  Either four hanging pots or small individual 4 inch pots which I'll sell at the flea. 
Until then... the care of this plant is pretty straight forward.  It has to have bright light.  By that I mean extremely bright shade to more light that you'd think it could handle.  One of the reasons that the plant adapted to the tree tops is that the floor of the rainforest doesn't get that much light, and high in the trees they're often exposed to full sun... however, I've found that hanging on the edge of the front porch suits it just fine.  It gets the slanting light in the morning and afternoon directly, while getting shade from the hot noon day sun. 
While some growers try to duplicate their native conditions with quick draining soils, and put them in greenhouses with 80% humidity and mist them daily, most of us just don't have that option. 
Next spring, when I divide these cuttings, they will need rich well draining soil.  Here in Texas, we don't have the humidity it would like here, so I try to use soil that holds on to some more moisture for it.  A plastic hanging basket works fine.  While the plants can get big, their root systems aren't extensive.  The roots are however tough and strong, after all the plant is adapted to hanging on to a tree for dear life.  Remember when I said 'princess?'  Think 'really really determined princess.'
In the past, I've found that a rich potting soil like Miracle Grow or Scotts puts out, mixed with common wood chip mulch will drain quick enough but still retain enough moisture to make the plant happy.  Some growers recommend and orchid mix, which is too expensive for my taste... but if you're willing, go for it.  If you want to make your own... compost, peat moss and un dyed wood chips in equal amounts sounds about right.  You can add perlite or vermiculite if you wish, but the wood chips loosen it up enough to allow drainage.
Generally any good plant food works.  I suppose, if I was going for absolute show stopping plants I would invest in orchid fertilizers to go with the orchid mix, but there are too many perfectly acceptable and affordable fertilizers out there.  Since I'm in Texas where in the heat of summer it reaches 100+ degrees here, and doesn't rain for a month at a time, I have to water once a day minimum, sometimes every morning and every evening, (hence that up there about soil that retains some water) fertilizer residues don't build up in the soil, and I feed these and the other jungle cacti every Saturday.  About half recommended strength on the label.  They do just fine.
It's almost impossible to over-water these cactus.  As long as the potting mix drains well, they can take about all the water you can give them... just don't let them sit in water and you'll be fine.
The plants zig zag leaves (actually stems, but everyone calls them leaves) give it the common name of rik rak cactus.  The leaves do have, in the valley of the zag, some small spines.  They're not serious spines, enough to remind you that you're dealing with a cactus. 
They're not that troublesome, certainly not as annoying as the small hair like glochids you have to deal with on a prickly pear.  If they don't brush off, try pressing a piece of duct tape on the skin and pulling it off. 
The stems are handsome enough without flowers, and since this pot is a collection of cuttings less than a year old, expecting blooms would be a bit much, although this is about the time of year you would expect it to start setting buds, when the summer heat has started to give way to the autumn rains.  The blooms are white, with the outer petals or sepals a red or pink.  The blooms are nocturnal, opening well after sunset, so you may have to stay up late to see them.
The plant is easy to propagate.  Take a stem section and put it in a pot of soil.  You can use rooting hormone if you want, but it usually isn't necessary.  The plant will be rooted and putting out new stems in about a month, much like the cuttings in the pic below.  If the stem is a large one, cut it into sections that are 3 to 6 inches long, and it becomes several cuttings, like the cuttings that were filling my pot above, and the cuttings in the little coffee cups below.
The plants are so easy from cuttings that they're usually not grown from seed, but if your plant produces flowers and fruit, it's not that difficult and you may want to try.  Let the fruit get extremely ripe on the plant.  Split the fruit open, spread the seeds over the top of a pot filled with damp, sanitized peat moss and cover with plastic wrap.  Or put the pot in a big ziplock bag.  You should have seedlings within 2 weeks if not sooner.  You can dry seeds to save for later if you wish.  These plants are rain forest dwellers... so while some seeds like or require a drying out period to do well, drying out isn't really part of their life cycle.   

1 comment:

  1. I'm loving these plant profiles, Claude! Well done, super informative. I hope you keep them up!