April Showers Bring May Showers… And Cactus

Spring is still rearing it’s mighty head. While the first part of the month teased us all with record high temperatures in the high 80s, it has quickly reverted back to the cool and rainy weather we are used to. I was quick with the fish fertilizer though, and many of the plants here have really begun to grow in earnest. As you can see in the banner image I chose for this post, the Cordyline australis is sending up a flower spike.

With less than a week of warm sunny temperatures, the Fouquieria formosa (Ocotillo) has shot up over an inch of height and added lots of leaves! This ocotillo blooms when the leaves have dropped, so we’ll have to be content with those shiny new leaves for now. Once summer really hits though, the leaves will shrivel and die, leaving those awesome looking spines in their place. Maybe in a few years it’ll be big enough to bloom for the hummingbirds.

Die-hard gardeners in the Pacific Northwest can really whet their botanical appetite with the variety of plants we can grow. Some of us just can’t get enough of our cactus. You can probably tell that I enjoy growing them. It is common enough to see gardens around here with nice Opuntia or even Cylindropuntia. Occasionally you’ll see Echinocereus, and I have heard tale of a few rare Oreocereus. Those are all great cactus to try, and I plan on growing most of those.

However, my favorite cactus is Trichocereus terscheckii (Argentinian Saguaro). I germinated a potload of seeds in 2014 (wow, that’s a long time ago…) and have given away most of the little cactus. I had a few stolen from my front yard, unfortunately. FORTUNATELY I still have my last one. It was the largest seedling of the batch, with the biggest roots and most vigorous growth.

Of all the columnar cactus, this species is quite possibly the most cold tolerant. As an added bonus, it shrugs off wet winters like nobody’s business. To top it off, it gets incredibly large and does so relatively quickly. Mine doesn’t look like a giant yet, but consider that each year it grows faster. I hope to see over 12 inches of height added annually in the very near future. When you remember that this cactus has a massive girth as well, you really see how much biomass this cactus is adding.

A few years ago I bought a cutting of Lepismium houlletianum (Snowdrop Cactus). It has since become many different individuals, which have arisen from the original plant taking damage via sunburn, hail, rogue children and other menacing sources. It never bloomed for me until last winter. A small cutting popped out a couple of little white flowers in December, and it has once again started making flower buds this week. After noticing that, I did a quick once over of all the other L houlletianum pots, and sure enough they were all doing it. In another week or two, they’ll all be covered in tiny white flowers that fade to yellow and then wither. They’re all outside this time, so hopefully pollination will occur. Hanging cactus produce some really great tasting fruit, though this species has awfully small fruit. It’ll be like a huckleberry, I think.

This is the perfect time of year for Alcantarea imperialis (Imperial Bromeliad). The weather is cool and humid, with plenty of refreshing rain to wash out the leaf axils. The dappled sunlight has brought out strong rusty tones on the undersides of the leaves, and something has been stirring in the roots!

Some of the biggest leaves in my garden this year will be from Tetrapanax papyrifer (Rice Paper Plant). Oddly enough, I haven’t seen many of these lately. I aim to make up for everyone else, though.

What Big Leaves post would be complete without monstrous fig leaves? I recently repotted three of my more unusual fig trees. Ficus is a genus that we all could get lost in. There are so many species, it’s hard to decide where to start. We all have to start somewhere though, and I started with big leaves. Ficus macrophylla (Moreton Bay Fig) is an Australian fig, with large, shiny, deep green leaves. I haven’t had it for long, but am already looking forward to it’s incredible growth form. Here’s to many broken pots in the future!

Ficus roxburghii (Elephant Ear Fig) is an unusual and vigorous fig from India. It is hardy to USDA zone 8, which puts it solidly in my realm. It does produce sweet tasting figs, but I am more interested in the leaves. With the phrase ‘elephant ear’ as part of the name, you’ve got to know the potential size of them.

The last “new-ish” fig tree is Ficus ‘Amstel King’. I have wanted to grow this tree after seeing it for sale in Cairns, Queensland way back in 2016. I knew I couldn’t take it back home with me on the plane, so I filed it away in my brain as something to wishfully hope for. Last year I happened to find a two inch Ficus cutting with two pitiful little leaves at an indoor garden center. The clerk running the desk had no idea what kind of plant it was, but when I asked if they had taken the cutting from one of the Ficus inside the store, the owner of the business stepped in and said she had taken the cutting from a friend’s tree and that there weren’t any others for sale. I was lucky to find the cutting, since she also said that she thought she had taken all of them home to keep. She didn’t remember the name though, so I bought the cutting for $2 and brought it home.

I put it under a growlight and started giving it bacillus root innoculent with every watering. After a week it started to show signs of growth, and by the end of the month it had grown tremendously and had even produced a couple of tiny figs. Eventually I repotted it with some nitrogen-rich organic potting medium, into a pint sized container. From there it exploded, needing repotting every few months. The new leaves unfurl in an incredible cinnamon/copper hue, and in time turn a light yellow, then lime green, and finally deep green. Right now it’s kind of in between leaf flushes, but I’ll get pictures of the brand new leaves in the future. You can be sure of that.

I’ll leave with just a photo.

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