Will you help me solve a mystery? I'm wondering why someone would hide valuable, collectible cacti (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii variegata) in a pastry box and ship them to me from overseas.
Eight months ago
In mid-December a package from Thailand arrived with no explanation. Inside was a box of commercial pastries similar to Hostess cupcakes. I assumed it resulted from a translation error on an overseas order. Cleaning up after the holidays, I was about to throw it away when I noticed it had been resealed.
I opened the box and pulled out something round, firm and wrapped in paper towels. (I figured Thai food packaging standards must be pretty lenient.) OMG. There were three spherical cacti with desiccated roots...along with several prepackaged pastries. The largest cactus was the size of a tennis ball.
I recalled that on Instagram Thai nurseries post photos of gorgeous gymnocalyciums with rainbow-sherbet hues. These were probably similar, but weeks of darkness had muted their colors. At least they were alive (they felt firm) and hopefully would grow new roots. I potted them---basically, set them atop moist cactus mix---placed them in bright shade, and gradually introduced them to greater sun to bring out any colors.
I searched online for gymno growers in the city they came from. I found several but no leads. Perhaps---as indicated by the return address---they had come from an individual? I didn't eat the pastries (I wasn't curious, not to mention the carbs), but I did air-mail a thank-you. No reply.
So, what's your theory?
I'd love to know your thoughts on this. But rather than emailing me, kindly leave a comment below so others can read it and we can discuss. And should my benefactor see this: S̄wạs̄dī thī̀rạk (hello, dear one).
Gymnocalycium: What you need to know
Gymnos that lack chlorophyll are sought-after because they show colors otherwise concealed. But less chlorophyll means less ability to photosynthesize (use the sun's rays to produce energy for growth). To keep all-red, yellow, pink or orange specimens alive, commercial growers graft them onto green Hylocereus (dragon fruit) cactus, resulting in "hotheads" or "moon cactus" commonly sold in nurseries.
Although popular with newbies, such grafted cacti are tricky to grow. The rootstock needs sunlight, but the graft (scion) scorches easily. Also the rootstock grows faster than the graft, and eventually it'll split apart...so the scion, to survive, requires re-grafting. [If you'd like a post on how to graft cactus, let me know in a comment below.]
No wonder variegated "mutant" gymnos that don't need grafting are surging in popularity. Like those I received from Thailand, they do fine on their own roots. Plants blend green with brown, purple, red, pink, orange, yellow and/or cream. Each specimen is unique.
Gymnocalycium at a glance
- Spherical and spined
- Symmetrical bumps and ribs
- 70+ species from South America
- Attain 1/2-in. to 8-in. in diameter
- Flowers are warm colors and pastels
- Needs sun to grow and bloom
- If no chlorophyll, have to be grafted to survive
- With chlorophyll, can grow on their own roots
- Less green means greater sunburn risk
- More green means a more vigorous plant
- Needs coarse, fast-draining soil
- Soil should go dry between waterings
- Don't water when dormant (winter)
- Prone to mealybugs and root rot
- Keep above 50 degrees F
- Propagate from seeds or offsets
How they're doing
By mid-July the mostly red one---the smallest---had only a few threadlike roots. No change or bloom. The purplish one grew a few roots, flowered, and set numerous buds. The third turned shades of yellow, red and orange mixed with green, established roots, sent forth pale pink flowers, and produced several small offsets (moons).
Mountain Crest Gardens for grafted Gymnocalycium mihanovichii cuttings
Leaf & Clay for purple moon cactus
Succulents Box "Britton & Rose Cactus" (a pinkish-green gymno growing on its own roots)
Do you happen to know...
- A good source of non-grafted, colorful, variegated gymnos for the US market?
- How long it takes a seed-grown, variegated gymno to show its colors and attain several inches in diameter?
- How to go about obtaining mature specimens from overseas growers?
Please share your comments, ideas and answers below. Thanks!
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