About A Very Gray Cactus and a Flowering Succulent

Sempervivum ciliosum

This picture was taken in one of several magnificent plant houses at Kew Gardens that shelter tender or unusual plants. The starry green Sempervivum ciliosum flowers make a lovely contrast with the pink tubular and daisy-shaped flowers scattered across the background. 

Not too long ago I would have dismissed succulents and cacti as uninteresting, so I was not particularly pleased to inherit a small collection of four of them. They were raffle prizes that did not have the documents to fly home with their lucky recipient, who gave them a sorrowful, lingering look before departing.

As often happens, by tending them (so far as they need tending, which isn’t much), I’ve grown attached to them. Some of them at least – one may well be dead. I’ve no idea how you would know if that particular plant was dead rather than alive. It’s a gray, spiny, dry-looking cactus that does not grow in any perceptible way.

It is deeply unresponsive to external stimuli. I dropped it into the sink once while watering it and a bit of the gravel mulch fell off. It shouldn’t have been enough to kill it, but that’s when the doubts started to creep in.

Looking on the bright side, it has not rotted or fallen over and does not shrink. I watered it today, looked at it suspiciously, and put it back on its sunny windowsill, wondering idly what the world record is for tending a dead plant… probably longer than a year or two.

What I really need to reassure me is some sign of life. For a green bit to appear, perhaps, or a flower or two like the ones above. But I’m not holding my breath.

20 Replies to “About A Very Gray Cactus and a Flowering Succulent”

    1. Tell me about it! I’ve had a cactus spine in my hand for months, but my body must have finally managed to assimilate or reject it. Mind you, there’s not much that will beat roses when it comes to scratchiness.

  1. Cacti can be infuriatingly unresponsive. I put one “in the shed” once, believing it must be dead (my track-record with plant care made that seem very likely), only to discover after about two years that it had sprouted a new bit and then started flowering. I think because desert conditions are so extreme, the plants can survive dormant for a long time. Or perhaps mine was just thumbing its nose at me.

  2. I know exactly how you feel. I can’t get them to bloom. The only time that my cactus bloom is when I purchased them while they still flowering.

    1. I’ve started to get more of an understanding for them after seeing them in the US – I truly marvelled at the collection they had at The Huntington Library earlier this year. It was a cactus and succulent forest. We can’t provide those conditions very easily in North West England.

  3. We spend part of the winter in Arizona – I’ve starting growing cactus in my yard. If anything, I have to make sure I don’t over water them!

    1. It may be that there are a more dead ones out there than we think, still being ‘grown’. I need to be able to see a few obviously dead ones so I have something to guide me.

  4. I like the small flowering type of cacti, but they do have a tendency to grow! We had one on the windowsill that just got taller and taller, and nothing attractive about it- well, I’m sure it’s mother would have loved it. 🙂

    1. One of my passed-along ones flowered recently – the tiniest flowers you could imagine, held in clusters on arching stalks. It did flower quite a long time – I always thought cactus flowers were fairly fleeting.

  5. Nothing about these comments makes me want to run right out and buy a succulent. I thoroughly enjoyed your comment about the record for caring for a dead plant — you might have heard me react to that. But gardeners cannot always be explained so I doubt you’ll be giving up any time soon.

    1. It’s hard to deliberately kill a plant, even if you’re not that keen on it. That’s the worst bit about growing plants from seed – you usually have too many seedlings to grow on, sometimes hundreds too many.

  6. Lov ur blog, i lov flowers i plant them myself, I have a small garden, I jst follow u on Twitter too
    Peach6996 my name on Twitter

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