Cactus: Houseplants of the Month for August

Shapes that speak to the imagination, rare exotic flowers and virtually maintenance-free: a cactus brings mould-breaking greenery into your home.


Living heirloom

Whether you love funky shapes, bright colours or something that looks like souvenir from Jurassic Park, the cactus offers it all. There’s no plant that has the same power to surprise: an impassive grey globe can suddenly produce bright orange or brilliant pink flowers. They come in bizarre shapes, but also with patterns that are echoed in mathematics. Or take a balancing artist like the prickly pear, also known as Opuntia, which appears to randomly stack its discs on top of one another. Flowers appear on the edge of the discs, and it often also produces edible fruits after flowering. Another remarkable fact about the cactus is that it can live a very long time: in many families it can become an heirloom that can link three or four generations together without ever losing its individuality.


5 reasons for saying ‘yes’ to Cactus

  • Most Maintenance-Friendly Houseplant Ever.
  • A peaceful companion that can suddenly surprise you with buds and colours.
  • Intriguing inhabitant of open terrariums.
  • Combines perfectly with trendy folklore elements.
  • Fits well with the interiors style in which native and exotic plants are mixed together.


Green archaeology

Cactuses grow in Africa and Central and South America, both in the cold mountains and in the tropical Caribbean. They’re real survivors that have been around since prehistory. Excavations in Mexico have shown that people grew prickly pears for the fruit in the past.


Fun fact Although cactuses are often associated with the desert, there are actually only a couple that can cope with extreme drought. Most grow in regions with 5 to 50 centimetres of rainfall a year.


National symbol

Cactuses have been a valued source of food, drink, medicines, tools and building materials in Central America for centuries. In Mexico cactuses are so common that the plant has even made it onto the national coat of arms, together with a snake and an eagle. Together they depict the Tenochtitlan legend in which the Aztecs were given that their land.


Oh, oh Opuntia!

Of all the cactuses, the prickly pear is perhaps the most eye-catching because it grows in flat discs. The first shoots look like tiny ears or a comb, but as the plant gets bigger you often get a more jagged silhouette. The whole look changes when the plant blooms: the flowers are bright yellow, dark red, pink and orange.


Caring for Cactus

  • Cactuses like a light and warm spot, and can cope very well with full sun.
  • But they do need enough light to keep them happy. If a cactus’ position is too dark it will seek out more light. In order to save energy and still grow towards the light as quickly as possible, it can become thin, stretched, flaccid and bit yellow.
  • If there’s enough light the plant grows slowly: no news is good news in that case.
  • Water very moderately; better too little than too much water. The soil can be left to dry out. Watering once a month is better than little bit every week.
  • Add some cactus food in the summer months.
  • You can leave your cactus alone in winter. You should then give it less or even no water. In order to survive the cactus will then start producing flowers (seeds).
  • Been pricked with a spike? You can remove a large one with tweezers. Small spikes are removed by sticking duct tape on them and then pulling it off, or by rolling an old pair of tights into a ball and rubbing it rapidly over the spot. The final fine spikes can be rubbed out with olive oil.


Style it nonchalantly

Wicker baskets, pots with a face or with folklore motifs, terracotta on feet – a calm cactus can cope with some cheerful madness. The trend for dressed pots fits well with this plant, as do references to other countries and cultures. Style it without pigeonholing to make it interesting: the cactus is a great purchase to lift you out of your comfort zone.

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Published on: 21 July 2020