The whole succulent world has a monstrous side that the uninitiated rarely see. But for the succulent plant junkie, the cactus is the most coveted plants on Earth.
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By Maureen Gilmer, DIY Network
Cactus lovers dig freaks and geeks. The whole succulent world has a monstrous side that the uninitiated rarely see. But for the succulent plant junkie, these mutants are the most coveted plants on Earth.
Once in awhile a cactus will achieve an altered state. Its growth changes and the plant becomes a monster. While we understand what happens, we just don't know why.
Plants such as a pine tree grow with an apical meristem, the dominant bud at the very top that contributes to its pyramidal form. Many cacti and succulents grow the same way. This gives them their symmetrical shapes. Occasionally something happens to that meristem and it mutates. One growth point turns into many, forcing the top of the plant to fans out into a series of mini-points. The result is that the top of a pointed cactus produces a crest that can look very much like a rooster comb.
In other cases, the mutation may occur throughout the plant, not just at the top. Growth points originate all over the stem or branches causing very irregular growth. The result is a monstrosity, and while the plant remains the same species, it may bear very little resemblance to its kin.
Oddly enough an occasional crest, or monstrose, branch will appear on a normal plant. Sometimes a monstrose plant will revert to normal growth. It's a genetic crap-shoot and Mother Nature holds the dice.
Monstrose cacti and succulents are anomalies that intrigue us because they are true freaks. No one knows how to force this kind of growth, but if you take a cutting from a monstrose cactus it will retain these qualities on roots of its own. Crests are rare. Avid collectors will pay big money for crested specimens. Rather than create one new plant from a crest, growers cut the crest like a pie and graft pieces to a normal plant to make many new crested specimens.
A crested or monstrose succulent grows just like the species, with some caveats: Most of these unique plants are less rugged than their normal counterparts. You can expect increased sensitivity to cold, drought, sunburn and pests. Plants will flower normally, but less abundantly. Their monstrose characteristics may be carried in some of its seed along with other types of genetic mutations such as variegation, but inheritance among these plants is highly variable.
It may be a good idea to keep your crests protected from hot afternoon sun even if it's a full-sun species. Some will grow just as fast as the species, while others are more sedate. With all those extra growing points, it's bound to require more energy. Keep a sharp eye out for mealy bug and scale which can afflict these oddballs more virulently than standard species.
Growers have learned that crests and monstrose plants sell. You will find mammilaria brain cactus grown in quantity in Southern California to sell for the same price as the standard species.
It's always a good idea to study the little potted cacti and succulent displays at nurseries and home improvement stores. It's possible you'll find an occasional freak or geek among the normals. Sometimes you'll find a whole flock of monsters.
Buying these plants for sale in many regions is tough. To go straight to the mutant cactus sellers, visit the Miles 2 Go Nursery Web site at www.miles2go.com. The nursery offers a whole section of crests and monstrose plants grafted onto normal rootstock. A wider range of articles and resources on the subject can be found at the Cactus and Succulent Plant Mall, www.cactus-mall.com.
We can walk on the moon but we can't figure out what makes a cactus crest. We can build a supercomputer, but we cannot force monstrous growth in plants. Perhaps it's this very mystery that lures us to these mutants, the undisputed freaks and geeks of the natural world.
(Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of "Weekend Gardening" on DIY-Do It Yourself Network. E-mail her at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.moplants.com or www.DIYNetwork.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)