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Cacti and more ...

Francesco and Stefania, Rome, Italy

FOREWORD: Do not expect me to go, on this matter to the same in depth analysis and description as I use to do with my cichlids. Not even a tenth of it is possible since I am not an expert on that matter. I enjoy keeping these plants and, in these “separate” pages of MCH I’d like to share some experience with you. If someone will find them interesting, usefull, amusing to a certain degree that’s much better, otherwise … simply skip back to cichlids!!! Need to be added THERE ARE succulent plants in Malawi, also along the lake side e.g. Euphorbia sp.

Cacti? Like them of leave them!! Cacti are either deeply loved or deeply hated! Needless to say I, personally, belong to the first group the cacti lovers (and someone may add: could it be different? Whenever we come to something “strange” Francesco is in sight!).

Why am I so fond of those odd, “leafless” plants that are most often bad stingers, fear the cold (most of them), the rain (almost all), are used to lay there for one year or so apparently motionless, to finally once per year open their flowers for a stretch of time which sometimes may be as short as a single night, and (since is better to be born lucky than rich) that “given” night you may not be even able to have a glance at them ? Well, I don’t know. Anyway, one night ended with me working (with cameras and light) at 04.00 am in the garden to take pics of the flower of a Trichocereus spachianus (take it easy! They blossom only once per year, and only for that “given” night …). Why, then, I like’em so much? Dunno why … But that’s it; I like them a lot (not as much as cichlids but … quite close).

I need to add that succulents plants (using a more “technical” name which include almost all the plants of the family) are a perfect addition to fish keeping (not in the tank, of course!!!): where fishes are highly demanding, simply think of a water change in BIG display tank, most succulents  are “shy” (to say so) and undemanding … They will reward you in exchange with flowers of unelievable beauty, thorns of different colours, size, form and, finally, shape of plants itself. If you’re lucky enough to arrange a small “rocky corner” in your garden you’ll find it to become mostly appreciated by your guests,

Most of the habits of succulent plants (here in Italy nicknamed “Piante Grasse” which literally means "Fat Plants"  - because of the shape of many of them) come from the extreme habitats they live in. You’ll find succulents plants in the deserts (Mexico, where I’d like to go mixing cactus and cichlids is – I’ve been told - a sort of heaven in this aspect), subtropical areas, and even on top of Andes (South America) where many of them spend months under the snow (beware NOT under the rain, since snow is a sort of blanket that doesn’t moisten the tissues at all). A succulent plant containing too much water in the wrong moment, is a plant convicted, almost certainly, to death when facing a really cold weather, which means temperatures close or under the freezing (0° C) point. The cold temperature (air, snow, wind or whatsoever) will freeze the “water” contained in the cells that will, eventually, break (frozen cells tend to increase their volume) and this will end in a rotten plant. You need to know, carefully, what kind of climate that “thorny fellows” likes. Many succulents are highly adaptable but, please, do not abuse that ability.

BEWARE: many succulents are enlisted in C.I.T.E.S. (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of wildlife flora and fauna) papers and keeping/selling/trading them is strictly regulated. Fees for offenders are usually extremely high. When dealing (buying/exchanging) these plants PLEASE be informed in advance and RESPECT all the rules. This is one of the ways to help this beautiful world we are living in to survive for future generations. Collectiion of specimens in the wild is – almost in all the places where they are originally found - strictly regulated. Some plants can be, legally, kept ONLY for studies, which means that even if you happen to be a professional trader/wholesaler/retailer/advanced hobbyist you DO have to refrain from keeping them. Since this story (restriction in keeping endangered living creatures) is almost unknown among cichlid’s enthusiasts I feel the need, here, to point your attention on this delicate matter. A good rule of thumb is to be conservative and when in doubt simply avoid buying them.

Part of my plants are kept in “full ground” (this means they are actually planted in the garden OUTSIDE the house, on a PERMANENT basis) while most (the main part) of them are kept in pots: moved outside at the beginning of spring and returned inside at the end of autumn/beginning of winter. A long, tiresome job but I like it, all the same, yes I DO!!!

Enough, for now! I’ll add a few picture to this first article on the matter (hoping this will make you curious and ask for more information). In the future I hope, if this article is appreciated, I will share with your information on the specific needs of some of the succulent plants like watering (demanding in terms of time/quantity of water supply) and kind of water (amount of nutriens needed to be given), pot size and its change (a sometime delicate issue), propagation (for most of them it is really easy while for others – I haven’t yet tried – is a sort of “nightmare”). If interested keep me informed !

Pics from the “Rocky Corner”


a Ferocactus peninsulae: at left the plant (in a clay pot), in the background my “Rocky Corner” at right a detail of the flower

And below, at last, a general view of my (actually Stefania’s and myself) “Rocky Corner” in a beautiful sunny morning …the “thorny place” has ,also, been chosen as a shelter by a countless number of lizards, hiding among the stones at the edges of the area.

All the plants hosted here – I mean planted in the soil - can stand the italian winter (with nights below the freezing point - even several nights in a row). What is displayed here are - among others-  plants of the genuses: Opuntia, Agavae, Aloe, Sedum, and many more. A future issue may be prepared in which I will describe in a step by step manner the way ( considering the size and weight of stones ) the “Rocky Corner” has been built and is growing up.

The “Rocky Corner”


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