FROM THE EDITOR. Vyacheslav Philippov is a member of the Moscow C&S club and owns one of the finest collections of crested cacti in Russia. He’s been growing cacti since 1990 and also edits a Russian C&S journal “CACTI AND NOT ONLY”.
CRISTATE AS A FORM OF LIFE ON THE EARTH
(Abridged version - specially for "Cultivar".
Full version has been published in #3 of "Cacti and not only" in 2004)
Vyacheslav Philippov (Moscow, Russia)
(all plants from the author's collection; photos by the author)
I think it would be only fair to point out a general tendency in formation of a cactus collection:
- at first there is initial accumulation of casual plants, rather chaotic and unsystematic;
- then, as a grower becomes aware of his interest and gains knowledge in the process of association with fellow cactophiles, his collection is often enriched by mature plants;
- after some unavoidable errors in caring for his plants and acquisition of special literature, the grower starts showing preference for particular genera and some favourite species – that is the point when the hobby turns into a new unhurried phase of qualitative and quantitative perfection of collection.
In this “spiny” rotation a special role is intended for crested plants. Even the most persevering admirers of Gymnocalyciums or people collecting only “white” Mammillarias often keep a crest or two in their collections. The unusual look of a crested plant sets it apart from traditional cacti forms and unwittingly suggests an idea that some growers’ preferences are frail, while others are just unshakable.
Photo 1. Turbinicarpus schwarzii opened 27 flowers at once
In general the attitude towards crested cacti is uncertain. There are people who collect exclusively crested plants, but for the most part growers have only a crest or two in their collections if any at all, and it’s perfectly clear why – not every crested plant is pleasing to the eye, and the main deciding factor for their appearance in collections is their stunningly ornamental look. Apart from their striking looks they can be easily propagated by cuttings - thus you may create a new inimitable plant forming it to your own taste. It’s a great pity that their flowering is irregular as compared to traditional cacti forms but then a blooming crest is a really captivating sight worthy of all the efforts put into its formation (Photo 1).
The name ‘cristate’ is derived from the Latin word ‘crista’, meaning ‘crest’ and explicitly describing this unusual form of growth. This form is characterized by peculiar development of the apical point of growth into the line. This phenomenon can’t be considered rare and is encountered not only among succulents but also in herbaceous plants, shrubs and even trees. In spite of that, there is no special literature on the subject and this may only mean that there is no purposeful in-depth study of the fasciations done by appropriate institutions.
Accordingly any cacti grower interested in the subject has to be content only with the popular sketches in mass-media plus an old book "The enigma of the origin of monstrosity and cristation in succulent plants" written by J.J. Verbeek Wolthuys*. In this volume the author went beyond the simple description of cases of cristation and ideas on its origin. The author made his conclusions based on his own experiments. Up to now there is no description in the literature of a method to get a crested plant with a 100 percent repetition. Thus we may only rest upon different points of view based on events entailing fasciation in a plant. The following factors are mentioned thereupon:
- mechanical injury
- thermal injury
- chemical injury (burning as well as poisoning)
- disease resulting of injuries inflicted by parasitic insects
- derangements in tissue nourishment (also a drastic change in cultivation conditions)
- artificial propagation using in-vitro tissue culture.
Another curious point is the problem of fasciations inheritance in succulent plants as compared to cultivated plants, such as cauliflower. In other words, is there a sure method to get a cristate from seeds collected from a crested plant? For the time being I only may ascertain the invariance of results: there is a record of 50 percent of crested seedlings and there are cases when there were no crested seedlings at all.
Unfortunately the only “anomalous” result in my practice was a relatively small number of multi-headed seedlings, the seeds coming from crested plants, my own as well as purchased. I should mention that in my case the seeds were gathered from the plant pollinated by the pollen I gathered from a crested specimen of the same species, and vice-versa. Does it imply that both parents should be crested? There is a version you may come across in periodicals that in order to get crested seedlings you’ve got to have a crested flower, but such anomalous flowers never appeared in my collection of crested forms. Nevertheless, once in a while crested seedlings do appear in the batch of ordinary seedlings…
Speaking of flowers, I can’t but dwell upon a generally accepted and even reasoned opinion that crested plants rarely bloom. Indeed they are not very willing to produce flowers but one can’t exaggerate the facts! Do we expect a potted Backebergia, Espostoa or Cephalocereus grown on a windowsill to form a cephalium ever? In other words, everything depends on WHAT you are growing and WHERE. In some journals there may be found photos of flowering crested plants in habitat. Also the hobbyists with large greenhouses and enjoying the climate with long vegetation period may often boast of crested plants coming into flower. Pay a visit for example to the i-net site of Winfried Starke, a collector from Germany. When asked about flowering crests he told that he had about 20 percent of crested plants which flowered regularly. Here I want to attract your attention to the fact that many crested plants in his collection are of cereoid type, and even normal forms of these cacti are beginning to flower in venerable age having reached considerable size. So these percents are to be regarded with comprehension.
When speaking of crested flowers we shouldn’t assume that they and the stems are the only parts of a plant that may be crested. Once in while you may come across crested fruits, inflorescences and even roots! However we are interested and as a consequence collect only stems. So let’s dwell upon the stems.
Let’s begin with the conditions causing formation of cistates. Depending on the species and genus of a crested plant, we may classify cristates as hard and soft. These words are deliberately not written in inverted commas, there are really hard crests that almost squeak under the knife-edge. When grafted, these crests do not curve elegantly on the stock. Getting large they tend to bend, almost breaking in the middle, and sometimes they squeeze the stock causing ill after-effects for the crest itself. Such cristates are to be found among Echinopsis, Lobivia, large species of Notocactus and Gymnocalycium, Melo- and Discocactus, Euphorbia of the obesa type and some cereoid cacti. The list is rather long and includes strictly speaking not the genera, but species, as among the same genus there may be hard as well as soft crests.
Soft crests are able independently to form an S-shaped “caterpillar”, later they fold around the stock forming a kind of “ears” (Photo 2). These are some Mammillaria species, Rebutias, Echinocerei, some Turbinicarpi and others. Roughly speaking, a soft crest is usually formed by a small cactus with soft tissues; hard crests are formed accordingly by large-growing species and cacti with hard tissues (I hope it’s clear that Aztekium ritteri for example would never be soft though it is quite small!) An important amendment is the age of the plant beginning to crest. Correspondingly the care for crests of various types is different.
So, the age of the plant when it starts fasciating is important among other things. If the seedling is small there is a very big chance to get a “brain” crest (Photo 3). In spite of information received from other authors I insist that you can always grow a full-fledged crest from it (and the juvenile spines shall turn into typical for the species at that). It’s another matter that you’ve got to spend much time and efforts to do this. And certainly you just need to have some luck! For example a small fragment of the crested Turbinicarpus from Photo 3 when grafted onto a temporary stock started developing into a fat and fine crest. Subsequent attempts to re-graft it onto a permanent stock failed and I made no more attempts to graft it.
When older seedlings aged from 18 to 24 months are starting to fasciate the growth of the crest is especially strong, so the collector has some extra duties to cut off “ears”, that is to form the crown. Otherwise the crested plant begins to bloat in the center (Photo 4) not getting any prettier. The grafting of such a crest onto a weak stock won’t save the situation: the crest will start wearing the stock out until the owner finds a fresh vigorous stock such as Myrtillocactus, Eriocereus jusbertii or Trichocereus.
When a mature plant starts fasciating the crest is growing much more slowly. Grafting the plant onto a strong stock doesn’t improve matters much: getting more nourishment the crest begins swelling from the center. (By the way such a grafting may be risky to a certain extent, as the question arises, why did the plant start forming a crest? Perhaps there is a traumatic cyst inside the plant’s stem, and by grafting it we may kill the unique plant.) So to help a slowly growing crested plant it is advisable to direct its growth and cut off non-crested parts of the stem (Photo 5, 6). This operation may be quite risky in case of mature and hardly growing plant, ‘cause there’s always a possibility that the crest will never grow enough to cover bald spots on the sides.
This method is also true when only a part of plant (one of its heads) is cresting. The crest in such cases is often unstable and has a tendency to revert to normal form (Photo 7). So to keep a cactus in delicate balance between its owner’s wishes and the Nature’s call it is advisable to graft it onto a weak stock and regularly cut off unnecessary growth. By the way some observations done by my colleagues show that the same type of behaviour is exhibited by crested plants propagated by tissue culture.
So much for the theory. Now let’s switch to the growth forms of the crested plants. All in all there are only four growth types with additional species specific (no pun intended!) variations:
- linear regular crest
- “caterpillar” crest
- brain-like crest (actually it is a special case of “caterpillar” crest, but I think it expedient to segregate this type into a separate group)
- leaf-like crest.
(To be continued in the next issue of “Cultivar”)
Translated from Russian by
Larisa Zaitseva (Chelyabinsk, Russia
* Verbeek Wolthuys, J.J.: Het raadsel van het ontstaan van monstruositeiten en cristaties bij de succulenten. The enigma of the origin of monstrosity and cristation in succulent plants. Haarlem, Joh. Enschede, [ca. 1938], pp. 73, 14 text-illustrations.