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Issue 1 (2):


Growing and collecting cactuses in Japan

Compiled on the basis of the materials published in the magazine
of the American cactus society in 1968.
Translated into Russian by E.L.Shesterneva, Moscow, 1969

From the Oriental countries China was the first country where cactuses were brought in 1591. In 1688 the pants were brought to Japan by a Dutch ship who came to the port of Nagasaki and loaded the first specimen of Opuntia (class ficus-indica).

In 1710 the first book "Zoho Chihunzia" containing the first reproduction of Opuntia was published in Japan. In 1830 the Japanese got acquainted with cactuses of genus Cereus, Echinopsis. The oldest cactus in Japan is about 360. It is Opuntia ficus-indica growing in the green house Rubgeya in Shimozu.

Commercial sale of cactuses began in 1893. Flowers vendor Mazusava made sure that the thorny plants are very attractive to the Japanese who traditionally like flowers and organized import of cactuses from German companies Haage and Schmidt. One can trace several stages in appearing and developing of cactus-growing in Japan.

photo 1. Gymnocalycium mihanovichii v friedrichii cv "HIBOTAN NISHIKI"

At the first stage (1905-1910) cactuses were very rare and expansive and thus available only to a limited circle of people.

The second period (1918 - 1920) is characteristic by quantitative and qualitative enlarging of the collection. This period is connected with the name of H.Tamahashi, a Japanese of the German origin, who started a wide export of cactuses to Japan.

The third period (1931 - 1933) is the time of the significant improving of the quality of life in Japan. It is also the time when people start searching connections with the nature and find pleasure and satisfaction in it. At this period cactus growing is gaining popularity.

photo 2.Gymnocalycium mihanovichii v friedrichii cv "HIBOTAN NISHIKI" Photo at cactus bench show in Japan "10th cactus DAIMEIHINTEN"

1940 was the climax of cactus popularity in Japan. At this time about 130 thousand fanciers found pleasure in growing them. The cactus vendors spread about 100 thousand catalogs of cactuses and sold a large number of plants. The World War II prevented cactus growing from its further spreading. During the war about 90% of the collection died.

Now it is a new wave of interest to cactuses similar to the period before the War. The features of the modern period are mass character, profound study of the culture and biological peculiarities of difficult and rare species, high skills, mastering of sophisticated techniques of growing cactuses.

Japanese companies export a great number of rare and very expensive, cultivated cactuses while importing a great deal of common popular cactuses at lower prices.

As Mexican cactus collector H.Bredi reported before the member of the British cactus society, in 1967 one of the dealers got 10 thousand orders in one season from Japan.

In Mexico cactuses are sold by many companies and collectors.

In the USA that export cactuses to Japan as well only the Californian cactus association includes 28 businessmen who specialize in commercial growing of cactuses and succulents. It is not difficult to understand a great number of rare and new species in the Japanese collections.

The fact that two monthly magazines about cactuses and succulents are issued in Japan as well as several books of the same topic a year witnesses the golden age of cactus growing in the country.

The Japanese affection for plants and flowers is traditional for the country and dates back to the ancient times.

Many centuries of experience in growing different flowers, applying the latest technologies to flower growing allowed the Japanese to make a significant success in growing succulent plants and especially colored cactuses.

Hazhima Oku's report at the congress of international organization of studying succulent plants in 1959 was devoted to growing colored cactuses. (The report was published in

photo 3.Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var.friedrichii cv."akagurohibotan-nishiki" "Succulentarum Japania", October, 1959).

The report covers in detail the question of growing colored plants including cactuses.

A plant should be fully colored, not partly. If a cactus has a colored part it is cut and implanted to a stock. The colored part of the grown shoot is cut out again and implanted to a fast growing stock, e.g. Echinopsis. The process is repeated till you get the desired color. When the plant is about 5-15 mm it is implanted to a strong stock like Trichocereus spachianus, Myrtillocactus geometrizans.

4 groups of colored cactuses are singled out in Japan:

  • Albovariegata - white;
  • Aureovariegata - golden;
  • Roseovariegata - red or rather motley pink;
  • Atrovariegata - dark motley.

"The first colored cactus appeared in Japan in 1935. It was Gymnocalycium mihanovichii. This inspired flower-grower I.Vatanabe to try to get a fully red cactus.

He learnt that Gymnocalycium mihanovichii has the richest red color and came to the conclusion that it can be the basis for a fully red cactus.

photo 4.Gymnocalycium mihanovichii v friedrichii cv "PINK-KURO" Bottom of Form 1

Vatanabe imported from Germany 300 seeds and in 1937 got seedlings which 4 years later grew into plants that gave in total 10,000 seeds. In 1941 when seedlings came up there were 2 pink cactuses among them.

Vatanabe implanted them, after a short period cut them into several parts and implanted them again. As a result he got a bright red "hibotan" and motley "hibotan nishiki".

"Hibotan" has no chlorophyll and does not grow on its own roots. But if implanted it gives lots of shoots which are easily implanted too.

"Hibotan" likes a lot of sun. It becomes especially beautiful in winter. Some companies specialized in cactuses offer it under the name of "Ruby ball".

"Hibotan nishiki" contains chlorophyll and grows on its own roots. It has red, yellow, green and blue colors mixed together Lately the Japanese cactus growers managed to get a number of other colored cactuses including Rebutia minuscula and Chamaecereus silvestrii - without chlorophyll, yellow.

photo 5.Lophophora williamsii var. caespitosa
In 1968 the Japanese company "Chuo Commercial K. Ltd" offered at very high prices a number of cultivated cactuses including the following:

  • Gymnocalycium mihanovichii ?hibotan? (Ruby ball);
  • Gymnocalycium mihanovichii ?hibotan? - cristaten form;
  • Frailea asterioides (Ruby ball) - red;
  • Frailea asterioides (Ruby ball) - cristaten form; Lophophora williamsii var. caespitosa - cultivated form;
  • Coryphantha elephantidens -yellow.

Most of cultivated form appeared as a result of lengthwise implanting and sophisticated techniques of getting "chimera" plants.

The methods include cutting the stem at the center and combining seed-lobes of grafter and stock. It is believed that the parts can accrete and give life to a new plant "chimera" (in the Greek mythology it is a monster with lion's jaws, dragon's tail and goat's body).

Artificially grown plants are called "cultivars". In Addition to the III International code of botanic classification one can find the following definition of the difference between "cultivar" and "variety".

"Cultivar" is a variant of a plant not known in the nature on not growing in the nature in the quantity enough for its botanical recognition. The difference from "variety" consists in that it is a variant of a wild plant and it is recognized in botany.

photo 6.Coryphantha elephantidens

In flower growing the term "Сultivar" is usually substituted for the notion Horticultural variety or just "variety", but one should apply the term "variety" only to the variants of plants growing in the nature.

Article 17 of the mentioned classification calls since January,1,1953 for giving to a newly described "cultivar" commonly used or invented name ("commonly used" means different from botanical epithet).

Such names are usually given to Japanese "cultivars" and are criticized by some theorists and praised by others for their rareness. They are quickly bought up by fanciers which boosts the prosperity of the companies that grow them on the commercial basis.

Translated into English by Irine Kudina, Moscow. 2000

    1. We would appreciate a message from the Japanese cactus-fanciers concerning the modern look at the question of how colored cactuses appeared in Japan.

    2. According to the article the year of birth of colored cactuses is 1941. If so, I suggest that cactus-fanciers and companies growing and selling them celebrate the 60th anniversary of these lovely plants. The ideas concerning the celebration are welcomed.

    3. A.Mikhaltsov, Omsk, Russia, who studies colored forms professionally gave explanations to the name of the form: "Almost all Gymnocalycium referring to the combination Gymnocalycium mihanovichii v friedrichii, are called Gymnocalycium friedrichii since long ago. It is an independent form.

    4. Can we see today the photos of those first Gymnocalycium mihanovichii "hibotan" and Gymnocalycium mihanovichii "hibotan nishiki"? Photos 1 - 4 are taken from by a Japanese fancier Koichi Murohashi with his kind consent. From the other plants mentioned in the article I could find only Lophophora williamsii var. caespitosa (see photo 5) and Coryphantha elephantidens (see photo 6). But did the first colored cactuses look like this? Only the Japanese cactus-fanciers can answer this question. Please, speak out! Dear Mr. Kalichev, Sorry for late reply.

    We beg you to take part in it and ask permission to use your photos from the site >Variegated Cactus. If you agree that inform on your site about original photo's URL (my site's URL), you can use it. Regards, Koichi Murohashi (Получено 1 октября 2000 г.)

    Our call

    1. I address to the volunteers from different countries especially to Russians living abroad and to those who study Russian. HELP TO MAKE "CULTIVAR" INTERNATIONAL. Who can translate free of charge our notes (full or short format) into English or any other language?

    2.We invite cactus-fanciers and companies selling cactuses to take part in issuing magazine CULTIVAR.

Walery Kalishev, Chelyabinsk, Russia, mailto: Contacts

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