I guess the sparrows would agree with me if I say that Mammillaria decipiens ssp. camptotricha is not a comfortable plant to handle. This spiny green globular cactus is presently about 5 inches tall and 6 inches wide (it hasn’t achieved its maturity, yet). It also looks like a nest guarded with lots of needles. Hence, its common name Bird’s Nest Cactus, Bird’s Nest Mammillaria or Bird’s Nest Pincushion.
The green tubercles of this plant are about 2 cm long. Its axil is somewhat lightly covered with white hairs and a few bristles. The protruding needles in the photos are its radial spines which compensate for its lack of central spines. Each tubercle has 2 to 8 radial spines about 3 cm long. Those sharp-edge needles are either thin or thick; flexible or rigid; curled or straight; yellow, white, or brown in color.
In between those tubercles bloom the small white flowers about 1 cm to 1.5 cm wide. (I noticed that this cactus flower in dry and wet season.) Despite its plain appearance, those blossoms have a delicate scent which attracts some ants or stingless bees. In addition, its juicy fruits often look like eye-candy to humans and birds alike.
I like this succulent because it doesn’t demand a lot of care; it’s happy growing in a sandy-loam soil mixed with rice hulls. It also just require a full sun exposure and moderate water to thrive well. However during wet season, I have to move it to a dry spot to avoid drowning and rotting.
For six years, Mammillaria zeilmanniana is the most active of my cacti when it comes to producing flowers. It shows off 2 cm wide pinkish-purple flowers all throughout the year even when I seldom tend to it. This cactus is also commonly known as the Rose Pincushion Cactus. Coincidentally, I bought it from Rose (a succulent-dealer) last June 2005.
The body of this cactus is glossy green and full of tubercles. You need to take a closer look because the spines cover the whole plant. The white ones are the radial spines, which are about 15 or more found on each tubercle. (Their main function is to collect moisture.) Then, there are also the four reddish-brown central spines on each tubercle — 3 straight and 1 hook. (These fend off little birds that covet its whitish-green fruits and humans.) I always watch out for the hooks when I tend to this cactus but I guess I just couldn’t avoid them.
I’ve heard that in its natural habitat, this cactus rarely branches out. However, it is not in the case here in my garden; from a single plant, it initially produced a cluster of offsets that became clumps later on. I say this plant is very generous that I need to re-pot it every two years.
The offsets thrive well in pots with good cactus soil (I just mix sand, loam soil and rice hulls). I put them in an open area where they get full sun exposure and lots of air. During the dry season, watering is only needed when the soil is hard to the touch. However during the wet season, I refrain to give it water for this plant is prone to rot. Overall, I like this cactus because of its purple flowers and that it is easy to care for.
“And the heart that is soonest awake to the flowers is always the first to be touch’d by the thorns.” -Thomas Moore
Mammillaria swinglei is one deadly beauty. A few days ago, I found a dead bird in its pot, still hooked with the plant. Though its funnel-like flowers are in-odorous, they are 3 cm wide and are quite attractive; their petals are white with pink stripes at the center. Its stems are without latex, about 10-25 cm tall, 3-5 cm in diameter, and dull green.
Its defense mechanism is composed of central and radial spines. Its 1 to 4 dark brown or black central spines are needle-like, the lowest one elongated (up to 1 1/2 cm long), hooked at apex or sometimes straight. In addition, its 11 to 18 radial spines are obscuring the tubercles; they are 7-14 mm long, needle-like rather stout, and are dull white with dark tips.