Weird and Wonderful

Cactus and succulent oddities

Cacti and succulents include some fantastic and odd forms. Here are just a few that we think you’ll find weird and wonderful!

Brain cacti 🧠

Cacti usually grow from a point at the top of the plant (this is called apical growth). Sometimes this growth doesn’t happen like normal. If the growth point becomes elongated then the plant can start to grow outwards like a fan or crest. These kinds of plants are called cristates.

The pictures shows a popular kind of cristate cactus that is often given the name “brain cactus”. Normally, this cactus grows as a clump of finger-like cacti. In the cristate form, it makes crinkles that look just like the ridges of a brain! Definitely a good fit for a skull planter! πŸ’€

<i>Mammillaria elongata</i> cristata
Photo by David J. Stang, Mammillaria elongata Cristata 0zz, Crop by BCSS, CC BY-SA 4.0
Moon cactus
A “moon cactus”

Moon cacti πŸŒ™

Perhaps you’ve seen cacti like this at a garden centre. They are actually a “Franken-cactus” – one cactus that has been attached to another (this is called grafting). The colourful cactus is a mutant form of Gymnocalycium. The mutation stopped it creating the pigment which makes plants green – chlorophyll – leaving just the yellow and red colours you see.

This mutation means it can’t survive on its own. Chlorophyll is necessary for plants to create energy from the sun 🌞. People in plant nurseries cut the top off another cactus (called the rootstock) and put the cut base of the mutant on top. After a while, they fuse together!

A big stink πŸ‘ƒ

You would usually expect a flower to smell lovely but some succulents are quite the reverse.

Stapeliads are a kind of succulent that mainly grow in South Africa. To trick flies into visiting their flowers, some of the plants in this group put out a perfume that smells absolutely rancid to humans (but quite inviting to a bluebottle). Eau de rotting flesh πŸ₯© and poo πŸ’©!

The “landing pads” of their flowers continue this deception with small hairs to look like fur and a patchy red and white appearance like old meat. Yuck! 🀒

<i>Stapelia gigantea</i>
Stapelia gigantea, a “carrion flower”

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