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Sunday, 15 March 2015

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Beauty in dryness

We do many things to keep our surroundings clean and beautiful. Growing flowers and plants is one of them. Have you ever thought of growing cactus and succulents in your home garden? The plural of cactus is cacti or cactuses. The Tamil term for cacti is Kalli and the Sinhala equivalent is pathok.

Cacti comes from the American continent and those found elsewhere in the world have been introduced at sometime in the past. A succulent is generally considered to be any plant which has the natural ability to store in its body or roots. Succulents usually have fattened leaves or thick stems filled with stored water, which allow them to live through long periods without moisture.

They all have in common the ability of store water in the tissues to survive periods of droughts.

Naleendra Senanayake living in Silverdale estate in Dodangoda, Kalutara has been planting cactuses and succulents for nearly three decades. He started planting cactuses and succulents as a leisure time activity with a few varieties and had more varieties in quick succession. He now has 350 - 400 varieties of cactuses and succulents in his home garden. His success is the result of years of hard graft.

Senanayake told the Sunday Observer that anything can be done successfully, if someone is committed and devoted to a cause. He also said that the climatic condition in Kalutara district was not conducive to plant cactuses and succulents. In spite of the unsuitable climatic conditions, he has taken a challenge to prove that nothing is impossible.

According to Senanayake, the lifespan of some cacti varieties go up to a 100 years. Finding labourers for the maintenance is also another major problem he faces.

Anybody will feel immensely happy, when seeing a beautiful flower amidst thorns. Cacti flowers are very beautiful and they please your eyes. Many cacti are grown for their flowers. Others only for their spines and magnificent form. The likelihood of flowering varies enormously between species with others while quite young. However, if your cacti do not bloom, there could be a number of reasons.

The amount of light given to cacti and succulents is one of the most important factors in their growth.


Naleendra Senanayake

Some plants need bright light, moderate light, dim light and artificial light. The majority of cacti and succulents require strong sunlight to grow well. A number of some other cacti and succulents will grow in moderate light with some direct sun. These plants generally grow well up to three feet (1m) from South, East or West windows. Few of the plants need dim light.

Cacti and succulents do not live on water and light alone. They need fertiliser the same as other plants, but in smaller amounts. Fertilising should be done only while plants are actively growing. Growing plants from seed is an interesting experiment, if nothing else, and it is also the only way to propagate cacti which do not form offsets easily.

"If one of your own plants has set seed, growing it first is one way to start. Later, you may want to order seed from a professional cactus seed specialist. Cacti and succulents like many other plants, have been used since ancient times as a source of cosmetics and medicines.

The healing properties of Aloe species were known to the Greeks and Romans used them to treat a variety of ailments, from serious wounds to minor skin complaints. These same properties are recognised today and the mucilaginous sap from freshly split leaves can be applied directly to the skin to smooth minor cuts and burns.

Some people believe that growing cactus is not suitable and they believe it brings bad luck. If you have cactus and succulents in your home garden, it will definitely add colour to your garden. We should always consider the saying "Superstition is the religion of feeble minds."

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