• Sunday, December 21, 2014

Freedom in the air

COVER STORY

RUGGED GREEN

By Osama Rahman
Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel
Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel

A touch of green -- that small potted plant -- in the corridor of our apartments or in the foyer of our houses can make all the difference in our urban living, but to some, even that may seem too much of an effort. Fact remains, in our barren city lives, many of us replenish our thirst and need for green through putting plants around the house.
In recent times, we have seen a rise in the popularity of cactus as a house plant. Cacti are known for their ability to withstand extreme conditions and survive months on end without water. For their growth they need little sunlight, which makes them ideal as house plants.

This week Star Lifestyle focuses on this new wave in our green revolution. Not only the oxygen we breathe, these plants give life to the dead spaces inside and outside our homes. So if you are looking for something green, you might as well choose a cactus. Let us tell you why…

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The most obhious example of this can be a cactus. The very word conjures an image of a barren desert, whilst also being a favourite of those depicting a wasteland; apocalyptic or otherwise. But, like Pink except with redeeming value, the cactus is indeed mis-understood and unlike Pink, its beauty does in the end reveal itself to anyone who takes the time to notice.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CACTUS

Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel
Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel

Nature never has to try hard to be fabulous. It is beautiful, simply so, usually without even making an effort. However, sometimes it seems Mother Nature tries to make a distinction between evident beauty and hidden splendour.

The most obvious example of this can be a cactus. The very word conjures an image of a barren desert, whilst also being a favourite of those depicting a wasteland; apocalyptic or otherwise. But, like Pink except with redeeming value, the cactus is indeed misunderstood and unlike Pink, its beauty does in the end reveal itself to anyone who takes the time to notice.

The word 'cactus' derives from the Ancient Greek kaktos, a term used for a plant that cannot be identified. The name, like the plant, is mysterious. However, the mystery does not just stop with the name.

Cacti are known to survive in the hottest and driest of climates, having evolved in such a way, adapting themselves to the desert climes where they are usually found. The cactus, in fact, is also a very deceptive plant. The thorns that adorn its body are actually its leaves of sorts, spine-shaped to conserve water, provide some shade and deter potential herbivores who need a quick bite.

These little quirks, once known, make the cactus seem much more interesting than at first glance. And there's more.

The cactus is perhaps the best known beginner-gardener plant. Requiring very little care, it has become a firm favourite among those who want to be closer to nature, without having to do too much work.

Even for those who are devoid of the tiniest semblance of a green thumb, the cactus is the go-to plant. It's “how to care for” instructions are also minimal. All one needs to do is water the plant once a month, ensure it receives 4-6 hours of sunlight everyday and fertilise it twice a year, if necessary.

Horticulturists suggest potting your cactus in a container with a hole. This is done because if the water accumulates in the container for too long, a cactus's roots are liable to rot, hence killing the plant. This is possibly the only caution one needs to take when taking care of a cactus.

Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel
Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel

This fascinating plant, although found in the desert, can be nurtured in any geographical location, provided there is ample sunlight. Thus, your cactus plant should always be placed in the sunniest location of the house.
Even more undemanding are cactus plants which are made to be colourful. The colourful cacti that you see in nurseries are not naturally occurring but rather grafted to look the way they do. Coloured cacti are a result of a cactus plant cultivated in such a way that it is deprived of chloroplasts, that is, cell organelles containing chlorophyll. It's the chlorophyll that gives the cactus plant its green colour, like other plants, but its absence is the reason why some appear yellow or even bright red.

Without such chloroplasts, wild cacti cannot live but once you attach this form of cactus onto a green one, their survival is secured. This is another interesting option that cacti offer, while other plants can't.

Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel
Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel

The process of attaching one cactus to another is known as grafting. Grafting occurs when a colourful mutant variation of the cactus is attached to a green cactus. The colourful cactus is placed on top of the green cactus, allowing the green cactus to carry out photosynthesis and pass on the benefits to the colourful variant. This is how both the cacti survive. They are said to be undemanding, because they require the least amount of care. They are only to be watered when the soil they are planted in is dry, and this can take weeks or even months, depending on the location. Over-watering is actually what kills the plant.

Furthermore, this form of cactus also does not require direct sunlight and is a perfect houseplant, provided it is placed where there is partial sunshine, such as on a window sill or near the window. Enthusiasts can undertake the grafting process on their own to create their own unique creations and although it isn't the hardest process, it is not as easy to master as it sounds.

The colourful cacti are also quite cheap but cactus plants in general are. Depending on their type and size, cactus plants can cost anywhere from Tk.150 to even a few thousands. Apart from the cactus you are familiar with, certain species also have leaves, such as the pereskia.

The pereskia, when full grown, almost resembles a grapefruit tree rather than a cactus. Some cacti do not even have the spines that prick. Another interesting aspect of the cactus is that almost all the fleshy ones are edible. Most famous among these edible cacti is the Indian Fig Cactus, an important source of food in Mexico, with its consumption now having spread far and wide. Although popular as an ornamental plant, cacti have numerous usages, thus adding another feather to their thorny caps.

Whether you are a plant lover, a tree hugger or just want plants for kicks, never shy away from the cactus plant. If nothing else, it can make the perfect gift for people. Head to your nearest nursery and see if you can get one for yourself. If you find yourself getting bored, you could always eat it.
 

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Last modified: 12:48 pm Sunday, August 17, 2014

TAGS: Cactus chloroplasts cacti

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