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Image of small Cactus in blue pot
Cacti are cool now, don’t you know. The perfect low-maintenance plant. Here, expert Emma Sibley runs through four of the most sought-after specimens

Panda Plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa)

Regularly grown for its furry, velvet-like leaves, the Panda Plant is relatively easy to care for, storing much of its water in its thick, succulent leaves. A light grey-green in colour, the tips of the leaves develop a brown spotting with maturity; their shape can also become quite irregular with time, but they usually start off as ovals. Originally from Madagascar, this pretty plant can grow up to 46cm (18in) tall.

Light: This plant enjoys plenty of sunlight, so place it in 
a conservatory or bright living room to encourage strong 
new growth.

Potting: Once the Panda Plant is mature and the stems start to grow down below the pot, it is perfect to pot in a hanging basket. As a slow grower the Panda Plant may only need repotting once every few years, then even less when it has hit maturity.

Flowers: Although the Panda Plant flowers in the wild, this is very rare in the home. However, the beauty of the leaves alone make it a firm household favourite.

Watch out for: Beware if you have any household pets as Kalanchoe are toxic to both dogs and cats.


Beehive Cactus (Escobaria vivipara)

You will find the Beehive Cactus residing in the desert scrub of its native Mexico or in the conifer forests of Canada, high up in the mountains. This solitary cactus may sometimes clump to form beds of small bodies, each covered in a web of aggressive looking star-shaped spines.

Light: Ensuring that this cactus is exposed to full sun to light shade throughout the day will promote strong growth and increase the chance of blooming. The Beehive is known for producing vivid fuchsia-coloured flowers during spring to late summer.

Water: The Beehive originates from an area with summer rainfall, so water it moderately once a week throughout the warmer months (April to early September), ensuring that the compost dries out completely between waterings to prevent root rot. Through the cooler winter months reduce watering to once every two to three weeks.

Propagation: Propagation can be achieved through cuttings. You can take off the head of the Beehive and leave it to callous over until dry, then replant it in a gritty, sandy compost to root.


Walking Sansevieria (Sansevieria pinguicula)

A native of the bush regions of Kenya, the woody leaves of the Walking Sansevieria fan out to produce a plaited pattern along the central stem of the plant. Plant it in a porous and gritty soil mix.

Light: Most Sansevierias will survive in a wide range of light conditions, but the pinguicula will thrive in bright direct sunlight as well as a shady corner, as long as it receives a few hours of indirect sunlight every day.

Water: When watering, ensure that the compost is allowed to dry out completely before watering again; the Walking Sansevieria is highly susceptible to root rot. When the plant is sufficiently watered you will notice that the underside of the leaves are long and smooth. However in drier conditions you will start to notice long ridges developing on the underside as the plant draws on all its water supplies. During the summer months water once a week; during colder winter months decrease watering to once every few weeks.

Flowers: The Walking Sansevieria produces flowers that are whitish to pale yellow-green, however they are not known for their ornamental qualities.


Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii)

Resembling an English shrub rather than a desert cactus, the Crown of Thorns grows fast into a dense, multi-branched plant that can easily get out of hand and resemble a tangled mess.

Potting: Your Crown of Thorns will need repotting every two years in late winter or early spring. Use well-drained soil and transfer to a pot that will accommodate the roots comfortably without squashing them.

Flowers: Flowers are small and often bright red or pink in colour. Usually quite nondescript, the Crown of Thorns can look impressive when in full bloom and is a favourite flower houseplant.

Watch out for: The sap is relatively poisonous, and can cause skin irritation and burning. This plant can also be toxic to pets so keep it out of reach of dogs and cats. 

Quirks: Native to Madagascar, this Euphorbia keeps its leaves far longer than any other plant in this genus. It eventually sheds them all, leaving only the sharp thorns that line each stem.

Did you know: The Crown of Thorns is also known as the Christ Plant.


Extracted from 
The Little Book of Cacti and Other Succulents 
by Emma Sibley, published by Quadrille, £8.99. 
Photography © Adam Laycock

Published in: December 2017

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