lblanchard: (swannfountain)
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[This is another in what has now become an almost-weekly series of postings inspired by Abigail Rorer, Mimpish Squinnies: Reginald Farrer's Short Guide to Worthless Plants. Rorer's book includes prints of fourteen plants Farrer considered worthless-- an interesting hybrid of botanically accurate and...different. You can see her work, including all fourteen mimpish squinnies, here: http://www.theloneoakpress.com/prints/newer.html ]

For today's mimpery, we return to Rorer's book and pull from its pages Opuntia polyacantha, a ferocious cactus of the western United States. Farrer does not care for the Opuntia. In fact, the genus and its friends whip him up into great frothy word-torrents of magnificent opprobrium. He did not mention O. polyacantha specifically, but Rorer's illustration takes its cue from Farrer's general comment about the Opuntia's flowers, "looking as if they had been freakishly pinned there by a thorn." And, YAY! Abigail Rorer has just given me permission to use her illustrations, with a back link. So here's the freakishly-pinned O. polyacathana ! I can hardly wait to go back and retrofit the others. Click the photo to reach her website homepage.


Here is Farrer at his most splenetic on the genus, and here is a photo of O. polyacantha,. More photos and a little more commentary behind the cut tag.


Opuntia polyacantha, the more usual yellow variety
By Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA (Opuntia polyacantha Uploaded by uleli)
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Opuntia, with Cereus and Echinocereus.—As most of the members of all these races make no pretence at being either hardy or useful generally out of doors, it is only necessary to note some of the more indestructible, that those who like this kind of thing may find these the kind of things they like : for, if you can pardon the arid and unfriendly look of these plants, dusty in colour, and horrible with spines, Rackhamish in weird contortions and Anglo-Saxon attitudes of their indecent stalagmites and ribbed articulations and stars of thorns and mop-heads of frowzy wool or fat great tennis-rackets of dim-green flesh—if you can forgive or enjoy all this, I say, you may easily devote a hot bank of the rockwork to such treasures, any very light soil being sufficient in a warm well-drained situation. Glass should be put over them to keep off wet in winter ; and then in due time, out of their stony grievousness of appearance your confidence (as the Beauty's in the Beast) will be rewarded by the unfolding of their most pure and delicate flowers like heavenly roses, seeming unnatural and misplaced as they protrude in July and August from the dark inhospitable leaf or column, looking as if they had been freakishly pinned there by a thorn, rather than developed in any legitimate course of nature. Among the hardiest and best of Opuntias are : 0. arborescens, with a branching stem, which, however, relies too greatly upon the charm of its bare branches, for it has never been known to flower in England ; 0. arenaria is more dwarf, with oval stem-branches and yellow flowers ; quite close to this are 0. fragilis and 0. brachyantha. 0. caminanchica takes high rank in all respects ; it is a specially sturdy grower and free-flowerer, with large flattened joints, and yellow blossoms that vary to red in the form rubra, and have also a major development. 0. cantabrigiensis has the largest joints of all the hardy Cacti, and the usual yellow flower; 0. Rafinesquii is the most indestructibly hardy of the lot, producing light yellow blooms, but varying almost indefinitely, with many good forms to be found quoted in catalogues of such matters, e.g., arkansana, macrorrhiza, cymochila, &c. And 0. vulgaris is not content to be hardy, but has established itself as a wild plant in Europe, though native, like all these others, to the New World; and has not only established itself in Europe, but chosen the Alps for the scene of its prosperity, where, at low elevations in the southerly valleys, it may be seen luxuriating, as on the rocks of Sion, profuse in the beauty of its yellow-silk roses. And there are other beauties, too, in 0. militaris, 0. missouriensis, 0. rhodantha (very spiny and very beautiful with noble satiny-pink peonies emerging from flattened little columns of hate). All these to be collected from catalogues. Of Cereus, especially seek out only C. viridiflorus, which has small odd green blooms in June and July ; and C. paucispinus, which must have a specially hot dry place, with its back up against the fireplace of a nice hot stove, where it will accordingly burgeon forth freely into flowers of scarlet with a green stigma ; and C. Eyresii, with dwarf green stems and large white blossoms in July and August ; while Echinocactus tubiflorus has about a dozen ribs to the trunks, and white trumpets in summer.


Opuntia polyacantha, in a pink variety
By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6671232

Here is the O. vulgaris that seems to annoy Farrer so much by colonizing his beloved Alps
.

By Mary Emily Eaton (1873-1961) Daniel Schweich for the filtered image. - From The Cactacea (1919-1923) by Britton et Rose, Vol. I, Plate XXXIV.

Finally, here is one that Farrer did not mention, but that is dear to my heart: O. humifusa, or eastern prickly pear. This magnificent specimen is growing in a planter two blocks away on Christian street. I recently scored a small leaf segment, which I hope will grow well in the mixture of seed starting mix and builder's sand I prepared for it. I let the cut edge cure for several days before planting. I say "cut," but it's more like "pinched off," and I had a painful afternoon until I'd managed to wash out all the minuscule spines that embedded themselves in my fingers. (Photo credit: none needed; I took this, and it's released on Flickr via a Creative Commons license)



(As always, I am grateful to the Internet Archive for providing a pdf of Farrer's opus, The English Rock-Garden, so that I could just grab the text rather than keyboarding it.)
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