When people see these unique cacti, often they are mistaken the top as being flowers. Truth has it that these are two different species of cacti grafted together.
The brightly colored cactus that sits on top is actually a mutant variation of a standard cactus.
In the wild, if a mutant pup is created, eventually it would detach from the parent plant and sadly die as it cannot photosynthesize.
The reason it can’t photosynthesize is that it has no chlorophyll, which is essential in the photosynthesis process.
Chlorophyll = The Green Pigments Of A Plant
In order for a mutant pup to survive, it must have other means to get nutrients. This is where the grafting comes in. Rootstock plants, which are able to photosynthesize normally, are what the mutant pups are grafted on to.
They can provide enough nutrients for both itself and its grafted partner, allowing both to survive. Common rootstocks used in grafting cacti include species of Hylocereus, Myrtillocactus geometrizans, Trichocereus pasacana, Harrisia jusbertii, Cereus peruvianus and many more.
Most of the colorful mutants you will see around are derived from the species Gymnocalycium mihanovichii
and Lobivia silvestrii variegate. However, the possibilities of grafting are endless, and not just limited to mutants.
Its main job is to display the Gymnocalycium at an advantageous height. These plants are popular in the cactus dish gardens frequently offered for sale. They are not demanding houseplants, but they are not without challenges either.
If there is a disconnect between the light requirements of the stock cactus on the bottom and the scion on top, the challenge is finding the right balance so both will thrive.
Growing Conditions for the Grafted Cactus…
Light. The Gymnocalycium tops are tolerant of more shade than many cacti and dislike direct sun.
Water. Allow the soil mix to become nearly dry between waterings, but then water thoroughly. Immaculate drainage is essential, so never let the pots sit in water. Suspend watering in the winter, but mist occasionally.
Soil. A rich, fast-draining cactus mix is ideal.
Fertilizer. During the growing season, fertilize with a cacti fertilizer mix. Suspend feeding during the dormant winter period.
Do Not Water Too Often And Do Not Get The “Ball” Wet
As these cacti are grafted, they are not appropriate for propagation. If you are interested in learning how to graft cacti yourself, it’s not difficult, and many species can be successfully grafted.
On some older plants, the Gymnocalycium on the top naturally sends out offsets that cluster like satellites around the larger plant.
You can remove these and pot them up separately as individual Gymnocalycium, but they lack the supporting green cacti, which supplies chlorophyll, and they soon die.
There are many varieties of Gymnocalycium cacti, which are collectors’ plants with a wide following. The common ruby ball grafted plant relies on the G. mihanovichii, which is available in red, yellow, orange or pink.
Older plants sometimes flower with pink flowers during the summer, and many people mistake the colored ball on top for a flower, when it’s the plant itself.
As a point of interest, the ruby ball hybrids cannot produce their own chlorophyll and thus rely on the grafted rootstock to produce chlorophyll and keep them alive.
If you can grow cacti and succulents successfully, you can likely grow the ruby ball cactus without too much trouble. Like many cacti, they prefer a drying period between waterings, even to the point where they slightly wilt. When you water, however, you should water deeply.
The plant will noticeably plump up. It’s imperative that the cactus is not exposed to prolonged dampness and standing water. Never let your cactus sit in a dish of water. Make sure to fertilize during the growing season for the best results.
Why Graft Catus?
Cacti are grafted for a variety of reasons. One may simply be to produce a different species mechanically, but the process also produces disease-free stems, to provide a new stem for an existing stem that is rotting or to enhance photosynthesis in plants that lack the ability. Grafting cactus plants is also done to create unique forms, such as weeping plants.
Grafting is common in fruiting plants because it increases the maturity of an existing cultivar for earlier fruit production. The scion becomes the top part of the plant with all the originating species’ characteristics. The rootstock becomes the roots and base of the plant. The union is at the vascular cambium where the wounds of scion and rootstock are sealed together to heal and join. Once the joining wounds have healed, no special grafted cactus care is required. Simply grow it as you would any other plant.
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