It's a weekend like any other and like many people across the country I'm walking into the greenhouse of the local Home Depot. I'm there to see if any new cacti and succulents plants have arrived. I'm hoping to reach them before they are either over or under watered to death by the staff. To get good plants at most of these big box garden centers you have to get there the moment they are unpacked. Before I walk into the greenhouse I can see an unusual number of people crowding around the shelfs.
As I approach the crowd I can see that people are indeed crowding around a newly arrived shipment of cacti and succulents. The group is composed mainly of women who aren't above elbowing each other as they reach for a plant. For a second I wonder if this is what it would look like if Madonna and Angelina Jolie were to arrive at the same orphanage on the same day.
The spoils of the scuffle are presented to significant others, kids, parents and friends. One woman asks, what I assume to be, her husband if he thinks the pink flowering cacti would be to "girlie" for their bathroom. He frowns and sighs the sigh of a husband who'd rather be in the tool department than in the "girlie" greenhouse. Another woman presents a small child with a green and yellow flowering cacti and the girl points at the one with the green flower.
I lean over and tell her that the flowers are fake and she responds in Japanese. I don't speak or understand Japanese and she doesn't seem to speak English. So I repeat myself and when that doesn't seem to work I resort to hand gestures, when the hand gestures don't convey that she's holding a horticultural Frankenstein, I speak louder. Everyone knows that when someone doesn't speak the same language as you just speak slower and louder and they magically understand. It seems to work because she puts the plant down, smiles and walks away.
Altman Plants and Sorensen Greenhouses are the two suppliers whose names come up regularly on cacti message boards when the practice of gluing fake flowers on perfectly fine cacti comes up. I've had a couple of people contact me through this blog asking me about cacti care and when I ask what kind they have the response is usually "the kind with the pink flower." I'm not sure how long the practice has been around but it will probably never go away as long as these plants keep selling. Sometimes you may luck out and come across one where the hot glue didn't adhere properly and you can just pull off the fake flower. Most of the time you'll have to pluck off the flower as best you can with your fingers until you get to the clump of glue and pick at it slowly and gently. I've read cacti growers recommend trying to remove the glue on very hot days when it has softened and I've read of one grower who heats it with a blow drier until it softens and comes off easily.
Occasionally the glue won't come off without tearing off a few spines or even a chunk of the plant along with the glue. In those cases it may be better to just leave clump of glue and hope that it falls off naturally or live with the slight deformation that will result. Ultimately the best way of dealing with these flowers is to just not buy these plants to begin with and hope that the wholesalers end the practice. But even the most serious cacti grower sometimes will slum it and buy one of these Frankensteins because the plant underneath and the real flowers that will emerge one day are just that irresistible.