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My articles may be listed as by:
Gerald Krulik
Gerald A. Krulik
Jerry Krulik
G. Krulik
G. A. Krulik
GA Krulik


By Gerald Krulik

Here I am again with another semi-educational piece on my favorite bromeliads.
Why lascivious, you might justifiably ask? Well, the dictionary says that
Lascivious = salacious, passionate, tending to produce voluptuous emotions.
(Take note—this is the educational part.)

Take a look at this plant, rendered in photojournalistic style from an actual
living Tillandsia. Look at the swell of its leaves, how they loop about and clutch
each other! The way it grips and holds itself! Look at the curves, the bumps, the
jutting upright flowers with erect petals! The subtle play of shadows and light
on hidden crevices! The way some heads are shyly hidden, while others are
boldly out-thrust! And it is doing all this while hanging in broad daylight,
unashamed, next to my front door! Is this a virginal, rule-obeying plant,
passively waiting for the dominating hand of a friendly cultivator?  I think not!
My, I may be getting turned on (again).
Tillandsias are not at all shy, they are plant exhibitionists. They don’t depend on
fancy pots to show off their beauty. They don’t even need soil or rocks, most
either avoiding them or being indifferent to their presence. No, just hang them
from a string, prop them on a piece of wood, stick them in a tree branch, and
that is all they ask from life except for fountains of dew and rain, with wind to
supplement their existence with tasty mineral-laden dust. They will slowly or
rapidly grow and swell and multiply, according to their kind. In the appropriate
season, they will be spiked with restrained and non-vulgar blossoms, spots of
color to attract hummingbirds and other pollinators, even the friendly grip of
the wind sufficing to pollinate some as they spill their pollen wantonly in the air.
One thing Tillandsias are not, and that is trainable. We gardeners are so used
to pruning that we give it little thought. It is like filling up the car with gas—you
do it, but you do it automatically, as needed. Most plants can be pruned. Think
of beautiful fluffy rose bushes, topiaried orange trees, even tightly mowed golf
Ever try to prune a Tillandsia? I thought not, any more than you can prune a
mushroom. Of course you can remove dead heads, or flower stalks long past
their utility as hummingbird perches. You can even disintegrate a cluster to
create new ones. But prune? How can you trim the individual leaves? They will
just look ugly, and new ones will not spring up. Take them off completely, and
you have an ugly bare stem. Remove heads, and the removed heads will grow,
but the remaining bare stem is unlikely to re-cloak itself. Punch out the growing
center, and if it lives, new heads appear in random positions. No, definitely not
That is why they are Lascivious. They are full of potent growth energy, untamed
and vital, waiting to pour out in a hundred random places according to the
unknown dictates of sun and warmth and rain on totally hidden axillary buds. So
I have a whole harem of Tillandsias, just like the oriental potentates used to
have hundreds and thousands of wives. No two Tillandsias are the same, so I
have to have multiples of each species. I cannot grow carbon copies of any of
them. Each Tillandsia I grow gives me the chance to see another unique
individual organism, on a small enough scale that I can note and appreciate the
Viva the differences! Viva the Lascivious Tillandsia!


Tuesday, August 27, 2002

In July I did the long train ride from Tapei to Tainan, in the south of
Taiwan. All airline flights had been cancelled due to the typhoon, so the
hot slow sticky train ride, about 4 hours, was the only alternative. The
Tainan train station was of the open air type, extremely hot and high in
humidity. While we waited for our pickup, I visited the men;s room. This
was quite large and clean, with many urinals. Also no air conditioning, no
ventilation except for a tiny window, and no air circulation other than a
tiny rotating fan. The custodians had provided for users’ confort,
however. Taped to the wall above every urinal was a postcard. The
postcards were all of different views of alpine resorts and ski slopes, in
winter, all snow covered. Think positive!

Once I was in Bangkok near the time the local government was
prohibiting the former practice of allowing elephants to roam the city.
Owners would make a good living for themselves and their animals by
selling bananas, sugar cane, cucumbers, etc to locals and tourists who
fed their beasts. The highly intelligent animals calmly waited for their
delicacies and ate all that was offered. In return, the feeder was allowed to
pet and stroke the elephant, a piece of good luck in Thailand. (An even
better way to get good luck was to lie down and let the elephant step over
you. Pregnant women were especially encouraged to do this.) So one
night on a stroll to dinner as night fell, I came across an elephant and her
entourage strolling towards me. I paid for my bananas and got my luck
pats. As I continued on by, I happened to look back and saw that the
mahouts were very careful of their expensive charge. Fastened securely
to the middle of the elephant’s tail, as a battery operated flashing red light
reflector. If you have ever driven in Bangkok, you will know that even
something the size of an elephant has to be extra careful of the drivers
there.  I guess this explains the term, red light district??



Acquaintances often ask me how long I’ve been growing cacti. I reply,
more than 50 years, which elicits a bit of comment since I am only 58.
However, the real story is that when I was about 8 years old I saw some
little potted cacti in a supermarket and my mother bought five plants for
me. These consisted of an unnamed Echinocereus (pectinate type), an
Opuntia mamillata, an Opuntia microdasys, an Opuntia villis, and an
unnamed Coryphantha. For many years these plants grew on my
windowsill as the only cacti in my collections. In fact, by the time I went to
college 10 years later, they were still the only plants that I had. In the
intervening period the plants were sorely abused. In those ten years they
were repotted once from 2 inch pots to 4 inch pots, watered in the
summertime when I remembered, but miraculously none of them died. In
fact, they even grew. The Echinocereus put out in those ten years 2 pups
which grew almost to half the size of the adult plant. The O. microdasys
had over a dozen pads. The Coryphantha grew and clustered and even
flowered. Even the O.mamillata grew, though that was very discouraging.
O.mamillata, whose common name is the boxing glove cactus due to its
resemblance to a clenched fist, consisted of one large stem. Two or three
times during the ten years it put out another tall shoot and each time after
six or eight months of growth, I accidentally knocked it off. So, at the end
of ten years I had essentially the same plant I started with, only larger.
Anyway these plants were my total collection. They hardly ever flowered
for me, but they never died either and they did grow. Then I went to
college. I had a roommate in my dormitory my freshman year who was
interested in, of all things, African Violets. In fact, he ended up setting up a
Gro-lux lamp on his side of the dormitory room and started bringing in
very frilly, pretty looking African Violets. He put a plastic bag around the
light, had a nice humid atmosphere and was growing these plants at an
all male college. Well, I felt that these were not the best things for an adult
male to grow, so I decided that I would show him what I could do. I put up
a Gro-lux lamp on my side of the room and started hunting in the
greenhouses around Cleveland for the ugliest, thorniest, most contorted
plants that I could find. We had an unofficial contest going for quite some
time. I would come out with an Ariocarpus or an Aztekium or very thorny
Echinocereus and he would go out and get a double flowered African
Violet or a fragrant purple one or some other variety, perhaps with
crinkled leaves. Under this impetus, my interest grew and in a short time I
outgrew my space in my dormitory room. I have a collector’s instinct at
heart and I have many hobbies, most of which are characterized by the
fact that I go to extremes. Cactus collecting was no exception. In a
relatively short time, I had outgrown all the space on my two windowsills
at home. My 8 brothers and sisters were not very sympathetic to my
taking over all the windows in the house. Since I had no other available
windowsills, I made a wide growing area in our basement. This consisted
of four 4 foot long fluorescent lights and our ping pong table. Summer
times the plants were put outside but in the winter they grew under or at
least stagnated under the lights in the basement. At this time I was
hooked on the concept of rotted wood humus. I thought that the best
growing medium was a mix of well rotted wood and sand. I scoured
nearby woods, demolishing dead trees by the dozen. The only thing that
saved my cacti in that dull humid basement was the fact that my soil mix
was almost unwettable once it dried. I would water the plants with
spoonfuls of water all winter long, and they would survive because the
water ran tight through.

I made other mistakes in this period too. For example, I tried a large seed
order of rare Mesembs from a German firm. The Opthalmophyllums,
Mitrophyllums, Oophytums, and others (picked because their names
sounded exotic) were sown in peat pots on a corner of the table. They
germinated, demonstrating the blind urge to grow even in the most
unfavorable habitat, but soon died. My only experience with Mesembs
had been with two Lithops from Johnson’s Cactus Gardens. I was thrilled
when one flowered on my windowsill before rotting.
This was also the time when I first learned that cacti will sunburn. You can’
t take them from a dull basement and put them in full sun in late spring.
This was the situation for the four years of college. Then I graduated,
moved out of the house, and gave away my whole collections. There is a
hiatus of a bout a year or tow when I had no cacti at all. After I got married
there was a further short gap. I got interested in cacti again through a
‘space saving’ way. We didn’t have very much room in our apartment, but
I had some seed catalogues including one from New Mexico Cactus
Research. So I bought, oh, about $20 worth of seeds at 25 cents a
package, plus mixes of hundreds of seeds. I had some stainless steel
seed trays fabricated with sloping bottoms and drain holes and all, just
sized to fit one of the windows in my apartment. That next spring, I
planted about 2000 cactus seeds in just one little tray that was possibly
2.5 feet long by 4 inches wide. Well, they grew, and they grew, and they
grew, and each time they grew I had to repot them and I soon ran out of
room in my apartment.
Fortunately after a few years, we moved into a house and I had a little
more room, though not on the windowsills. I ended up putting most of my
collection outside in the summer while keeping it in a dry cool warehouse
in the winter. Then I built a small lean-to greenhouse, about 10 foot square
with plenty of room for the first 6 months. By the first winter it was
cramped because I went into seed raising in a big way, plus I
accumulated cuttings and plants from all different sources.
The next year I said I would do better. So when spring came, I took all the
overcrowded plants and put them outside. Unfortunately they grew, and I
also acquired more plants and grew more seedlings so when winter came
I had a full greenhouse plus I had all my collection outdoors that I had to
put inside. Well, so far I’ve described nothing new. Everyone who is a
collector probably gets in this position sooner or later. Fortunately, about
this time I moved again. This time it was a larger house and I constructed
a small lean-to greenhouse against the side of the house. By small I mean
21 foot long x 10 foot wide x 10 foot high with three shelves of growing
space, the ground level and an intermediate level under the bench and
the bench itself. At the present time, about 12 years after the batch of
seeds that I planted in my apartment, I now have a greenhouse full of
plants (this was all written when I had been growing plants for about 25
years. As I type this into the computer, it now double the time since I first
wrote this.) Many are traceable back to that first lot. I was thrilled this past
summer when a large seed grown cereus, and a much smaller Obregonia,
flowered for the first time.
Now let’s get back to the reasons why I grow cactus and other desert
plants at all. The first reason is that I think they’re attractive, both the
flowers and the appearance of the plants. I also like the fact that, since I
travel a lot, I don’t have to worry about them. I have tried growing some
other types of plants, but unfortunately when I’m away on business trips
they die. They either get too hot or too cold or they dry out and usually
drought kills them. This is rarely a problem with desert plants.
Another attractive item is that they are a challenge to grow. Even thought I’
ve really been into this hobby for the last 12 years or so, I’ve killed many,
many plants through over watering, under watering, abuse of various
kinds, sunstroke, etc, the important thing is that I’ve learned from these
mistakes. I feel that if anyone out there says they’ve never or hardly ever
lost a plant, I think either they’re a terrific grower or they’ve never tried
enough different types of plants.
My tastes originally ran mainly to the cacti and I’m in the process at the
moment of completing my collection of all US cacti except Opuntias.
I’m also very interested in caudiciforms, Mesembs, and various unusual
succulents, for example, Australian succulents. I’ve quite a number of
Euphorbias. My interests do not extend particularly to the more traditional
varieties of Echeverias, or Agaves, or Aloes. They grow much more
rapidly than the others I mentioned and many of them take up a lot more
space. In fact as the years go by, I find myself being more and more
attracted to the plants that are smaller and smaller as adults. For example,
my breeding colony of 3 Neobessya (Coryphantha) cubensis occupies a
3 inch pot. The largest adult is only one half inch across. A decent
collection of tree cacti is impractical for people like myself who live where
winters reach –25 F (-32 C).
I have quite a number of goals that I’ve set for myself in the course of
growing these plants. For example, I realized that once you’ve learned the
techniques of growing these plants and acquired the expertise, it’s really
not much harder to grow rare and endangered plants than it is to grow
the commoner plants. Therefore, I have basically decided that one goal is
to grow the rarer and endangered plants.
My second goal is I do not intend to one of a kind if plants are endangered
or especially appealing. Many succulents are not self-fertile, and for
captive breeding a wider range of genotypes is desirable. I will grow a
breeding colony and the breeding colony will then be used for
propagation. At the present time, I have breeding colonies of over 100
types of plants which are either rare or endangered or just uncommon in
collections at the present time. These breeding colonies include a seed
grown collection of Dactylopsis digitata plants that are now six years old
and flower freely. These plants are not rare at all, at least in the seed lists,
but seed grown adult plants are rare. Other special collections include 12
different species of Opthalmophyllums of 2 to 12 plants per species, to
nearly complete collections of Gymnocactus and Escobarias, to a group
of about 80 species of Echinocereus. I also have quite a few plants of
Pediocactus, Ariocarpus colonies, Neogomesias, Strombocactus,
Aztekium, etc.
I also do quite a bit of research on the side. I’ve done work in tissue
culture, cultivation methods, seed germination of hard to raise plants and
work with window-leaved plants. At the present time I’m really working on
establishing my grafting techniques.
But enough of this… One of the reasons why I really like cactus growing
as a hobby as compared to, for example, antique collecting or book
collecting is because it’s much more fun. Granted it has problems also.
An antique collector can just turn his back on his hobby and forget about
it, for literally years or decades at a time and the antiques will still be there.
The cactus collector has to give at least minimal care for his collection at
all times. On the other hand, an antique collector never finds himself n the
position of having his collection multiply on him. The cactus collector, if
that person is a good grower, will always be in the position of having
more plants than he has room for. This is my current position. Anyone
who visits my greenhouse and unwisely says, “Gee I wish I had a plant or
a few plants” will normally walk away with an armload. In fact unwise,
unwary persons have been known to leave with 40 and 50 plants in their
arms, and yet I still have more plants that I can give away. This is part of
the real pleasure of collecting cacti, the fact that you can share and share
some more and exchange… This is the common characteristic of most
collectors. Many is the time I’ve traveled to remote cities, to Denver or
Connecticut or California, or just corresponded with people through the
mail and literally have gotten dozens and hundreds of plants absolutely
unexpectedly. I remember well one time that I visited Denver and one of
the local cactus people was taking me around to some other collectors on
a visit. One person literally told me, if I have two plants of anything in my
greenhouse, you can have one. Generosity like that is hard to beat in any
other hobby.
So, why do I grow cacti? Basically it comes down to the fact that there are
many different kinds that I can collect, that they differ quite widely in
colors, shapes, size, and so forth so I can select any type of specialized
collections that I want. I’m speaking of cacti in the broad sense of all
desert plants. The fact that they multiply and the fact that there is a wide
range of degrees of expertise needed to grow various kinds adds greatly
to their interest. Some can’t be killed even by a beginner and others can
only be grown by the most experienced grower. This leaves me with the
knowledge that this is a hobby which can last many, many years or even
lifetimes. It’s not a hobby which is so limited that you can rapidly get
bored with it. And, of course, an important aspect of this is the people that
you meet. Everyone has run into the collector who doesn’t want to speak
to anyone else or is very reluctant to exchange plants but these are a very
small minority. Most people are very willing to give their time and their
energy and their plants to anyone who shows the least interest in the
cactus collecting hobby.

The above version was written in January 1982 by Jerry Krulik.  As of
2005 he was 23 years farther down the road and still going strong. Further
writings will follow.