Happy Cactus: Cacti, Succulents & More by DK

When my daughter’s pet mice passed away a couple of months ago, I took one look at her devastated face and promised her she could have whatever she wanted to make her feel better. I expected we’d be heading back to the pet store.

She surprised me. Meet Stanley and Gary, our own happy cacti:

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The mice were cute and cuddly, but they had the unfortunate tendency to die too soon. In a lot of ways, cacti are better pets: they’re hardy, like to be admired, don’t poop or require much in the way of sustenance. Also, our landlords don’t object to them.

The only downside is they’re not very cuddly.

Like new parents, we realized we’d be better able to care for our new charges if we had some sort of manual that explained all their wants and needs. Luckily, I stumbled upon a copy of Happy Cactus: Cacti, Succulents & More.**

cactus

If this isn’t the most perfect introductory text to cacti and succulents, I don’t know what would be. It packs in all the vital information a gardener would need to keep these plants thriving in their home or greenhouse. The novice will like not only the information itself, but how it’s packaged. Key facts are presented in bite-sized bits and are well organized with a table of contents, an index, and similar types of information appearing in the same area on plant profiles.

The book opens with a pictorial index to common cactus and succulent types. This is clearly photographed and pleasingly arranged. My only wish here is that it also showed the flowers on the cacti. That might help distinguish between some of the similar looking specimens.

I couldn’t find a picture that looked like Stanley in the photo index. I believe this is because Stanley is actually two cacti, one grafted to another. I didn’t see any mention of grafting in this book, which seems appropriate, since it’s a primer on these plants, not an exhaustive encyclopedia; however, this might be disappointing to some people because there are an awful lot of Stanleys in Lowes and Home Depot these days.

Gary is a simple fellow. Gary is an Echinocerus.

Following the photo index is a section containing basic information such as common misconceptions and general care instructions. I learned that Stanley and Gary might need to be repotted soon in order to maintain at least one-two inches of space between their bases and the rim of their pots. They only need to be watered every two weeks in the summer months and might enjoy a shot of tomato fertilizer every now and then.

Did you know that cacti and succulents aren’t completely different types of plants? All cacti belong to the group of plants called succulents, which are adapted to store water in their leaves, stems, and sometimes their roots. However, only cacti have round, cushionlike areas–called areoles–where spines can develop.

~ Happy Cactus: Cacti, Succulents, and More by DK

The last half of the book is devoted to profiles of 102 different cacti and succulents. Each profile includes vital stats, feeding and watering instructions, how to position the plant, how to encourage flowering, propagation and re-potting instructions, relatives and place of origin.

The book also includes a handful of pages devoted to “top fives,” such as:

  • Big Showstoppers
  • Cute & Compact
  • Hanging Plants
  • Easy Sharers

I particularly like the design of the book. The graphics, fonts and colors all work together in a harmonious and pleasing way. The background of many pages of the book looks like hand-made paper, which gives it a natural feel, appropriate for a gardening book. The photographs are all very clear and many are enhanced with illuminating graphics.

I will most likely buy a copy of this for my daughter. For reference books, I generally prefer to have hard copies I can thumb through, book mark and leave out on the coffee table when between projects.

Bottom line: Two green thumbs up!

** I obtained a free e-copy of this from NetGalley for an honest review.

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