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MESEMBRYANTHEMUM - Fig Marigold

A large group of succulent plarfts, mostly of trailing habit. Except in mild climates, they require the protection of a greenhouse during the winter. They are natives principally of South Africa, and belong to the family Aizoaceae.

These plants vary greatly in habit; most kinds have trailing, succulent stems, some are semiwoody and are of shrubby growth, 2 or 3 ft. in height. The leaves vary from 1/2 in. to several inches in length; some are triangular, others cylindrical, Many are covered or tipped with fine hairs, while some are smooth and hairless.

The flowers of Mesembryanthemums are daisylike in shape, and measure from 1/2 to 2 or 3 in. in diameter. They are red, pink, magenta, yellow or white, and are composed of numerous narrow petals and equally numerous narrow stamens. Most of the flowers open in full sunlight, but a few expand in the evening. The present spelling of Mesembryanthemum is derived from mesos, middle, embryon, fruit and anthemon, flower, though the earlier name, Mesembrianthemum, was from mesembria, midday, and anthemon, flower, as the then known species flowered only around midday.

Modem Names. Many of the plants previously called Mesembryanthemums have been regrouped by modern botanists into a large number of newer genera. Because many that have been so transferred are still commonly grown in gardens as Mesembryanthemums, and because these require essentially the same culture as the plants that botanists still regard as Mesembryanthemums, some are mentioned in the following discussion. In such cases the preferred modern name is placed in parentheses after the older name that applied. Additional information regarding these plants will, in most cases, be found under their new names in this Encyclopedia.

Cultivation in the Greenhouse. These plants require a minimum winter temperature of 40 degrees. The best soil consists of two parts sandy loam and one of equal quantities of sand, crushed bricks and limestone chips. No shading is required and the greenhouse must be ventilated freely at all seasons of the year, cxcept in frosty weather. Repotting of the vigorous kinds is done annually in March. The shoots of the trailing or shrubby kinds should be shortened when necessary. The soil is made firm with a potting stick, but no water is given until it becomes quite dry.

Well-rooted plants are watered freely during the summer months, but throughout the winter the soil is only moistened when it becomes quite dry. When grown in window gardens and sunrooms, these plants require the same care as when greenhouse-grown.

For Summer Flower Beds. M. cordifolium variegatum (Aptenia cordifolia variegata), which forms a compact mat of variegated foliage, and is used in carpet-bedding designs, for carpeting flower beds, or as an edging, is planted outdoors after the weather is warm and settled. In the autumn some of the plants should be lifted, trimmed slightly and potted or placed in boxes of soil. During the winter they are kept in a frostproof greenhouse and given just sufficient water to prevent the stems from shriveling.

When young shoots are developing in the spring, they should be taken off and inserted in pots or boxes of sandy soil; when rooted, they are gradually hardened off for planting in the summer flower beds.

Annual Kinds. M. tricolor (Dorotheanthus gramineus); the Ice Plant, M. crystallinum (Cryophytum crystallinum); M. pomeridianum (Carpanthea pomperidiana); and other annual kinds, or kinds treated as such, are grown in pots in the greenhouse or window garden or sown out of doors for summer flowering. If they are to be grown in pots, the seeds are sown in early spring in well-drained 5-in. pots filled with a soil of two parts sandy loam and one of equal parts sand and crushed bricks. They are lightly covered, and the soil is moistened by immersing the pots in a pail of water. A pane of glass is placed over the pot, and this glass is wiped on the underside each morning to remove condensed moisture.

When the seedlings appear, the glass is removed and they are exposed to full light. They are thinned to 1 in. apart, when large enough to handle, and left to flower in the same pots. The maximum amount of fresh air is required, and the soil must be kept moist until the plants go out of flower, when they are discarded.

Sowing Out of Doors. The annual kinds may also be grown out of doors. The seeds are sown in spring in the locations in which the plants are to flower. They are scattered thinly on the surface, raked in, and the seedlings thinned to 2 in. apart, when large enough to handle. They require a sunny place and light, well-drained soil.

In Mild Climates. In California and other mild, dry climates, especially near the sea, many are hardy and some have become naturalized. The Hottentot Fig, M. edule (Carpobrotus edule), yellow or purple, and M. uncinatum (Ruschia uncinata), pink, should be planted in light, well-drained soil in spring. They do best when planted at the top of a steep bank or among rockwork, where the long trailing shoots have ample room for development.

Propagation of all perennial kinds is effected by cuttings at any time from March to September. Shoots 2-6 in. long, according to the vigor of the plant, are prepared by removing some of the lower leaves. Like those of all other plants of a succulent nature, the cuttings, after being prepared, are laid on a shelf or bench for a few hours, to allow a protecting skin to form over the cut portions before they are inserted in the sand or sandy soil they require. The pots of cuttings are placed on a shelf or set in a cold frame until roots are formed, when they are potted separately in 3-in. pots and subsequently in pots of larger size.

Seeds provide a very ready means of propagating Mesembryanthemums. They germinate quickly when sown in well-drained pots of sandy soil and kept in a light location in a minimum temperature of about 55 degrees.

The Principal Kinds. M. tigrinum (Faucaria tigrina), the Tiger’s Mouth, yellow, 6 in.; M. crystallinum (Cryophyton crystallinum), the Ice Plant, white, leaves covered with glistening white lumps resembling ice; M. cordifolium variegatum (Aptenia cordifolia variegata), small ovate variegated leaves and purple flowers (used for summer bedding), and M. tricolor (Dorotheanthus gramineus), red, white, and other shades, 3 in., a half-hardy annual suitable for pots or the flower border.

Noteworthy kinds for the greenhouse include M. acinaciforme (Carpobrotus acinaciformis), red, trailing; M. aureum (Lampranthus aureus), golden-yellow; M. blandum (Lampranthus blandus), pink; M. roseum (Lampranthus roseus), pale pink; M. coccineum (Lampranthus coccineus), 12 in., scarlet; M. floribundum (Drosanthemum floribundum), 12 in., red; M. spectabile (Lampranthus spectabilis), 12 in., red; M. violaceum (Lampranthus emarginatus), 2 ft., purplish, July.

 



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