Frailea is an often overlooked genus. It is not a genus that has been in and out of fashion as some other genera may have been, it sort of lurks there in the background, always there, but never stealing the limelight. We all know the score with the plants. They are small and never flower, but set an enormous amount of seed, most of which is never sown. That is a shame because they are really easy to grow from seed – the proverbial ‘mustard and cress’ – provided the seed is fresh. As some of them can be short-lived the best way to keep a nice collection of plants is to sow some of the seed. That way, if a plant dies, there is always a supply of youngsters waiting in the wings.

0718 Fig1 seedlings 2000

Fig. 1   Circa 2000. An early sowing of Frailea seedlings potted up for sale.

It is well known that the plants are cleistogamous, ie they set seed without the flower opening. However, on occasion, they do actually open their flowers. Is there a secret to getting them to flower? Probably not. If the flower is not going to open there is nothing you can do to make it do so. The only hint you may get is a peep of yellow at the top of the bud. They will only open for a short time and you just have to be lucky and be there at the right time.

0718 Fig2 F castanea

Fig. 2   18 August 2013. Frailea castanea

I have been lucky enough to see Frailea flowers three times. The first was way back in the 1990s, before digital cameras and so I do not have a picture. The second time was in 2013. It was Sunday 18 August. I know this as the date is on the picture, but I remember because I was able to show the flower of Frailea castanea to my grandfather. The plant came via the forum and it encouraged me to buy some more Frailea (once I had my new bigger greenhouse in 2015) one of which eventually flowered twice in as many weeks in June 2016.

I had been waiting for two Echinopsis oxygona to flower. They had opened the previous night and the pictures I took with the flash were a bit disappointing, so I was out ASAP the following morning to see if they were still open. Nothing remarkable about an E. oxygona, but a work colleague bought them for me the previous year for my 40th birthday – so I wanted to share a photo of the flowers with them at work.

Anyway, nearby was a Frailea with a large hint of yellow showing in the flower bud. So for most of the morning it was under a plastic tub (DVD cake tin lid), which had been sprayed inside with a bit of water. I do not know if the ‘cloche’ made it open – but open it did!

Only my third ever Frailea flower and only the second I have been able to photograph.

0718 Fig3 F pygmaea

Fig. 3   June 2016. Frailea pygmaea aureispina v pallidor GF700

Going back to 2015 and the plants I bought. They obviously set seed which I decided to sow in pots on my bedroom window sill. I got a bit carried away as you can see from the photo below. These are not all the quarter trays – there are more.

0718 Fig4 seedlings 2017

Fig. 4   2017. Seedlings on the go last year.

One thing I am going to try this year is to plant a few seedlings into 2¾” pots. I think they would do better with a few plants in a bigger pot. Having them singly in small pots means they dry out very quickly and growing a few together might help them to grow better.

Christopher Leather

No part of this article may be reproduced without permission. Copyright BCSS & the Author