Foul Play in the Floral Department

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While walking through Home Depot on an unrelated mission, we happened to walk by a display of succulents, and were struck by the unusual blue color of some of the flowering cacti.

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But on closer inspection, we could see what was really going on: the flowers on the top were attached… with glue. In fact, most of the flowers on the cacti and succulents were glued on.  Some of them, like this winner here, even had globs of glue spilled down onto the spines of the cactus below.

This is a deceptive (yet sadly common) practice— and apparently many people do get fooled by it —as we found garden forum posts and warning articles about it, including here, here, here and here.  This seems not so far away from buying a fruit tree at a nursery, only to find out (once you get it home) that the fruit was only glued to the tree.

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It looks like they are trying to make the less showy cactuses compete with the brightly colored grafted ones that they sell, like the ones shown pictured here. (This may not be a naturally occurring configuration, but at least it is a real, living plant.)

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Strawflowers are used because they keep their color well after drying. They also open and close as the humidity changes and they absorb more water or dry out more, giving the illusion of being part of a living plant.

And if it’s not bad enough that the customer is being deceived about the nature of plant they are buying, the glue can often damage the plant below, especially during the removal process.

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10 thoughts on “Foul Play in the Floral Department

  1. I caught myself in the midst of an impulse purchase with consequences. Maybe a venus fly trap ($7.99) will keep down the
    pesky flies. Brought it home and researched care on the internet.
    Then I ordered special dirt to transplant it ($25) and went to the
    store for distilled water (on sale for $1 a gallon). Upon observation
    it seems to be eating tiny little ants which somehow made it into
    my deck gardens.
    (We live in SE WA and the place abounds with mad scientists and
    I post on their antics from time to time.)

  2. At least they are likely using a cold glue and not using toothpicks like they used to ~15 years ago. Yes, this has been going on forever and, yes, it is ridiculous.

    Of course, it feeds to the market that can’t keep a plant alive for more than a few months anyway.

    However, the motivation for the comment is the graft picture. That is, the cactus with the green stalk and the glob of red cactus on top.

    No, that isn’t a natural configuration. It is likely, though, that the top plant is potentially a parsitic plant or it may simply be one that can deal with living in that configuration. The bottom plant has been cut and the top plant is rooted to it in a parasitic relationship.

    It isn’t a terribly healthy configuration. However, if you were to cut the top cactus off, the bottom bit would probably branch and grow. It is unlikely to be terribly attractive in that it is a species chosen for its durability, not beauty. The top plant could likely be rooted and might be quite interesting, assuming that the color wasn’t achieved through some horrible coloring process.

    Grafts are quite common. Those pear trees that magically produce 4 kinds of pears? That is actually 5 different pear trees; a pear root-stock that produces crap fruit but is very durable and 4 diffent kinds of trees grafted onto it.

    It will never be as healthy as a pure tree and it is quite likely that the grafts will eventually die while the root stock will grow a trunk and eventually produce (probably bad) fruit.

    Dwarf trees are a similar bit of woolery over the eyes of the customer. There certainly are legitimate dwarf species, but most plants sold as dwarfs are really just root bound versions of the full sized organism. Once you get ‘em in the ground and keep ‘em alive for a few years, they’ll go full size on you.

  3. It is a shame they don’t show a picture of the real cactus flowers on the tag because most cactus blossoms are quite showy, they just don’t last very long, a day or two at most.

    The grafted cactus is a fascinating phenomenon in its own right. The top portion is a sport of a less colorful cactus. It occurs when a branch of the parent plant grows without chlorophyl, so the other pigments in the plant show through more brightly. Because it has no chlorophyl it cannot survive on its own, so it is grafted onto a related cactus that can support it without overgrowing and overwhelming the colorful graft.

  4. The grafting of fruit trees is not limited to the five in one trees you mention, but is standard horticultural practice for almost all fruit trees. Citrus, apples, pears, plums, peaches, and apricots are highly variable when grown from seed and it can take many years to determine whether the fruit is any good and whether it is cold hardy, heat tolerant, early blooming, late blooming or has any number of other important characteristics. It is far more time efficient to graft a known variety onto a rootstock. The rootstock itself can be important to the success of the tree. Some rootstocks have tolerance to diseases in the soil. Some can increase the heat or cold tolerance of the tree. Some can impart dwarfing characteristics to the tree.

    Dwarf trees can be achieved in a number of ways and are not always a matter of being root bound, although that is one method. Careful pruning can control size to an extraordinary extent, and at its extreme we get bonsai. When pruning is used for this purpose it must be continued for the entire life of the plant. If the pruning is stopped the plant will begin growing at a normal rate until it reaches the normal size for the plant. There are plants that are genetic dwarfs, and if you want a truly dwarf fruit tree these are worth looking for and, although they still require some pruning for the best fruit production, they are often significantly smaller than a non-dwarf tree grown under the same conditions. A dwarfing rootstock will also help control the height of the tree. Lastly, adverse conditions will have a dwarfing effect on many plants, so an “Anna” apple tree grown in the extreme heat of the Arizona desert will be smaller than the same tree grown on the California coast.

    Lastly, for clarity about what grafting is, the rootstock and the scionwood are chosen for compatibility. they must be closely related so that the tissues can line up and transfer sugars and carbohydrates from the top to the roots or storage organs, and water and minerals from the roots up to the top where photosynthesis is taking place. It is not parasitic the way mistletoe or dodder are parasitic. They put roots into the host plant and steal water and nutrients and don’t share any of their resources with the host plant. In a well grafted plant there is a two way passage of water and nutrients from one part to the other and each part is dependent on the other for life.

  5. I remember buying a few cacti some years back to make a small desert garden in a dish and found out, to my bemusement, that the flowers were all pinned on. Admittedly it didn’t seem to harm the plants as they’re still going strong (I think it’s about twenty years now actually) but it was a very odd thing to discover that even a reputable garden centre does this kind of thing.

  6. I would so send them an email and point out this. I think they need to be buying from sources that don’t glue on flowers. :D

  7. They’re grafting a variety of Gymnocalycium onto, probably, a Cereus. It’s two species of cactus, and it can live for quite some time. The Gymno may, if it has normal (dark green/bronze) areas, be able to photosynthesize some. It may even bloom, although the species used is generally white-flowered.
    Cactuses don’t generally make good houseplants: they need a lot of light.

    • The reason some people are fooled by the glued on flowers is that they are actually real flowers, dried and dead, but real. They are dried strawflowers, also known as everlastings, commonly grown for the floral industry for dried flower arrangements. Strawflowers come in shades of pink, orange, yellow and white, but can easily be died to any color. They can last for years and the petals will respond to changes in humidity by opening and closing slightly, so they may look like they are alive, even though they are dead.

  8. Insane. Real cacti flowers are impressive. These are impressive too, but for entirely different, and not altogether, good reasons.

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