My plant looked like a plain old cactus for years. Last summer, I had it on the carport, with bright light but no direct sun. It sprouted these leaves, with thorns growing inside them. It has been indoors since autumn and hasn't lost any of the leaves. It is 3 feet tall. Can you please explain?
-- A. H. of Belleville
A. Your plain old plant is not a cactus, as you have found out with the production of leaves. It is a succulent, which requires almost the same environmental needs as cacti -- dry soil and war air temperatures. True cactus plants have thick stems and the leaves are modified thorns or very thin thorns resembling hair.
Your plant is a succulent belonging to the Euphorbia family -- the same family as the Christmas poinsettia. The one common characteristic that all Euphorbias have is a white milky sap or juice that can cause skin burns if you handle them incorrectly.
As your plant ages, it may or may not produce flowers. This is what will help to identify the exact species. If it does not flower, it is Euphorbia lactea or commonly known as the "candelabra cactus." It is native to the East Indies and can grow to 15 feet tall.
If it does flower, it is Euphorbia antiquorum, which is a native of India and can grow up to just 10 feet tall.
So, true identification may take a while. E. lactea is grown commonly as a houseplant so this is what I am betting on. But if it is E. antiquorum it is very rare and you will have a great conversation plant, so take many pictures if it blooms. There is no set time to determine when either of species of these plants is mature enough to flower.
As you can see by the common name, most people thought it was a cactus.
You can keep this plant in bounds by cutting the stems back to where there is a slight indentation, which shows how much the stem grew each year. This will cause branching to occur at this place, with several stems beginning to grow from that point.
Wear gloves when cutting so no plant juice touches your skin and causes chemical burns. You can lay these cut ends on moist (but not wet) soil media and they should root easily.
Can you determine what causes the black spots on my pecan nuts? My two mature trees (40-50 feet high and 60 feet apart) are too big for spraying. What is the best treatment?
-- A.B. of Belleville
The samples you have enclosed with this letter indicate brown damage caused by a small cream colored larva, which at its largest size is 3/8 of an inch long. If you look closely, you will see small grooves that were chewed by these worm larvae.
On some of your pecans with extensive damage, the nuts fall prematurely to the ground. But later in the year, when the nut shells have hardened, these shuck worms tunnel out into the shucks. What you sent in are the kernels damaged by the larvae of a moth (Laspeyresia caryana).
Spray controls are not practical for a home nut grower. But what is required is that you clean up and destroy all the dropped nuts and shucks that you find on the ground under these trees. This will eliminate all of the overwintering larvae which will turn into moths next spring to lay eggs in the young, developing nuts. There is still time to do this in the next few weeks.
Do it now
FLOWER SEEDS: Sow the seeds of annuals alyssum, portulaca and salvia.
DAFFODILS: Check for blooming daffodils. Some are fully open in protected areas. Take some to shut-ins and sick people to lift their spirits.
VEGETABLE PLANTS: Most of the vegetables grown for transplants should be seeded by the middle of this month.
LAWNS: Sow grass seed for damaged areas.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.