Plant Friends

If you have any form of social media, you have surely seen the numerous amounts of cacti and succulents that have been blowing up every feed. This plant family is great for people just starting out with plants, or even looking for something that wouldn’t be too much work. Plants of this family generally need little water and lots of light. People with or without a green thumb are able to care for succulents and cacti but remain aware, plants are still living creatures that can get sick and die– as I sadly learned. Unfortunately for me, my lack of a green thumb allowed for a beautiful succulent to get sick and lose all its leaves.

Taking care of my plant became important for me during the few short weeks it lived with me. I liked watching the plant grow and noticing the colors change. It brought new life to my dull dorm room, and I decided that I wasn’t going to let that new life fade away. Before purchasing a new succulent, I figured it was time to educate myself beyond my roommate’s shared knowledge and whatever I could find on the Internet. I needed to talk to someone, and it was a perfect coincidence that my roommate had plans to attend the October meeting of The Cactus and Succulent Society of Massachusetts (CSSM). The CSSM holds monthly meetings in Norfolk, MA, and with a membership fee of $20, the society treats everyone like family.

People come from all over to attend CSSM meetings. On the beautiful morning of the October meeting, 103 people had traveled from as far as Rhode Island and New Hampshire to share their plants and stories. Amongst the 103 attendees, the majority of the crowd was elderly, but there were young people in the crowd as well: a few college students, young parents, and even a seven-year-old boy interested in the environment. It would usually only take 40 minutes from Boston to get to Norfolk on the commuter rail, but due to repairs and construction on sections of the rail, my roommate and I had to run the commuter rail for a half an hour before transferring to a bus for an hour. While the travel was not the easiest, getting to the event and seeing all types of cacti and succulents made the two-hour journey worth it.

Upon arriving at the local library where the meeting was held, my roommate and I felt like we had entered a greenhouse. Along all walls were tables of different types of cacti and succulents. Upfront, a projector was ready for the day’s speaker and a cardboard cutout standee of a cactus decorated for Christmas despite youth Halloween programs happening in another part of the library. All the plants– even the standee– were for auction, something that happens at every meeting. Along with auctioning off plants, there was a raffle for some rare succulents and common cacti for sale.

The meeting started and I listened as Lau Manger, the vice president, spoke of the “living sculptures” around the room. He talked business for a little before opening up the minute clinic. The minute clinic is a way for people like me to ask questions about the care of their plants and what to do in certain situations. While there, the society helped a woman whose cactus had grown too tall and was falling over– everyone suggested a wider pot. Lau and another member of the society welcomed people to ask questions about the care of their plants. I listened carefully, taking notes on watering habits, soil types, and what could happen if I accidentally brushed the protective dust off the leaves; and at the end, an order sheet was passed around for people to order some of the plants just discussed or other popular types of cacti and succulents.

The meeting lasted about four hours as they transitioned from society matters to the main event, a presentation by Woody Minnich, renown cacti and succulent specialist. He spoke of his travels and the rare types of cacti and succulents he had studied. He even spoke about the cacti and succulent black market, something that became aware to the public in 2017 after illegal shipments of cacti and succulents were found coming into California through Asia. 

When I left the meeting, I left with more knowledge about plants than I ever expected to know. Being in the room with all the members of the society was incredible, seeing the community they have created and that continues to grow. They cared about each other and about plants so much, sharing information and insight of all kinds. Some of the members even brought plants with them that they traded or exchanged with other members. It was reviving seeing so many people care about the environment, and want to learn and understand the green creatures we co-exist with. On their website, people are able to learn about the full extent of offered programs and a detailed explanation of member benefits. All meetings are held at the Norfolk Public Library. 

I came home to my dull dorm from the meeting and looked at my plant still potted on my window sill. It had started to decay, and by then, most of the leaves had fallen off and shriveled into brown mush. From the short four hour meeting, I learned that the type of succulent I had purchased need to be repotted almost immediately, which I hadn’t thought to do. I also learned that what was suspected to be dehydration was actually just my plant growing ill due to its small pot. My first solution was to water the succulent more, and instead, that ultimately ended up killing it. I learned that the leaves were just turning yellow but when I overwatered the succulent, the leaves started to fall off because they fill up with water– this lead to the stem of my succulent rotting. I still haven’t thrown my succulent out. It is fully dead now, but I am confident the next one will live a long and prosperous life in my dorm room.

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