26-year-old L Methunn, a resident of Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, always wanted to do an agriculture-related course, but fate had different plans for him and he ended up studying pharmacy. However, his interest in plants never abated and in fact, grew over the years. He followed his dream and discovered that he loved growing cactus. Now, Methunn has a collection of hundreds of exotic and rare varieties of cactus growing on his rooftop, some of which are hybrids that he has created himself through pollination and grafting techniques.
To name a few from his cactus collection, Methunn has Lobivia, gymnos, coryphantha, variegated cereus, mammillaria pectinifera, peanut cactus, echinocereus, rainbow cactus and hybrid varieties of Trichocereus and Echinopsis among several others.
You pick any variety of cactus from the collection, Methunn will tell you its name, characteristics, speciality, how to grow it, what kind of precautions to take, what kind of virus might attack it, and the kind of genetic changes that a particular variety has gone through over the years â€” he knows it all. All this knowledge about cactus has come to Methunn through the internet and his dear friend and guide from Sweden, Morgan Marusteri, who with his wife, has a collection of about a thousand varieties of cactus in Germany.
â€śThough I started growing cactus in 2017, my interest was sustained because of the encouragement that I constantly got from my Swedish friend, Morgan, since 2018. I met him through a Facebook group on growing cactus. He is a chef by profession but knows everything about the plant. He shared his knowledge and tips in successfully growing cactus here and we keep exchanging varieties of cactus from India and Sweden,â€ť says Methunn.
However, Methunn's interest in cactus first began because of a 3.56 minute video on YouTube titled Freaky Flowers that shows how the flowers of the cactus grow and wilt in a timelapse video. â€śThe video mesmerised me and introduced me to the beauty of cactus flowers. I was determined to grow them and for the last five years, I have been growing them successfully.â€ť
But it's not so easy to see a flowering cactus; in fact, it's nothing short of a penance. Each cactus may take anywhere between two to 10 years to flower, and these remain in bloom hardly for two to 24 hours. Some of them may stay in bloom for a couple of days. However, whenever a cactus flowers, it is a moment of celebration for Methunn.
â€śThe process of flowering itself amazes me, as the blooms come in different colours. And whenever a flower blooms, I get very excited as it is the result of years of hard work and patience. And of course, this is followed by a photo session from different angles celebrating the flower,â€ť adds Methunn.
The excitement is even more when the flowers appear on plants that he has pollinated or grafted by himself. â€śWhen you pollinate two different varieties, you have to make sure that both the plants are in the flowering stage. Despite careful planning of colours, you never know which coloured flower you are going to get as a result. It's unpredictable and often surprises you,â€ť says Methunn. While pollination is a process of waiting, Methunn also grafts different varieties of cactus to create new ones.
In the Telugu states, the temperature is suitable for growing cactus all through the year except in December and January in the winter, which sees slow growth. In north India, due to extremely cold temperatures, slow growth is observed from December to February or March, he says. Methunn also runs a Facebook group, Echinopsis lovers India for growing cactus and shares tips with members across India.
Not only is it difficult to grow cactus because of the thorns, one also has to deal with superstitions in the Telugu states that claim growing cactus will bring 'negative energy' to the house.
â€śMany people believe that growing cactus is not good for the home. But, it's a superstition. Since there are a lot of thorns in these plants, they are a little unsafe, and people usually don't recommend growing them at home. However, if there are no children around and the plants are carefully placed, they can be grown anywhere. One only needs to have patience and knowledge about the plant,â€ť says Methunn.
Challenges and care
The main challenge in growing cactus comes in the rainy season. Methunn has arranged a protective cover on the rooftop for the plants. â€śSome varieties of cactus need to be protected till a certain stage from the rains. Rains result in rotting of plants, even when they are in seedling stage. We need to make sure that certain humid conditions are maintained. If one seedling starts rotting, it leads to the rotting of the whole bunch in that set," he says.
Methunn says that he waters the plants at night as it is then that the stomata open. The watering is done once or twice a week, depending on the season.
As you enter Methunn's house, you also observe several water lilies and lotus plants spread across cement water tubs. Each cement tub also has several fishes, in red, blue, orange and many more colours, swishing through the water.
Growing water lilies is an even older passion for Methunn than cactus. He's been growing them since 2013, when he was a student studying pharmacy.
Speaking about his collection of water lilies, Methunn says that he has about 25 varieties in different colours, some with double petals and other variations. â€śI started growing water lilies in 2013. Back then, it was rare, not many knew how to grow water lilies successfully. But now, awareness has increased and so many people are successfully growing them. In 2017, I also took a class for the Urban Development wing of the government on how to grow water lilies.â€ť
Methunn has also experimented in growing yellow coloured watermelon and succeeded in his efforts. He has a wide collection of adenium plants as well.
One might wonder if Methunn has to spend a fortune on the plants. But, he says that it hardly costs him Rs 3,000 per year for fertilisers and pots. â€śI get cinder and fertilisers from Delhi annually through a vendor. We have to clean that up and use it after removing residue. It's a lot of work though," says Methunn. His mother and younger brother also help Methunn in maintaining the plants.
Methunn, who is currently preparing for the state held competitive exams, has postponed his plans to go abroad for higher studies for the sake of his plant collection. â€śI'm looking for a government job in my hometown so that I can take care of my plants in my free time. I also have long-term plans to set up an online nursery for these rare varieties of cactus plants," he says.