Meet Justine Smith
Justine Smith’s beautifully grown rhipsalis flew off the tables at Collectors’ Plant Fair last year. Don’t worry if you missed out - she’s now supplying Flower Power with these hairy hanging delights under the Jungle Cactus label.
I think growing up with parents in the nursery business maybe I took growing plants for granted. I used to like propagating plants as a kid - don’t all kids grow peperomias from leaf cuttings? - and once my children went to school I found myself itching to get back into growing plants. Mum had a few rhipsalis that were interesting, so I thought I’d give them a go.
So it was serendipity that you became interested in growing rhipsalis just as they became fashionable?
Yes, just good luck really, and now we are growing 40 different species of rhipsalis, not all commercially available yet. I grow lots of other hanging plants too, like chain of hearts and chain of bananas, and string of pearls, and some other hanging cactus.
How do you source plant material of rhipsalis?
We are in contact with collectors who handle the importation and quarantining of cuttings. We buy a leaf cutting for up to $10 each and go from there. We also hunt at plant fairs and other places that people might have one or two out the back.
What are the secrets of growing success?
Because people know rhipsalis as mistletoe cactus they often give them the same conditions as other cactus, but they are from the forests of tropical Africa and Central and South America, so grow best in partial shade. They like a bit of water, but not too much. They are epiphytic so will rot if they get bogged, especially in the colder weather. We use a slow-release fertiliser.
Can you share your propagating tips?
We let the end of the cutting dry out for a few days and callous over a bit before potting them up. We give them a little bit of water, but not much until they have roots. We propagate whenever we have time, and have most success between August and November.
The flowers are not big, but the berries that follow them are fantastic. How can you promote those?
You’ll need reasonable light conditions to get flowers, and the plant needs to be quite mature.
Did you ever think you’d end up in the family business?
No, but as it turns out I really enjoy the whole business – finding interesting things, collecting them, learning how to grow them well, selling them. The whole thing is challenging and fun.