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Today was jam packed with talks, presentations, programs, lectures, which ever term you prefer.

After the official welcome, Ernst van Jaarsveld kicked off with ‘Succulent Plant Exploration in Southern Africa – Cape Agulhas to Southern Angola’ and showed us the huge range of succulent plants that this area has to offer.  Many of the delegates had traveled in the area and could readily identify with most of the plants that we were shown but still learned some interesting facts about others. I spent 9 weeks travelling in South Africa and Namibia in 2012 and am making plans for another, shorter visit in 2016. Great speaker, great presentation, great plants!

Next was Queensland member Greg Daniels who spoke on ‘Granite and the unexpected’

Kim Holbrook followed with ‘In search of the Devil’. The devil in question was Stenocereus eruca, the Creeping Devil of Baja California and again, seeing images from an area that I have visited quite regularly during the last 6 years was wonderful.

Doug Binns took us into his collection and shared his interest for Discocactus with us. Again, I have been fortunate to see many of these plants in Nature and enjoyed an interesting chat with Doug over lunch.

David Bromwich told us that The Limit is the Sky where we were encouraged to try to see the world from the plant’s point of view. All plants need light to survive and grow, but there is more to light than we can see. David moved through a fellow member’s garden with various tools to measure the amounts of visible and invisible (to humans) light and how this affected plant growth. Any presentation that triggers further reading later on is great by me and I moved a few things around in my conservatory since I have been home, where plants are stacked 4 high protected from moisture and the cold to see them through winter .

Time for lunch and plant sales and 75 minutes later, back to the hall for Attila Kapitany who enthused about Two Other Stars of California – Dudleya and Agave. In May 2014 he had a similar journey of discovery for both these genera that I have enjoyed on visits to California, guided by Eunice Thompson’s enthusiasm for these plants. Kelly Griifin seems to be at the root of generating interest in these and we saw some great images of the taxonomic mystery that Dudleyas can present, where plants in habitat readily hybridise creating a challenge for those who need names for the plants that they photograph. The Agaves that Attila showed us were in the variable Agave utahensis group. Again, it triggered memories of a trip in the Californian and Nevada deserts, ‘stalking’ the Agaves. The flower stalks of these plants not only announce the death of the plants, but guide Agave tourists to their habitats high on the hills. To make this a greater challenge, many stalks are knocked over as collectors hunt for the seed, so that knowing where to start your hunt can be very useful.

I had traveled with Attila and his wife in Chile and 2001 and meeting them again made the 13 years that had passed melt away. We’ll meet again, who knows where!

Next was Karen Zimmerman who showed us that she had Aloes on her Mind. Karen and Kelly Griffin are at the forefront of the current interest in Aloe hybrids. When these first came out I was rather skeptical – my love is for plants in nature and not for those created in almost laboratory conditions. But visiting them ‘at home’ in California I was impressed by the beautiful works of art that they had created, just as valid as any statue or painting that we admire as works of art. Karen explained how she selects plants with the best features such as colour, texture and teeth along the leaves’ edge and comes up with breathtaking plants that then presents them with the challenge to create an interesting and relevant name. Sadly, once the master pieces have been created, there seems to be nothing to stop anyone who has bought them to take cuttings and pass them on without paying copy right acknowledgements to the originator. I’ll have to make a list of the small number of Aloe hybrids on my windowsill, all acquired in Europe, and discover the name of the artist who created it. Karen also showed us examples where crosses that seemed to have great potential turned out to be disappointing and made their way to the compost heap. The interest in these plants was confirmed later in the plant auction where some of the ‘test tube babies’ reached fantastic bids.

After a quick break for tea, Merv Whitehouse climbed on his stage, built up from plant crates and gave us a practical presentation of various potting mixes, pot sizes and how different sized sponges – representing potting mixes – would ‘soak up’ water to the same height, irrespective of their size. Obvious once you think about it, but illustrating that often we don’t think too hard when selecting a new pot for your plants.

Finally it was my turn to take the floor, with ‘Mexico 2014 – a Thelothon’. This talk had already been on a tour in England as part of my annual ‘What I Saw Last Winter’ offering, and focused on many members of the genus Thelocactus that we saw in habitat growing alongside many slow growing cacti, which John Pilbeam refers to as ‘cacti for the Connoisseur’. These cacti are relatively slow and can demand special cultivation treatment and so are not too popular with mass production nurseries where the aim is to move plants from seed to sales bench in under 18 months. So the small number of plants offered for sale often come from hobby growers when they sell surplus seedlings from home raised batches of 20 seeds. In my plants this ‘rarity’was also expected in habitat, yet in many places we found cacti such as Ariocarpus growing in such large numbers and over such a wide area that was a great eye opener. While the Thelocactus and many of their other cousins were in the peak of glowering, the Ariocarpus delay flowering to late September / early October, so it comes as no surprise that in some 2 weeks time, I’m off to Mexico I’m off to Mexico again this time to photograph Ariocarpus in flower.

What impressed us all, judging by the chat at the official dinner, every one was very pleased with the varied range of presentations, all well presented, with full credit to Greg Daniels and Katherine Kok (?) who ensured that the technical side of digital projectors, computers and PA systems worked perfectly.

I enjoyed my introduction to Australian wine at the Official Dinner, admired the paintings that were entered as raffle prizes, but that were unfortunately to take home or to hang on my wall at home. The Society is fortunate to have a master auctioneer in Ian Hay who entertained us while encouraging us to raise our bids to new heights. I gather that it is not the first convention that he performed this role and his experience showed.

Once again I fell into bed, exhausted after a very full day.

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