Saving Rotting Cacti and Succulents by Siegfried Lodwig
All of us cactus freaks have had plants rot. I have a crazy number of plants (more than 10,000) so I get to see a lot of rot. In the past 2.5 years I've had five big-time surgeries, on me, not on cacti. Every one of those involved patching me up at the end with surgical super glue. No stitches. It happens that I've been using hardware store super glue (as the gel) for grafting cacti for many years. It occurred to me that maybe I should be using super glue for saving the lives of my rotting cacti. This past spring, I got to try the idea out on some small seedlings of Epithelantha micromeris. When I set out to transplant them from their seedbed, it turned out that they had all rotted off at the soil line. (They were too crowded. Crowding is a major cause of rot in seedlings. Bad air circulation.) I wiped away as much rot as I could and treated them with a super glue sealing. I then put them into individual cells in a 288 cell flat. I forgot about them. At the end of the summer, I happened to look at them and I discovered all of them (there were 14) were fat and happy. The super glue worked. The plants survived and had re-rooted. The reason it worked, I think, is that super glue is an amazingly toxic material. It has a structure that I've known for all my professional life (I was an organic chemist) as super reactive, therefore potentially super toxic. The reason it doesn't kill the patient when used in surgery is that a trace of water polymerizes the monomeric super reactive structure. The polymer that it makes is totally non-toxic. Plus it is a terrific glue. My theory is that the monomer comes into contact with the fungus that's destroying the plant and reacts with the fungus in the few seconds that the monomer is present. This does something to the fungus, maybe killing it, at least harming it. The cactus is not hurt because it's big and it has a kajillion cells, essentially all of which survive the super glue. The relatively few plant cells that are killed by the super glue can be sacrificed. The analogy is not good, but it's kind of like you taking an antibiotic for some infection. The antibiotic works on the organism that's trying to kill you. That organism is more prone to be damaged (killed) than your own cells, or there are so many more cells of you that even if some get zapped, you won't suffer much losing those cells. (Cancer chemotherapy uses drugs that unfortunately do a lot of damage to the patient, since the cancer cells are also derived from the patient. Someday maybe we'll figure out a true magic bullet for cancer cells only.) I'll report on the outcome of the various attempts at saving cacti with super glue described in what follows when growth resumes in 2020. This is all new to me, an unknown experiment. I hope that I don't look too dumb at the end of it all. But, you won't learn very much stuff if you worry about looking dumb. The professional advice, by the way, of what to do about a rotten cactus has been - throw it away and get a new plant. Trying to save a rotten plant isn't worth the time and effort for what is usually a failure. There is an overarching lesson in what follows. Try to save your desirable plant as soon as possible. The invading fungus is busy eating your plant 24/7/365.25.