Friday, January 13, 2012

What an odd little cactus!

In yesterday’s post about my visit to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, CA, I forgot to mention what is possibly the strangest plant I bought. When I first saw it on one of the succulent tables, I thought it was a euphorbia or some other stem succulent from Southern Africa. However, it turned out to be an actual cactus! (In botanical terms, cacti are exclusive to the New World. While many African euphorbias look like cacti, they are not in the cactus family.)

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This particular cactus has a real tongue twister of a name: Maihuenia poeppigii. It is native to the higher elevations (above 6000 ft.) of southern Chile where it may be covered with snow for several months. It can withstand temperatures down to 5°F and, curiously enough, tolerates quite a bit of water since it grows in areas with high rainfall alternating with periods of drought. However, coming from a high-altitude environment, Maihuenia poeppigii doesn’t seem to like hot summers too much. This means that I will need to give it afternoon shade when temperatures get into the 90s and beyond.

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Maihuenia poeppigii forms dense mats consisting of hundreds of segments. The flowers, which appear in spring, are large (2 inches across) and lemon yellow in color. They are followed by 3 inch edible fruits (check this photo).

Maihuenia poeppigii in flower
Source: Wikipedia

My idea for this odd-looking cactus is to plant it in a shallow hypertufa dish and add pieces of rock to imitate its natural environment. What a great incentive for me to finally delve into the art and science of hypertufa!

7 comments:

  1. Two words: lawn replacement!

    The first thing I thought when I saw the linked photo of the big patch of this stuff is "I would fall onto that every time I came near it".

    Crazy that it's not really drought-tolerant or that it needs protection from hot sun. That's just not how I think of cactus at all! (Although I've learned that sempervivum doesn't enjoy it super-hot either.)

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  2. Love this plant! It was first pointed out to me by Derick Pitman, also known as Mr Impatiens (http://mrimpatiens.com/) and then gifted to me by Sean Hogan at Cistus. Mine is still small, about the size of yours, but I hope to someday have the gorgeous little green carpet!

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  3. Sweet! I just brought one home a couple weeks ago & put it in my new "alpine" container experiment pot. I'm hoping it's kind of a slow poke in the growing department, since I didn't give it a ton of room.

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  4. @Alan, lawn replacement? You've got some sense of humor :-). Actually, the spines aren't that bad so even if you fell onto a patch, it wouldn't be lethal.

    @Loree and Megan, it sounds like Maihuenia poeppigii is perfectly suited for your climates. I don't think it's a super fast grower, based on what I read this morning, but I hope it isn't glacially slow either. It's bad enough waiting for some of my other succulents to put on some size!

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  5. I saw this plant the last time we went to a specialist nursery, should have picked it up, nevermind! The hardiness is promising, a potential candidate for permanent planting here.

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  6. This is an awesome cactus! I would love one. You can tell it is a cactus because of how the spines come out. I want to get one when I go too!

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