Echinopsis fireworks: 'Flying Saucer' and 'First Light'

Some of the cacti I planted a few years ago are now large enough to produce more than just one flower or two at a time. Few sights are more spectacular in my mind than a profusion of cactus flowers, and I’m very happy to report that two of my echinopsis hybrids, ‘Flying Saucer’ and ‘First Light’, delivered this year. Really delivered. The spectacle was short-lived, but it was magical.

It was gratifying to see neighbors stop and look at the flowers. The other day, my wife and I were out on the sidewalk when a man I’d never seen before stopped and said, “The guy who lives here really likes cactus.” That made me laugh. I did reveal my identity, which made him chuckle.

Echinopsis ‘Flying Saucer’

Echinopsis ‘Flying Saucer’ is one of the most popular echinopsis hybrids. One look at the flowers, and you’ll agree. Mature specimens can produce flowers that are 10 inches in diameter. I measured the largest on mine, and it was 9 inches.

Echinopsis ‘Flying Saucer’ is a hybrid between an unidentified Soehrensia species and Trichocereus schickendantzii. It was created by legendary plantsman Hans Britsch at his nursery, Western Cactus Growers, in Vista, California. Originally from Switzerland, Hans started Western Cactus Growers in 1966 and was actively involved in the nursery until his death on February 25, 2022. “As with every other day,” his obituary states, “Hans was first to arrive at 6:30 A.M. to work; that night, he was taken to the hospital by ambulance.” The cactus world owes Hans a huge debt of gratitude for giving us ‘Flying Saucer’.

Echinopsis ‘Flying Saucer’ grows to a height of approximately 36 inches, with stems up to 5 inches in diameter. It’s hardy to the low 20s.

On May 15, our ‘Flying Saucer’ looked like the photo above.

The next morning, it looked like this:

Seven glorious flowers!

The smaller stem had five flowers and was completely hidden behind them:

Here’s my hand for comparison:

The photos above were taken around 8 a.m. The sun was still too low to reach this part of the sidewalk bed, and the colors of the flowers were beautiful shades of pastel.

A few hours later, the sun was beginning to reach the flowers, making the colors appear more saturated:

Still images capture a single moment in time, allowing for a focused examination of a specific subject without the distractions of movement or changing elements. Video, on the other hand, is ideal for storytelling, allowing for the unfolding of events over time and enabling a more immersive viewing experience. That’s why I decided to make a short video of this ‘Flying Saucer’ in all its floral glory:

A picture is worth 1,000 words, they say. In the right context, a video can be worth 1,000 pictures!

Typically, echinopsis flowers only last one day. Imagine my delight, when this time, ‘Flying Saucer’ opened for a second day:

The flowers weren’t as crisp as they had been on the first day and the color had darkened a bit, but I wasn’t complaining. As you’ll see below, ‘First Light’ did the same thing.

I think the flowers opened for a second day because a) they didn’t get pollinated on the first day, and b) the weather was mild: nice and warm, but not hot.

Echinopsis ‘First Light’

Echinopsis ‘First Light’ isn’t as well-known as ‘Flying Saucer’ and the flowers are smaller, but, if anything, it’s even more lovely. Whenever I’m asked which flowering cactus is my favorite, my first instinct is to say ‘Flying Saucer’, but ultimately I always settle on ‘First Light’. ‘Flying Saucer’ is an easy wow, but ‘First Light’ is the kind of beauty that captivates and enthralls. It grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Echinopsis ‘First Light’ was created by Tucson plant breeder Mark Dimmitt. It’s a cross between two other hybrids: ‘Diehl’sche Hybride’ (Echinopsis candicans × Echinopsis eyriesii var. grandiflora) and ‘Newlands Orange’ (Echinopsis huascha ‘Gold’ × Echinopsis huascha ‘Red’). The genetics of these complex hybrids gets complex pretty quickly!

Echinopsis ‘First Light’ grows to a height of approximately 48 inches. Like ‘Flying Saucer’, it’s hardy to the low 20s.

The ‘First Light’ in our garden developed a very promising ring of buds along the top. Photo above and below taken on May 15:

This was waiting for us the following morning, May 16:

I don’t know which words came out of my mouth when I saw this, but it could have been an exclamation of excitement involving the f-word.

As the sun began to reach ‘First Light’, the colors became noticeably warmer.

Like ‘Flying Saucer’, ‘First Light’ gave us an encore on day 2:

In the morning of day 2, the flowers looked virtually the same as on day 1:

They did begin to fade in the afternoon of day 2 and were completely spent on day 3.

Here’s a short video of ‘First Light’ that I took on day 1:

‘Flying Saucer’ and ‘First Light’ may be the most spectacular bloomers, but there are many other cacti – echinopsis and others – that have been flowering their heads off in our garden. I’m sharing more photos in this post. My cactus flower folder for May contains over 400 photos already so expect a flower extravaganza.


The biggest problem with echinopsis hybrids is simply finding them. None of them are in tissue culture, so the only way to propagate them is through offsets. In other words, if you want a ‘Flying Saucer’, you need to find somebody who has a plant with pups and who is willing to give or sell you one of these pups. To be considered ‘Flying Saucer’, the plant has to be an offset (of an offset of an offset, etc.) of the original hybrid created by Hans Britsch. 

Folks in Arizona have an easier time, because virtually every cactus nursery carries ‘Flying Saucer’ or ‘First Light’. I bought my ‘Flying Saucer’ from Jeff Moore/Arid Adaptations and ‘First Light’ from Bach’s Cactus Nursery, both in Tucson.

If you don’t live in Arizona, your best bet is mail order. Brent Wigand, whom I visited last summer, has the largest selection of echinopsis hybrids in the country. He sells at and in his own Facebook group, also named Torchcactus.

Another source I would recommend is GreenGeminiCactuz on Etsy. I’ve bought quite a few plants from GreenGeminiCactuz over the years and have been very satisfied.


The genus Echinopsis, the way it is currently classified, combines a large number of previously separate genera, including Trichocereus and Soehrensia, the parent genera of ‘Flying Saucer’. As is so often the case in taxonomic circles, there’s a great deal of controversy around this classification. It’s easy to see why: As a catch-all genus, Echinopsis encompasses 120+ species ranging from the tiny peanut cactus (Echinopsis chamaecereus) to the towering Argentine saguaro (Echinopsis terscheckii). Research is ongoing to examine how closely related they really are. I suspect that eventually we’ll see the reestablishment of many of the old genera, as suggested here.

© Gerhard Bock, 2024. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Ohhhhhhhhh! Just stupendous, I'm sure you were out to see the glory of it repeatedly. First Light IS INSANE! I love the videos, too. Seeing the breeze flutter the petals is wonderful. I was delighted to get 3 or 4 flowers on one plant, I can't imagine.

    1. The fluttering petals, THAT was the reason why I did the videos!!! :-)

      You'll get more flowers next year, and even more the year after that. It's simply a matter of maturity.

  2. My favorite is First Light too. I have both though and it is so hard to decide. I wish the powers that be would officially bring back Trichocereus for the large plants instead of lumping all of them into Echinopsis. I am running out of room and need smaller ones now. Do your plants get some shade? My Flying Saucer is in full hot Arizona sun and does well. First Light is not and does not flower as well.

    1. Both 'First Light' and 'Flying Saucer' are in full sun here, but our summers are much milder than yours. I think they do need really bright light to flower well.

      I've noticed people are using Trichocereus (again or still) for the columnar forms and Echinopsis for the smaller globular forms. But when it comes to hybrids, it gets tricky, because the parentage of so many hybrids is muddled...

  3. I wish you were able to find one (or a few) in your area. They'd be stunning your garden.

  4. I think I would pull up a chair and sit the whole day admiring them. The colors are enchanting.

    1. On the days these were in flower, I was running in and out the house to check the progress :-)


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