Ariocarpus (2009)

By Barbara Rengers (December 2009)

Michael Scheidweiler, a Belgian botanist and horticulturist, first named Ariocarpus in 1838. The name comes from the Greek “aria,” a type of oak, and “carpos,” meaning fruit. It is a small genus of only six or seven species, depending on where you get your information.

Ariocarpus are found on limestone hills in southern Texas and north-central Mexico. They are spineless, except as seedlings, and have an appearance like gray rocks. Their hard texture allows them to reflect some of the hot summer sun.

Their turniplike root is thought to contract under dry conditions and almost bury them in the soil, giving additional protection from the heat of summer. This ability to hide has not kept them safe from cactus hunters, or ever-increasing agriculture and ranching. (Ariocarpus do contain bitter and toxic alkaloids that protect them from herbivores.) They are endangered and protected in habitat.

It takes several years for the woolly structure at the top of the plants to produce large pink or yellow flowers. It is not difficult to propagate ariocarpus from seed, but remember that they are very slow growers.

The slow-growing plants need summer heat and very good drainage. Be very careful not to overwater, watering only during summer growth. Keep them dry during winter, when they can take temperatures of 15 degrees F.

I find ethnobotany, the study of relationships between plants and people, interesting. The genus Ariocarpus definitely has played an important part in the lives of native people.

All Ariocarpus species growing in Mexico are called “chaute,” which means glue. The Indian tribes of Mexico used the sticky sap in the stems as glue. A. fissuratus is believed to be more powerful than Lophophora williamsii by the Tarahumara Indians. They used it like L. williamsii and also made an intoxicating drink from it.

A. kotschoubeyanus is used as a painkiller for bruises. The Huichol Indians attribute magical powers to A. retusus. They believed it was evil, and anyone who committed a crime would be forced to consume the plant. This resulted in madness or even death, unless given a cure from the shaman.

The mucilage found in the roots of A. agavoides has a sweet taste, and the locals consume it as a dessert. A bravoanus and A. scaphirostris have both been used medicinally.

The Cactus Family – Edward Anderson
Ariocarpus et cetera – John Pilbeam and Bill Weightman – –
Wikipedia –
Living Rocks of Mexico –