Copiapoa (2006)

PhotoBy Jonathan Watt (February 2006)

Copiapoas are members of the cactus tribe with a very narrow natural distribution, occurring in the coastal region of Chile. This genus is named after the Copiapoa province there. There are 14 described Copiapoa species.

The plants are simple globose to elongated cylinders in shape, depending on the species. One species is clumping, with many offsets. All varieties have prominent ribs, and some have additional wooly growth on top of the plants, where the flowers arise. The flowers are yellow, with some tinged with red or funnel-shaped.

What attracted me to this genus was the apt descriptions in the catalogs: “light green-colored, blue/green-colored, and chalk white with black or dark spines.” What a combination! These are truly stunning plants to add to your collection.

Copiapoas are true desert plants. They are supposedly difficult to flower in cultivation because of the high light requirement – so what! Drainage in the potting mix is the most important factor, especially in winter. They need absolute dryness in winter and cooler temperatures, but still full light. Copiapoas can be watered freely in summer, allowing a dryout between, but watch it in the cooler months.

So what, I say, because this genus is a true beauty just growing. If the plants flower, great! Here are some to try: C. coquimbana, a clumper with black spines, wool and yellow flowers; and C. echinoids, an elongate shape with blue-green color, black spines, wool at the top and yellow flowers (does it get any better?). C. cinerea is similar to the above in shape but chalky in color with glossy black spines.

Give these plants a try so you can come up with your own superlatives!

(Reprinted from the November 2000 HSCS Digest.)