Coryphantha (2012)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (May 2012)

The genus Coryphantha is in the tribe Cacteae and the subfamily Cactoideae. George Englemann, who placed it as a subgenus of Mammillaria, described the genus in 1856. Charles Lemaire raised it to the level of genus 12 years later in 1868.

The name coryphantha is derived from the Greek “koryphe,” head; and “anthos,” flower; referring to the fact that the flowers appear from the tops of the plants. This flowering location differs from mammillarias, whose flowers arise from the bases of the tubercles. Depending on which author you prefer, there are around 55 members in the genus.

The plants are globose to cylindrical and grow to 20 inches high. They often form large clumps with many years of growth. The tubercles are grooved and often very elongated and cylindrical. Coryphantha flowers are moderately large and arise from the stem tips, opening during the day. The flowers are mostly yellowish to greenish, up to 4 inches long and 2.5 inches in diameter.

Many species in the genus deserve consideration for addition to a collection. There are several species with more of the body of the plant exposed due to fewer spines, such as C. calipensis. Other species have a denser arsenal of spines, such as C. clavata, C. glanduligera and the minute C. durangensis.

Indigenous peoples have used one species, C. macromeris, also known as Dona Ana, medicinally. Some say it has one-fifth the potency of peyote despite the absence of mescaline. Rather, it contains normacromerine, an anolog of epinephrine that seems to have “potential hallucinogenic activities.” Others, however, claim the plant is not psychoactive.

There are several plants I would suggest you consider adding to your collection. There aren’t any I would recommend you eating. Whether you prefer globose or cylindrical, many-spined or fewer, there is likely a coryphantha to suite your preferences.