Echinocactus (2010)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (November 2010)

Echinocactus was described by Heinrich Link and Christoph Otto in 1827. The name is derived from the Greek “echinos” – hedgehog or sea urchin, thus spiny cactus.

For many years, over 1,000 ribbed-stemmed cacti found themselves in Echinocactus. Today, some authors identify only six species of Echinocactus. All plants are day-flowering, with most flowers being yellow.

Echinocacti are thought to be closely related to ferocacti. As a general rule, the easiest way to distinguish plants of the Echinocactus species from Ferocactus is that echinocacti usually have dense, woolly crowns at the stem tips.

The barrel-shaped plants are either solitary or many-stemmed. The stems are heavily ribbed, covered apically with dense, yellowish wool. Areoles are large, producing stout spines with centrals and radials. The short, bell-shaped flowers appear at the stem tips.

Echinocacti range from California east to Texas and south to central Mexico into Hidalgo and Queretaro. The six species of the genus are E. grusonii, E. horizonthalonius, E. parryi, E. platyacanthus, E. polycephalus and E. texensis.

Possibly one of the most popular and easily recognized echinocacti is the golden barrel, Echinocactus grusonii. These cacti are readily offered and relatively easy to grow. You can grow an enormous specimen, but it will take many years.

In my opinion, the choicest species is E. horizonthalonius. This plant epitomizes the Southwest with its green color and spination, which is tight when grown hard.

One of the first succulents I ever had was an E. texensis. It was an old, bare-rooted plant found under a bench at a fruit stand, where the lady gave it to me because it was “dead.” I was tempted to show her the mass of off-white blooms with pink/red centers at the top of the plant the following spring.

Echinocactus are nice globular plants which are a staple for any cacti collection. You can have several species and grow them for years before they get so large as to outgrow their welcome.