Echinocereus coccineus (2016)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (June 2016)

The genus Echinocereus was described by George Engelmann in 1848. The name comes from the Greek “echinos,” hedgehog or sea urchin, either referring to the spiny fruits or bodies of some plants.

Plants in the genus are solitary or branched, prostrate or erect, globose to cylindrical, mostly covered in spines. Lateral shoots often burst through the epidermis. Roots are either fibrous or tuberous, but overall, usually reflect a smaller root system that some other cacti. Ribs on plants number from four to 26 and host a wide variety of spines.

Flowers – developing from the upper edges of the areoles or bursting through the epidermis – usually persist for several days, remaining open during the day or day and night. They are small to large, funnel in form and brightly colored in shades of yellow, white, pink, green, orange, brown, purple and red.

Almost all species grow in Mexico. Most species also grow throughout the western United States, including the few species not found in Mexico. In Nigel Taylor’s 1985 monograph on Echinocereus, he lists 44 species. In The Cactus Family, Edward Anderson lists 60 species. E. pensilis was included in the genus based on molecular studies by Robert Wallace and Eric Forquer (1995).

The species coccineus is disputed and sometimes combined under E. triglochidiatus. This article focuses on E. coccineus, (and/or E. triglochidiatus, if you wish).

E. coccineus is commonly known as claret cup cactus, hedgehog cactus and many other common names in different regions. The plants are almost always branched. After many years, specimen plants can form mounds over 3 feet across with as many as 500 stems.

Stems are ovoid to cylindrical, light to bluish green, 2 to 16 inches high and 2 to 6 inches in diameter. Ribs number from five to 12 and are tuberculate or smooth-edged. There can be one to four central spines with up to 22 radial spines.

The plant’s flowers are a brilliant orange-red. A few ethnobotanical uses mention the Navajo using the plant as a heart stimulant, and the Tarahumara believe it to have great power, like hikuli (peyote, Lophophora williamsii).

E. coccineus plants can be found for sale through several specialist nurseries, with prices ranging from $5 to $10. At these prices, the plants are often very young/small plants with one stem or maybe a few. eBay and other online sites list seeds for sale, as well as plants from single stem to half a dozen for around $20 and above.

Some plants are collected from the wild, sometimes through rescue programs such as the ones hosted by the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society and the Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society. Other plants are collected from the wild under different circumstances.

A specimen E. coccineus is magnificent for sure, but not for the faint of heart. The plant will be rather large and many-stemmed, and might fit into a pot ranging from 10 inches to 24 inches or larger in diameter. These plants need bright light.