Echinopsis (2008)

By Chris Deem (June 2008)

It’s 11:53 p.m. A soft fragrance drifts in the night air. Below, in the shadows, a plain-looking cactus is wedged between two rocks. Its tall flower tube holds firm, like a torch, but its time is brief.

The flower is fully open now. It stands majestic, a large white flower with a soft understory of green. It waits, unmoving, while overhead a dark brown moth, its wings spotted with flecks of iridescent blue, flutters past. In the darkness, white petals are curved and open.

Echinopsis subdenudata is an unmistakable, almost artificial-looking plant that is a personal favorite of mine. This charming Bolivian cactus species is dark green, globular and at maturity around 3 inches tall. On the ribs of the cactus are large, puffy white areoles; the spines are usually lost with youth. When the flower opens at night, it is a breathtaking sight.

Some experts consider Echinopsis a large, encompassing genus. When speaking of Echinopsis, others refer to a group of cacti that are globular in shape and always bloom at night. They grow at lower elevations than the closely related higher-altitude, day-blooming lobivias. The long flower tubes of echinopsis also set them apart. The related Trichocereus cacti are usually much larger columnar plants.

There are numerous Echinopsis hybrids in cultivation. Every cactus book I’ve read recommended Echinopsis to cactus-growing novices. The plants have large, beautiful flowers and a carefree, forgiving nature. Nevertheless, I was able to scorch mine to death in a south-facing window. I don’t think they like full sun.