Epithelantha (2002)

PhotoBy Pam Schnebelen (July 2002)

The succulent plants in the genus Epithelantha are slow-growing dwarf cacti native to the Chicuahuan Desert – from the southwestern United States into Mexico. They grow in the open desert in shallow soil and full sun, and may grow alone or in clumps.

At first glance, epithelanthas look like miniature mammillaria globes, with spines radiating out from the tips of the tubercles. The white/yellow spines are so thick and the tubercles so small, the medium-green epidermis of the plants can barely be seen.

These plants bloom in late spring and early summer. Their dainty, pink flowers barely emerge from the spines on young tubercles close to the growth point. As epithelanthas generally self-fertilize, flowers are followed by large, conspicuously red fruits that pop out above the plants to invite birds to lunch.

Growing these plants is easy, provided you have bright light and a porous, quick-draining mix. Epithelanthas will rot if left wet too long. Propagation is by seeds and offsets.

Most taxonomists now recognize only two species of epithelantha: E. bokei (Boke’s Button Cactus) and E. micromeris (Button Cactus). Micromeris also has several subspecies: greggii, unguispina, pachyrhiza and polycephala.