Epithelantha (2006)

PhotoBy Pam Schnebelen (October 2006)

The succulent plants in the Epithelantha genus 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. Epithelanthas grow alone or in clumps in the full sun.

At first glance, they 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, baby-pink flowers barely emerging through the spines on young tubercles close to the growth point. As they are generally self-fertile, flowers are followed by large, conspicuously red fruits that pop out above the plants to invite birds in for lunch.

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

Most taxonomists now recognize only two species of Epithelantha: bokei, Boke’s Button Cactus, and micromeris, Button Cactus. Micromeris has several recognized subspecies: greggii, unguispina, pachyrhiza and polycephala.

In the Henry Shaw Cactus and Succulent Society show, epithelanthas are favorites in the miniature cacti classes. They also show well in the white-spined group.