Gymnocalycium pungens (2009)

By Rita Taylor (January 2009)

I am the proud owner of the quite large and impressive show-worthy Gymnocalycium pungens, also known as G. schickendantzii, awarded as an attendance prize at the October 2008 HSCSS meeting.

Gymnocalyciums are named for their naked flower buds, which have no hair or spines but only smooth scales. “Gymno” means naked and calyx is the collective term for the sepals. Gymnocalycium is one of the largest South American genera.

Gymnocalycium pungens hails from northwestern Argentina, from Cordoba to Tucuman. It can take full sun to partial shade and is drought-tolerant, with average water needs. It is a summer grower, so water regularly in the summer but be careful not to overwater. Keep it rather dry in the winter. Soil should be mildly acidic with pH of 6.1 to 6.5. Propagation is from seed. The unblemished fruit should be allowed to significantly overripen before harvesting the seeds.

The dark olive-green G. pungens is columnar when mature, whereas the typical gymnocalycium is usually globose in shape. G. pungens can be a solitary globular to columnar cactus up to 4 inches in diameter.

My particular plant has three large main columns, each at least 3 inches in diameter and 9 inches tall, with numerous globular and columnar clusters growing out in all directions. I do not usually name my plants, but this one answers to Big Mama, since it seems to have more children than it knows what to do with.

The flowers are usually pink or white but can also be red. The G. pungens var. delactii flowers after four to five years of growth, while the usual gymnocalycium tends to flower freely at an early age. Bloom time is mid-spring to early summer. Dried blossoms on my plant tell me it has flowered in the past, so I look forward to discovering what color it will produce.

G. pungens spines can be very variable in both shape and size. My plant has straight radial spines up to 1 inch in length in groupings of three to six, without a central spine, and neatly organized in long, parallel rows. These spines and the sheer weight of this plant will make repotting for show time one of my biggest challenges. Wish me good luck with Big Mama!