Gymnocalycium ragonesei (2009)

By Chris Deem (January 2009)

The sun rises over a salt desert, a quiet unattractive place made more so by its location. In the vague outline of a long, dry creek bed, not so very far to the west of the richness of Tucuman, here in Catamarca, another day begins.

At some point in the past, water covered this land. Over time, the water receded and evaporated. This is the home of the smallest and one of the most unique plants in its genus, the cactus known as Gymnocalycium ragonesei.

Today, in this quiet, unattractive place, the small, solitary grey-green cactus blooms unobserved. Here alone, in its dry creek bed, its soft petals open. Somehow, appropriately, they are as white as salt.

Life for most Gymnocalycium species is not the same experience as that of G. ragonesei. Many species can be found growing in the vast green and gold grasslands of beautiful Argentina. Others are found in Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and even Brazil. They are found in habitats as different as potato fields and serene clearings in the high hill country, shaded by tall trees.

There are both the solitary type and many clumping species. They are identified by the small protuberance under each aerole, which is called a chin. The flowers are most often red, pink or white, but one species has pale yellow flowers. The scales of the unopened flower buds are also distinctive to the species.

To help brighten a gray winter day, bring your favorite little gymno to the January meeting.