Leuchtenbergia principis (2007)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (September 2007)

In a place that has no name, somewhere in central Mexico, two cactus plants grow. One is old and one is young. They stand in time like a mirror’s reflection. One is past, one is future – these are no ordinary cacti.

The old one stands 18 inches high. It is a majestic mass of blue-green tubercles. From areoles on the tops of its triangular tubercles grow most unusual spines. Thin and soft, they are the color of long-faded gold. They grow like long, slender flags, proclaiming health and vigor. The plant’s aging stalk, weathered and exposed, and its large taproot have stood the test of time.

The young one grows near a wilted desert shrub. This cactus is 3 inches tall. Its tubercles are much deeper green than its companion’s. Its tawny spines are sparse and much shorter, giving it the look of a dying agave. Despite its appearance, below the ground its turniplike root is growing strong.

Somewhere, in a nameless patch of desert, two cactus plants grow …

Leuchtenbergia principis stands alone in its genus. It is a distant relative of Ferocactus. When in bloom, this cactus has bright yellow, funnel-shaped flowers, which are very fragrant.

Most sources say to grow this cactus in full sunlight, others say in part shade. It is known that these cacti grow in the company of other desert-dwelling plants, so some shading is probably best. One last thought: Use care when watering leuchtenbergias. Too little and the plants die back. Over water and they quickly rot.