Mammillaria crucigera (2018)

PhotoBy Don Lesmeister (November 2018)

Dear readers: I would like to share this strange plea for help from somewhere in Mexico. The handwritten note was scribbled on a piece of torn brown paper. Also why it came to me I do not know. This, however, does not detract from its message. Read carefully!

To all:

Hi there … over here. Not much to do but hang around the same old place … can’t move. Same scenery, same neighbors. I feel safe here. Well, except for an occasional torrential rain, some nasty beetles and the damn goats. Yes, goats! You would think that after walking in these hills and mountains so long they would be a little more sure-footed by now.

Me … I survive by hanging precariously in crevices on the sides of this rugged, eroding gypsum terrain. If the rain doesn’t wind up flushing me off or the clumsy goats slipping around don’t dislodge me from my crevice, I’m fine. But if either scenario happens, I will roll down the hill like many of my friends (RIP), landing at the base with my feet to the sun. We have a pretty high mortality rate here and a declining population. So if I find myself in that position, the outcome is not good – unless a human comes along and is kind enough to put my feet back into the ground.

They are newcomers here, well at least to us. I’m guessing the terrain is either too rough or of no value to them. That’s how they are. They don’t bother us, and we don’t bother them. Usually I like it that way, but sometimes we need some help. So good luck there.

Legend has it these humans have been around here for nearly 11,000 years. Eventually, through a series of tribal wars, breeding, more wars, breeding again … well you get the idea, the Olmec nation rose to dominate the landscape around 5500 B.C. here in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca. That’s what they say … I don’t know and could care less.

In turn, the Olmecs gave rise to the Aztecs and Mayans. Our beloved land became their new home. To you guys, this kind of stuff gives you something you can relate to – other humans. Helps you understand what you call humanity. Doesn’t mean much to me. All I know is my ancestors have been here a lot longer than the humans or the damn goats.

Actually, I like it here and want to be left alone to cope with what I know best: heat, drought, flash floods, beetles and goats. Well, the sun’s going down now, so it’s time for me to do my job – open my stomata and exchange gases. It’s what I do, and I do it well unless … you know! If someone gets this message, like I said before, we could use a little help. Ouch! Damn goat! Have a good day!

From the desert …

Mammillaria crucigera

Some human gave me this name. We don’t have names here, but if I were to name myself, it certainly would not be mammillaria (“nipple” or “teat”) crucigera (“cross bearer”). Really! Lately I’ve been thinking of calling myself Doug.

With regards then,


PhotoAs you can see, this somewhat disturbing note created quite a mystery. I don’t know what to do just yet, but I have no reason not to believe it. The facts mentioned, however vague and sarcastic, are a cry for help and are absolutely corroborated in cactus literature. Read below for yourself.

Sources indicate Mammillaria crucigera is endemic to Mexico, but occurs in only 10 localities in the state of Oaxaca, south of Puebla, and a very small region of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán area at elevations of 700 to 1,020 meters. Its habitat on the faces of easily eroded gypsum cliffs is highly specialized and fragile. Large portions of habitat have been converted to farming, goat raising and cattle ranching.

The plants’ population growth rates are negative, indicating decline. If the current rate continues, 5 percent of the population could be lost in the next 30 years. Challenges in the critical life phases of seed germination and seedling establishment are limiting its population growth.

The Llifle Encyclopedia of Succulents describes Mammillaria crucigera: “Globular, very slow-growing cactus with small spines, solitary or clumping, almost always forking dichotomously at maturity.” The plant’s globose or cylindrical stems grow up to 10 centimeters tall and 4 to 6 centimeters in diameter. Colors can range from greens to brown or almost purple.

M. crucigera’s areoles are reddish-brown, and the firm tubercles are closely set with white wool at the axils. Typically 22 to 30 in number, the bristly or needlelike radial spines grow to 2 millimeters long. Four or five rigid central spines in yellow or brown also reach 2 millimeters in length.

The plant flowers in late winter or early spring. Its small, pink, funnel-shaped blooms rarely rise above the spines. Fruits are pink or red, and yield small, brown seeds.

The Encyclopedia of Succulents said the slow-growing nature of M. crucigera results in rarity and high prices in the trade. To avoid rot when raising the plant, it recommended using very porous, mineral-based potting mix and spare watering, even during the growing season. M. crucigera should be kept very dry in winter in a greenhouse with a temperature of at least 8 degrees C. It can take full sun or afternoon shade outside, and needs bright light and some direct sun inside.

Propagation of M. crucigera can be by done by cuttings or grafting. Some plants offset readily and create clumps in a very few years.

See what I mean. The scientific information provided matches Doug’s note. Out of curiosity and concern, I will continue to investigate this mysterious plea for help. Hopefully, someone is not playing an ugly joke on me. If anyone reading this article happens to hear from “Doug in Mexico,” please contact me. He or any number of his relatives could be in trouble at the bottom of a hill, feet to the sun … waiting!

Llifle Encylopedia of Succulents —
Cactus Art —
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species —
Wikipedia —
Dave’s Garden —