Mammillaria saboae-haudeana (2009)

By Chris Deem (May 2009)

Even ancient lava fields can erode over time, and precious minerals, covered in darkness for over a millennium, can suddenly become exposed …

Today, on this bright day in May, the sunlight reveals tiny rust-like splotches scarring several heads on a diminutive clump of cacti. There is a damp, earthy smell of decomposing plant matter in the air. Underground, unseen, the plant’s fleshy roots are thick, tangled and calloused.

On this day, a single blossom extends from the second-largest head. This flower is very different from most Mammillaria flowers. Breaking away from the usual ring pattern, it is large and dramatic in shape, and shoots up alone on a large glossy tube. Its flared petals are a rich violet-purple, a color that contrasts beautifully with its bright yellow stamens.

The sunlight on the petals casts a long, thin shadow. It is the same shadow it has cast at this spot, at this time, for the last two days. If anyone were here to notice, they would look down and see the wire-like streaks of silver in the rocks. Sadly, time does not stand still. The world keeps spinning, and now the angle of the shadow has changed. The blossom is fading, and anyway, there is no one to see.

If we are not careful. we can overlook precious gems such as this charming little species of cacti in our lust for the rare and exotic. This petite, clustering plant is found in the Mexican state of Sonora. Like many miniature Mammillaria species, M. saboae is extremely prone to rot. It is certainly worth the extra care it requires.