Matucana (2019)

PhotoBy Nikki Murdick (July 2019)

Having just read the first article in the March 2019 edition of the British Cactus & Succulent Society journal, Cactus World, entitled “Matucana, a Fascinating Genus of Peruvian Cacti,” I was very excited to see one of these for sale at the members sale in April. So, of course, one came home with me. Then, as we always do, it was time to research the new plant. Here is what I found.

Matucana is a genus of cacti that are small, usually less than 12 inches tall, and mostly globular, although they often become more columnar as they age. They have tiny, flexible and widely spaced spines, which are sometimes slightly curved. Although the cacti are usually solitary, some may form clumps as they age.

This genus of cacti is found only in Peru, with the original plant found about 50 miles east of Lima. They are found at altitudes from 6,000 to 13,000 feet in the Andes Mountains.

The flowers are most often red, but can be pink, yellow or orange. They occur once the plants are 2 to 3 years old. The flowers appear at the apex of the plants (apical bloom) in the late spring and summer. They typically open at night and last from two to four days.

This cactus was first discovered near the town of Matucan in the mid-1800s by Friedrich Otto, although some say it was identified by Baron von Winterfield. Otto called it Echinocactus haynii, but it was later renamed by Nathaniel Britton and Joseph Rose in 1930 as Matucana, after the town where Otto first saw it.

Of course, there are some discussions that state the original plant was actually found near the town of Obrajillo, north of Lima, by von Winterfield. Additional variations of this plant were identified in the 1950s by Werner Rauh and by Friedrich Ritter. Curt Backeberg formed a subgroup or subgenus he called Submatucana for those plants which had fewer supination, were less resistant to low temperatures and were also less resistant to rainfall. This subgenus is no longer considered valid.

Currently, The Plant List states there are 45 scientific names of species rank for the genus Matucana. Of those, 25 are accepted species names, 36 are considered synonyms, and three are unresolved. Following are the accepted names: M. aureiflora, M. aurantiaca, M. blancii, M. calliantha, M. celendinensis, M. currundavensis, M. formosa, M. fruticose, M. hastifera, M. haynei, M. huagalensis, M. hysteric, M. intertexta, M. krahnii, M. madisoniorum, M. mirabilis, M. myriacantha, M. myriacantha, M. roseoalba, M. oreodoxa (the one I currently have), M. pallarensis, M. paucicostata, M. polzii, M. pujupatii, M. ritteri and M. tuberculata.

Sadly for those of us who would like to collect these plants, it is often difficult to find different varieties. The Cactus World article provides specific information on 10 that are more easily found.

Matucanas are considered easy plants to cultivate if their original habitat is considered when deciding amounts of water and temperature levels during the summer and winter. Their tolerance for cold weather depends on the altitude at which they are found, but the majority do not tolerate temperatures below 32 degrees F. It is said that the forms with more dense supination are more likely to tolerate lower temperatures.

All of the forms are sensitive to overwatering, so should be watered only during the growing season. These plants have thin, fibrous roots instead of taproots. They prefer higher temperatures in the winter and very little water, if any, or they will lose their roots and die. They also do not like extremely high temperatures above 90 degrees F in summer and prefer to have filtered sunlight during the warmer times of the year. These plants also do not like to be crowded and prefer to have moving air during warmer weather.

Since these plants typically grow in steep and inaccessible places, they prefer very porous and quickly draining soil which has a large amount of gravel included. They also grow best when fertilized every two weeks during the growing period. They seldom need to be repotted, and care must be taken when repotting to not break too many of their fragile roots.

Matucanas are easily reproduced by seed. Just place the seeds in a wet bed of fine soil and keep them warm. The seedlings should be repotted when thorns appear at the apex, usually at about 3 years old. When repotting the seedlings, care must be taken, as the roots will be very delicate. If you have a plant that has formed a clump, then the offsets can be removed to grow new plants. The section cut or removed from the original plant must be left to dry for several days so the wound can heal. Otherwise, they tend to rot.

As with most of the South American cacti, one must remember they need strong light, although not always direct sun, and they need weekly watering during the growing season. During their dormancy, matucanas prefer low temperatures and only enough water to keep the roots from dying. It is said that if one can follow this regimen, then this plant will thrive and bloom profusely.

The Complete Guide to Growing Cacti & Succulents: A Comprehensive Guide to Identification, Care and Cultivation – Miles Anderson (2006) –
Beginner’s Guide to Cacti & Other Succulents – John Ellis (2004)
Cacti and Succulents: An Illustrated Guide to the Plants and Their Cultivation – Graham Charles (2007)
Cactus: The Most Beautiful Varieties and How to Keep Them Healthy – Elizabeth Manke (2000)
Seeds Cactus –
The Plant List –
Wikispecies –
World of Succulents: How to Grow and Care for Matucana –