Neoporteria (2005)

By Chris Deem (April 2005)

If you close your eyes and stretch out your hand, you will feel the heat of the rocks.

In this isolated spot, 13 miles off the Chilean coast, near Ovalle, a small cactus is in distress. The Neoporteria nudus-senilis, its spines dry and white, stands dark and purple in the sun. The long drought has caused considerable root damage. In an attempt to escape the ravages of thirst and the merciless sun, it floods its small body with a reddish dye – in an attempt to survive.

The neoporteria is a survivor, an ancient South American cactus from the harsh coastal deserts of northern and central Chile. Neoporterias are usually hard and grey-green or brown in color, with very attractive spines. The spines can be straight or curved, sometimes enveloping the bodies of the cacti.

The flowers of neoporterias are usually pink in color, as opposed to the closely related group, the neochilenians, whose flowers are yellow, white or red. The fruit of neoporterias is also rather unusual. When ripe, it is hollow with a small opening at the base.

As with most South American species, neoporterias require a richer mineral soil than their North American relations. Most neoporterias thrive in bright, sunny locations, but they can be scorched if heat and sun are extreme.

Some Neoporteria species flower in autumn or early winter, others in the spring. All have a rest period in early summer. At this time, do not water, and if possible, move plants to a half-shaded area. In late summer, resume watering and return to full sun. Autumn is the growth period for neoporterias, and many plants set flowers at this time.

I saw a few Neoporteria beauties at the last meeting. Please make a return visit, if you can.