Notocactus magnificus (2009)

PhotoBy Joe Merkelbach (April 2009)

The striking globular Notocactus magnificus is a native of far southern Brazil and nearby Uruguay. This area is actually the most temperate region of the countries, located about as far south of the equator as Tampa, Florida, is north. The native habitat is hilly grasslands with warm and cool seasons.

Although the genus Notocactus has now been subsumed into Parodia, I like the derivation of the name: magnificent cactus of the south. Parodia magnifica is the currently accepted scientific name. The common name, balloon cactus, is a pretty accurate description, as the plant is generally spherical and can shrink and expand in volume. As the plant increases in size, it frequently throws offsets around its base and can develop a short columnar form.

The color is dark to blue green. The flexible spines are distributed along the edge of each rib. As the plants age, the aureoles seem to merge. The flowers are a bright yellow color and borne at the apex, either singly or in groups. Flowering occurs in summer through early fall.

The plants grow in vegetative cover in their wild habitat and need some protection from full sun when outside in the summer. They can take a good deal of water while actively growing, but should be kept dry during cool months or they have a tendency to soften and rot. They lose some roots during the winter, and water resumption should be phased in to lessen shock. Balloon cactus is capable of year-round outside growth in zones 9 and 10, and is a favorite for xeriscaping.

The balloon cactus is a CITES II listed species, indicating it is in some danger of extinction in the wild. Fortunately, like the star cactus, it is rather easily grown from seed, so the plants in the hands of fanciers and museum collections around the world are a population that protects the species.