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Rebutia (2020)

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Rebutia rauschii, including the “Gold Spines” variety, is one of the most popular and rewarding rebutias. Photo by Kadie Crivello.

By Pat Mahon (March 2020)

We can call Rebutia the “catch-all genus,” much like the family Liliaceae was a dumpster for uncertain plant groups like aloes. Many of us have several different generic epithets on our tags, but they are all the same thing. Backeberg in 1951 proposed the genus Sulcorebutia, which was both accepted and rejected. Valid differences and divisions undoubtedly exist with these taxa, but to date they are not agreed upon by authorities.

Other genera lumped or divided in Rebutia include Mediolobivia, Weingartia, Cintia and Alyostera. The genus is defined as polyphyletic, where the genus made several divergent ancestral directions that may give rise to distinct adaptations or features that merit the genus being divided many different ways!

What they seem to all share is that their distribution is limited to higher elevations in lower South America, such as in Argentina and Bolivia. With their tubiform flowers, most of the genus likely seeks pollination by hummingbirds in the absence of other viable pollinators in higher elevations.

One of the greatest things about rebutias in cultivation is their ease of growing. People have wonderful success growing rebutias, which often flower profusely under care or neglect. Flowers are typically borne on the undersides of the stem bodies. There are times that rebutias may bloom twice in a year. Most species and hybrids create pups freely and frequently.

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Rebutia arenacea var. candiae. Strong light brings out the purple tones in these plants. Photo by Kadie Crivello.

Most rebutias seem to be able to correct themselves if they incur etiolation from low light. The largest stem bodies seem prone to continue to grow, so it can be challenging to induce dormancy in the plants through our winters. The stem elongates and shows a need for water. By spring, there may be a tall, scraggly stem, but introduce more light to the plant, and you may witness the entire stem covered in pups! Even cutting the etiolated stem bodies can induce pups. Just about anything short of being run over by a semitruck will cause them to pup!

Here’s something that may rock your world and cause you to throw your tags … Rebutia canigueralii var. rauschii, formerly known as Rebutia rauschii, is by far one of the most popular and desirable species in the genus. Commonly sold under the synonym Sulcorebutia rauschii, these are a very rewarding cactus for both experienced and inexperienced growers.

As more light is introduced to these plants, their purple coloration is brought out more intensely. Although they enjoy sun exposure, extended amounts of high light coupled with warmer temperatures seem to result in sunburn and scarring. It is best to slowly introduce more light and remove from sun exposure when the body begins to show yellowing or lighter coloration. You may find that the purple-bodied S. violacidermis is less prone to sunburn than the other lighter-bodied forms of this variable species. In any case, these are all native to the same region in Chuquisaca, Bolivia, at around 3,000 meters elevation.

Another rewarding, easy-to-grow and popular species is Rebutia heliosa. The arrangement of the spines on its tubercles is very attractive. Also native to Bolivia, it is not as variable as many other species in the genus.

The plant is often found as a scion on a graft – likely a commercial trade approach to creating more of this formerly uncommon species. However, it can easily be degrafted and planted in well-drained substrate. Allow the plant to form its own roots and avoid watering until then. Some people experience root issues with R. heliosa, but they are likely from overwatering.

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As with this crested specimen, some rebutias are found as grafted plants. They can usually be degrafted and planted in well-drained substrate. Photo by Kadie Crivello.

Flowering is quite variable within the Rebutia genus. It may be a strategy for some species that occur within the same range to not bloom at the same time, preventing hybridization. The many hybrids available may bloom on time or casually when they feel like it. Many of them seem timed by the amount of daylight, and I’ve seen blooms initiated by the rains.

Care is very moderate, and a bright, sunny window with occasional watering may suffice for some time. Though many of these can tolerate more water during their growing season, it is wise to limit the watering and watch the bodies for shriveling or rot.

Immediately take care of any rot, removing affected bodies by cutting into healthy tissue and applying something such as cinnamon to the area. Withholding watering until the cuts callus or heal may prove advantageous.

Despite what you call your plants after reading this, it may lead to a very controversial discussion among the cacti authorities. An excellent, very diverse genus with almost every imaginable color flower available, there’s no going wrong with Rebutia.