Stetsonia coryne (2010)

By Eric Driskill (February 2010)

Stetsonia is a monotypic genus that has yet to be subsumed by “lumpers.” In 1850, Salm-Dyck described this plant as Cereus coryne, but in 1920, Britton and Rose described the genus Stetsonia, honoring Francis Lynde Stetson of New York, who was a gardening enthusiast.

S. coryne comes from high, arid regions of northwestern Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. Plants reach 25 feet tall, branching from a thick, basal trunk. Stems are blue-green with eight to nine ribs just under 4 inches in diameter, usually unsegmented. Spines can be 2 to 6 inches long. They are first yellow, then become dark brown to black and are stiff, heavy and straight.

The white funnel-form flowers, which can be almost 6 inches long, open at night and may remain open through the following day. The fruit, green to red and covered with scales, is eaten by various groups in the Gran Chaco of Argentina.

S. coryne is becoming a popular landscape plant in areas where the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing for more than 24 hours. The plants should be grown in full sun with regular water in summer for optimal growth.

The long spines have earned S. coryne the nickname “Argentina toothpick.” This makes it a fierce but attractive addition to any collection. Plants can be purchased rather small or large enough to have started branching. Regardless of the size of your plant, you will want to be sure it isn’t in a high-traffic area, not for the sake of your shins so much as growing a show-worthy plant with few to no broken spines.

This is a nice columnar cacti which is always a conversation piece for the length of the spines as well as the color of the stems. If you start with a smaller younger plant, you will be able to enjoy it for many years before the branching starts to test your space allowance.