Sulcorebutia (2005)

By Chris Deem (July 2005)

High in the Andes of southwestern Bolivia, a small Cantua buxifolia, the sacred flowering bush of the Incas, stands like a sentinel, in silence.

The sunlight in the high mountains intensifies the colors of the various small, globular cacti in bloom. The air is so still you can hear a small hummingbird as it hovers over the red and yellow flower of a Sulcorebutia canigueralii.

There is a variety of Sulcorebutia known as polymorpha, which means “many forms.” Polymorpha is also a good description of sulcorebutias.

Most sulcorebutias, because of their Andean origins, are frost-hardy, and many have tuberous taproots. Many are clustering species, but some remain solitary. The spine colors are also variable – yellow, reddish-brown and white. Many are comblike, having long, stretched areoles, but some are not. The flowers also vary greatly, from bicolor to shocking pink, red, magenta or even pale yellow.

Many sulcorebutias are easy to care for. In the growing season, they like sunny places with high air humidity. Their soil should be slightly acidic and watered frequently. In the winter, they like a cold, dry rest.

One species, Sulcorebutia rauschii, presents more of a challenge to growers than the rest. It is a small, clumping species with cylindrical heads that are, at most, one inch tall. The plant bodies can be grayish-green or purple. Their spines are usually black, but can occasionally be the color of gold. The flowers can be a deep purple or, just as attractive, a magenta pink.