Uebelmannia pectinifera (2006)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (January 2006)

In the southern reaches of the Serra do Espinhaco, elevation 3,237 feet, the wind has suddenly changed direction. The quartz sand, dry and white, shifts silently, revealing three small, globular cacti. Two are a dull green color, with a purplish hue down the center of their vertical ribs. The other is darker, almost brown, with a red tint and small purple blotches.

Their bodies seem to shine by reflection, like little moons. Their spines, all black at their woolly crowns, seem somehow to magically transform. Now down each rib they stand short and comblike, then suddently white, like a primer coat of paint was applied, with the tips bleeding through black and brown. The sand is shifting again…

Many years have passed, and of the three cacti that grew here, two are still alive. Old now, they are nearly 20 inches tall, and their small yellow flowers still occasionally appear…

In the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, a new genus of cacus was discovered in 1966. After several years of study, the cactus specialist A. F. H. Buining described the five, possibly six species in 1973. Distant relatives of notocacti, these uebelmannias have epidermis layers that contain unusual gum cells that reflect light.

Uebelmannias require sunny, humid conditions in summer. In winter, bright light, warmth and occasional water are required. The cacti grow well in a slightly acidic, very porous potting medium. They are somewhat rot-prone, but just as often die from root loss in winter. For these reasons, uebelmannias are often grafted.