Yavia (2018)

PhotoBy Don Lesmeister (May 2018)

While thinking about which cactus to write about, I walked into the greenhouse for inspiration. By now, as winter winds down, and spring struggles to show itself, there are a number of plants coming to life after a hard winter’s nap. Mammillarias, turbinicarpus, astrophytums, epithilanthas and strombocactus are flowering and showing off as if they are vying for first place mention in this article.

They are all beautiful, but each have had their so-called place in the sun many times as the chosen one. When I happened to come across a small, lonely, newly discovered single-genus cactus, it suddenly became the hands-down winner: Yavia criptocarpa.

First classified as a mono genus by Roberto Kiesling and Jörg Piltz in 2001, Yavia has become of great interest. Certainly, indigenous people have been stepping on the plants for thousands of years, but the knowledge and propagation of Yavia criptocarpa has spread since its “discovery.”

It can be found in small patches in areas at elevations of 12,000 feet on the eastern Argentinian slopes of the Andes near the Bolivian border. The plants live in the Jujuy Province, growing in semi-desert along with scattered bushes and temporary grasses brought on by sporadic rainfall between December and March.

Y. criptocarpa is adapted to harsh conditions – cold, limited nutrition and drought – and grows in small crevices in rocky soil. Forced into living almost underground, it goes relatively unnoticed until rains fall, which cause the plant to swell and poke itself out of the rubble to meet the sun. Life is maintained primarily in the plant’s large, swollen root. A tough life … making the little yavia a worthy and deserved winner any way you look at it.

Its genus name is derived from its location: Yavi, Jujuy Province, Argentina. The species name criptocarpa refers to the plant’s ability to form fruit inside its little body, harboring the life-continuing prize for a future time. The stem shrinks during drought, thus exposing the fruit for nature to continue the life cycle.

The yavia is a single-stem species that is rarely found with multiple heads. In habitat, a 1-inch plant is considered an old, fat plant. With flat tops and wooly depressions in the center, the stem is usually the only part of the plant that is seen.

The lateral part of the stem is cylindrical and wrinkled. The root is large and is the continuation of the stem. The flowers are a pretty pink and nearly as large as the plant body. This strange cactus may be related to Cintia, Blossfeldia, Weingartia and Neowerdermannia. The latter two are synonymous with the genus Rebutia.

PhotoY. criptocarpa needs a deep pot to facilitate the large, turnip-shaped stem and rootstock, and a loose, mineral soil. In sunny summer weather, it can be watered weekly with proper ventilation. The plant is very slow-growing – you would be, too, living under similar conditions. It is frost-hardy to -14 degrees F.

Y. criptocarpa is generally grafted to accelerate growth. This does typically change its appearance, however, as the plant tends to become larger and more etiolated.

This plant is becoming increasingly available, but is still considered rare. Of course, the grafted ones are more readily had. If you are interested in this fascinating little critter, try to purchase one on it own root for a more rewarding growing experience.

Try expanding your horizon and join the search for this little plant. Both in habitat and on the sales floor, it is an adventure to find. Once found and in your collection, you will realize its unique place in the world of cacti. Say ja to the Yavia!

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species –
Lophophora Blog –
The Plant List –