Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A cup of claret to cheer the season....Christmassy cacti

Echinocereus polyacanthus

I know these aren't Zygocacti, for Heavens sake... discounting those (which deserve their own blog by someone who can actually grow them well) I realize that Christmas isn't exactly cactus season (except maybe in Patagonia)...but there is something terribly Christmassy to my eyes about the flowers of the myriad claret cup cacti (a section of Echinocereus that is distinctive for its badminton birdie flowers that stay open rather than close at night like most echinocerei). A dozen or more species have been named in this section of the genus based on their genetics and distribution: one of the most spectacular, Echinocereus polyacanthus, is found primarily in northern Mexico--but has proved very hardy at Denver Botanic Gardens for twenty or more years. It has especially lovely, immense crimson chalices--a rich claret cup indeed! Cheers!

Echinocereus coccineus ex Taos
David Salman, proprietor of the recently disbanded Santa Fe Greenhouses, once gave me two seedlings of Echinocereus coccineus he grew from seed collected above Taos: this high elevation form is remarkably diminutive--those stems are barely two inches across! E. coccineus tends to form much larger cushions than E. triglochidiatus, is usually a bit more orangy in flower, and blooms a week or two earlier in my observation...

This is one of the many fine cushions of E. coccineus at Denver Botanic Gardens Dryland Mesa.

For contrast, here is a form of Echinocereus gonacanthus (probably best treated as a form of E. triglochidiatus) on Dryland Mesa as well: I have admired large mounds of these on the cliffs at Royal Gorge, not far from Canon City in central Colorado.

And here is the giant of the group: the huge "White Sands Form" of Echinocereus triglochidiatus. This performs quite a ballet in the garden, rising to great heights in summer, and shrinking to half its summer height in winter. I remember seeing this everywhere around White Sands in the 1970's and nary a one on a recent field trip: were they hiding? overcollected? was I just in the wrong spots? I have observed areas with widespread cactus die off periodically (they succumb to prolonged drought or insects as other plants do--and will come back). One of the above no doubt is correct. Fortunately, my buddies (Dan and Socorro) at Rio Grande Cactus grow this by the thousand! (I blogged about their enchanting nursery a few months ago).

Back to Echinocereus coccineus--the clumps above are probably 50 or more years old: we transplanted them from Red Rock park where they were the centerpieces of a cactus garden created more than forty years ago by our local cactus club (they were expanding the gift shop and wisely contacted us to rescue these mounded monsters)...I suspect they had to be at least ten years old at that time--hence my estimated age. They are likely even older than that: admiring these is a highlight of every May for me at work.
And finally, there's my favorite clump in the wild, south of Moab a dozen miles or so in a wonderful canyon. I have brought many dozens of people here on field trips from Denver Botanic Gardens in late April when the canyonlands are at their peak of spring bloom--that's only four months away! An even larger clump growing at the fabulous cactus garden at the old Fairgrounds on Orchard Mesa south of Grand click on the blue highlighted link at the start of this sentence to check that one out!
Meanwhile, I shall tip a cup of claret this Christmas and toast this past rewarding year and to your health! Clink clink!


  1. I'd take one of those over a poinsettia any day!

  2. Replies
    1. Yes, Loree...sorry I forget to look and see what the auto fill is calling me. It seems to be different on each blog for some reason.

  3. I think I have a few E. gonacanthus, not the White Sands form of E., I think I get it! Never have seen anything as large as those E. coccineus by Moab or in Grand Jct; ours and mine all smaller, rarely over 12" wide mounds. Toasting back to you with some Abq clarets, PK.

  4. They're probably all best treated as "reddish flowered cactus". The constant name-changing is dizzying, to say the least.
    Benson considered E. coccineus to be synonymous with E. trig., and called the plant with curving spines E. trig. var. mojavensis, which Anderson considered a valid species, E. mojavensis.
    Anderson said that the difference between E. coccineus and E. trig. is that the former has broadly funnelform flowers, and the latter has tubular funnelform flowers.
    Flora of North America says that E. coccineus is polyploid, that E. polyacanthus is a form of it, and that E. diploid, and that the unusually large White Sands forms shrink to normal size when grown in gardens, which is fiction.
    I couldn't even make this stuff up if I tried.
    The best solution is to buy every plant you find, grow a lot from seed, and call them whatever sounds right at the time.
    I hear there are forms with white flowers, forms with yellow flowers, two-toned flowers, etc. The pink ones are nice too.
    Can't have too many of these in the garden, that's for sure.

    1. You summed things up better than me: I have glossed the everchanging taxonomy--and largely ignored it. I see a difference between most coccineus and trigs--but not sure what to make of gurneyi and now there's the Grand Canyon one--sheeesh! I would like a pure yellow!

  5. I'm with you Bob. And, you can throw all the cactus into that barrel along with Yuccas and Agaves. What good is it to argue about taxonomy when we all know now that the only definitive method for distinguishing species is through DNA analysis. And, besides, we gardeners are mostly interested in form and color rather than taxonomic labels. Jim Borland

  6. Apparently there are some problems when it comes to using DNA as a means for distinguishing species. Anderson's work relied on it, from, yet his treatment of Echinocereus differs from that of Flora of North America. How can that be?
    I have at least 30 forms of Echinocereus coccineus/triglochidiatus here, some even grown from seed. None of them look like another,except that they're round and have spines.


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