It's autumn and the ariocarpus are in bloom. Typical of cacti, they do it spectacularly. But atypical of cacti, ariocarpus are not easy to grow. Unless you live in Texas or northeastern Mexico, forget about growing them out in the open. Yet give these stacked-looking cacti a Texas mudflat, and they settle right in.
Ariocarpus in habitat
The only evidence of an ariocarpus' presence in habitat may be a multi-pointed star outlined in sunbaked sand. Their large beet-like roots shrink during the dry season, pulling the plant down into the ground. Burying themselves in this lithops-like way helps ariocarpus conserve moisture and discourages thirsty predators. Yet considering how these succulents resemble piped frosting with whipped cream, such concealment seems a shame.
You'll likely need a cold frame or greenhouse to keep ariocarpus warm and dry in winter. To me that's too much trouble, but serious collectors are OK with it. And that brings me to the point (no pun intended) of this post: You needn't bother actually growing ariocarpus, because you can see fantastic specimens at shows.
Where to see ariocarpus
Certain specialty nurseries offer ariocarpus, notably CA Cactus Center in Pasadena. Also view mature plants at Cactus & Succulent Society Shows. Southern CA collector-grower Peter Walkowiak typically brings a half dozen prime specimens to the Palomar C&S Show at the San Diego Botanic Garden. The event is held annually the last weekend in October, which coincides with ariocarpus' bloom season.
What's the white stuff?
Ariocarpus are among those fascinating cacti that produce fine white filaments. Although such wool likely protects the plant's vital core from scorching sun, and it may even collect dew, it's actual purpose is open to debate. It certainly does make the plants memorable.
Ariocarpus at a glance
- Ball-shaped cacti resemble asteroids
- Tuberous roots are vulnerable to overwatering
- Native to Texas and northern Mexico
- Stems (tubercles) are triangular or conical
- Depending on the species, tubercles may curve upward
- Skin may be smooth, or fissured and crinkly
- Low-growing. May be nearly buried in habitat
- Prefers rocky, sandy, coarse, fast-draining soil
- Size (at great age): about six inches high by a foot wide
- Seldom produce offsets. Propagate by seed
- No spines, but stiff tubercles have points
- Notoriously slow-growing
- Colors vary from pale gray through shades of green
- Needs strong sunlight
- Water only during the summer growing season
- Main bloom time is fall
- Showy flowers are magenta, pink, cream or yellow
Your opinion please
Do you have an ariocarpus story, tip or question? Kindly scroll down and tell us in the comments! And if you think I've ID'd a plant incorrectly or need to give credit where due---here or anywhere on my site---please let me know. Thanks, Debra
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