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Plant Highlight: Echinocereus pentalophus subspecies pentalophus

June 2023

By Brian Kemble


Plants in the Cactaceae, or Cactus Family, are almost all native to the Americas, and they occur widely in both North America and South America. Though some genera straddle both continents, most are found in either one or the other. One of those found only in North America is Echinocereus; plants in this genus are commonly referred to as “hedgehog cacti”. While some species of Echinocereus occur as far north as the western Great Plains in the United States, the majority of them are from northern and east-central Mexico. At the Ruth Bancroft Garden, we have long had a specimen of Echinocereus pentalophus subspecies pentalophus, which grows in several states of northeastern Mexico.


About the Plant

When not in flower, E. pentalophus ssp. pentalophus does not receive a lot of attention. It is not extravagantly spiny like some of its cousins, and its yellow-green stems are slender and flop to the side in a disorderly fashion. However, when it comes into flower in May and June, it instantly becomes a star attraction in the garden.

E. pentalophus ssp. pentalophus is a clump-forming cactus, with its slender stems usually less than an inch in diameter (2.5 cm). Though the stems start out growing upward, they sprawl to the side as they elongate. The stems are either 4-sided or 5-sided in cross-section, with the spine-bearing areoles spaced closely atop the ridges extending along the length of the stem. The spine count per areole is quite variable, from as few as 3 to as many as 8, and the spine length is similarly inconsistent, but with a maximum of about 1.2 inches (3 cm). Older stems may reach a length of 2 feet or more (60 cm), with plants on cliffs with pendent stems tending to get especially long.


About the Inflorescence

This is a spring-flowering species, with the buds emerging from the areoles at the bases of the spines. The flowers are surprisingly big for the size of the stems, with large-flowering specimens often attaining a diameter of four inches or more (10 to 15 cm). The flower color is in the magenta-pink range, with a contrasting pale throat that is pale yellow or white. At the center of the flower is the dark green multi-tentacled pistil, emerging out of a crowd of many stamens bearing yellow pollen.


About the Fruit

The fruits of Echinocereus pentalophus ssp. pentalophus are spiny and oval, with a length of about .7 inch (1.8 cm). Within is a sweet pulp containing the small black seeds.


Care and Maintenance

E. pentalophus ssp. pentalophus is not a difficult plant to grow, but it must be kept in mind that it comes from a summer-rainfall area and grows during the warm season. In a Mediterranean climate such as that of California, it must be given occasional water over the dry summer months. Good drainage is also important, as well as a sunny position. In hot climates it does well in dappled sun, but it should not be grown in too shady a spot in the home garden.

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