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Plant Highlight: Echinopsis bruchii

May 2004

This month’s plant profile features Echinopsis bruchii and also provides a lesson in plant taxonomy. Echinopsis, as currently defined, is a large genus of cacti from South America which range from tall, saguaro-like columnar plants to small globular ones. This expanded concept of the genus takes in several groups that were previously classed as separate genera, but there were always problems in keeping them separate because of plants that straddled the border between the groups. The 3 largest of these groups are:  1) Echinopsis (in the narrow sense) — mostly globular plants with long funnel-form night-opening flowers, usually white but sometimes pink or pale yellow; 2) Lobivia – small globular plants with short, day-opening flowers, usually brightly-colored; 3) Trichocereus – tall columnar, or short-columnar clumping, plants with large flowers, typically white and night-opening. On the border between the Lobivias and the Trichocerei is a smaller group formerly known as Soehrensia. They have a globular form and short colorful day-opening flowers, but are large compared to Lobivias.  They might be thought of as squat Trichocerei with colored flowers, or as giant Lobivias. But now that all these groups have been swept up into Echinopsis, we don’t need to worry about which side of the fence to put them on.

Echinopsis bruchii is the least spiny and most clumping-prone of the former Soehrensia group, and it comes from northwestern Argentina. The heads may range in size from softball-sized to cantaloupe-sized or even larger, and the flowers are red or red-orange. We have several specimens of this plant at The Garden, and they have performed very well under our conditions. Neither freezing spells in winter nor hot spells in summer seem to deter them. The plant pictured is the largest-growing and heaviest-flowering of the ones in our collection, and also has the most polished appearance. It produces several flushes of red flowers in April to June.