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Plant Highlight: Ferocactus latispinus

October 2006

Members of the genus Ferocactus are commonly called barrel cacti, and they occur in the southwestern United States and in the drier areas of Mexico.  One species with an extensive distribution in central and southern Mexico is Ferocactus latispinus, which normally remains a solitary plant, without dividing or producing offsets.

Ferocactus latispinus is modest-sized for a barrel cactus, and all of the plants at the Ruth Bancroft Garden are under a foot in diameter, though they may attain a size of up to 16 inches.  In the cactus family the spines radiate out from nubs called areoles, and the spines are divided into central spines (usually stouter and at the center of the areole) and radial spines (usually finer and at the outside).  F. latispinus has several central spines, but one is conspicuous since it is very wide and flat and hooked or curved at the end.  This prominent spine is usually red, but may be yellow.  The other central spines are still stout, but much narrower and not curved.  The smaller radial spines surround these.  The plants are most often wider than they are tall.

Most species of Ferocactus flower in spring or summer, but our plants of F. latispinus at RBG consistently bloom in the fall, usually in October.  It might be noted that this is not true of the closely related F. latispinus ssp. spiralis (syn. F. recurvus); our specimen of this plant flowers in summer and is taller-growing.  Our F. latispinus plants have rich-purple flowers about an inch and a half across, providing a welcome burst of color at a time of year when not many cacti are in bloom.