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Plant Highlight: Leuchtenbergia principis

September 2004

Among the many fascinating and unique cacti native to northeast Mexico, one of the most distinctive is Leuchtenbergia principis. Many globular cacti have surfaces composed of little “hills” or tubercles, each with its attendant areole from which the spines and flowers are produced. In Leuchtenbergia this is taken to an extreme, with each tubercle elongated into a “finger” topped by a cluster of long papery spines, whose resemblance to old blades of grass help the plant to remain remarkably hard to spot in nature.

Large fragrant yellow flowers arise from the areole at the base of the spines. While some cacti consistently flower at a particular time of year, Leuchtenbergia (like the Bishop’s Cap Cactus, Astrophytum myriostigma) is amongst those that flower intermittently throughout the warm months from spring to autumn. Although occurring over a rather large area of northeastern Mexico, these unusual cacti are sparsely scattered and can be difficult to spot.

Leuchtenbergia is a monotypic genus (having only a single species). However, despite its very different appearance it is closely related to Ferocactus, the largest genus of barrel cacti.