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Growing in the Desert Column

(List of Growing in the Desert columns)

"Echinocereus brandegeei: Another Exception to the Rule"
by Mark Dimmitt

Pictures by Mark Dimmitt unless otherwise noted
This article may only be reprinted with the author's permission.

In the natural world there are almost no absolute rules. No matter how consistent traits may be within a group, there is almost always at least one exception. That’s why biology is filled with modifiers like almost all, most, typically, and usually. (See how many qualifiers you can find in this article.) The genus Echinocereus provides examples. Its 70-some species – most of which are called hedgehog cacti - can be recognized by certain diagnostic characteristics. Most species grow as dense clusters of upright stems, but some have sprawling or solitary stems. Most but not all are densely spined. Most have brilliant pink or purple flowers with green stigmas in spring. In most species the buds don’t emerge from the areoles; they rupture through the stem above the areoles. What’s different about E. brandegeei (Figure 1)? It doesn’t follow the usual habit of the genus of flowering in spring. It blooms from late July into September. The species is common throughout the southern half of the Baja California Peninsula. The summer rains there typically begin in August, later than in the rest of the Sonoran Desert Region. The flowers are fairly consistent throughout the range: about three inches across, bright pink with deep red petal bases (Figures 2, 3). And oh, yeah; the stigmas are yellow, not green. The stems are highly variable in different populations on the peninsula. They range from short and erect to long and sprawling (Figures 4, 5). The spines are even more variable, ranging from long and thin to short and stout, and yellow, reddish, brown, or whitish. Where the plants occur with Grusonia invicta (= Opuntia invicta, Figure 6), the spines tend to be the shortest and stoutest. This may be a case of convergent evolution. This hedgehog is easy to grow in the desert. It tolerates full sun and does well on southern Arizona rainfall, which is higher than in most of its natural range. It will be damaged in the open by temperatures below 20 degrees F. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find in nurseries.