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Growing Succulents in the Desert Column, July 2010

(List of Growing Succulents in the Desert columns)

Cochemiea - The Red-Flowered Pincushions

By Mark Dimmitt

(This article may only be reprinted with the permission of the author)

What would you get if a Mammillaria adapted to hummingbird pollination? You would get a Cochemiea. A typical pincushion flower is a small pink funnel. Imagine elongating that funnel, making it narrowly tubular, and changing the color to bright red. Now you have a Cochemiea (Figure 1).

Cochemiea is a small genus of only five species, all endemic to Baja California. The plants vary from tight clusters of stout stems like a hedgehog cactus (e.g., C. setispina, Figure 2), to long, thin, creeping stems (e.g., C. poselgeri, Figure 3). All five species have clusters of tubular red flowers that are borne at the stem tips following summer rains.


Cochemieas are as easy to grow as most Mammillarias. Cochemiea setispina tolerates desert heat and nearly to completely full sun. It is also hardy to at least the mid teens F. Cochemiea poselgeri is very heat tolerant, but its creeping stems require filtered sun. This tropical species is also frost tender. The other species grow along the Pacific Coast of Baja California, and are less heat tolerant than the first two. In habitat these cacti experience a long winter dry season, which does not seem to be critical in cultivation. However, if they are kept dry for several months, a good watering during the hot season will trigger a big flush of bloom that lasts about two weeks. (Figures 4, 5 ). With regular watering they tend to flower sporadically and sparsely over a longer period.

Unfortunately, this beautiful genus is difficult to find in nurseries.

List of Growing Succulents in the Desert columns