Saturday, January 01, 2000

Growing cacti from seed

Most cacti are easily grown from seed - and with a little patience and care they can be grown into beautiful plants.

Lophophora williamsii seedlings (VM 534k; El Oso, Coahuila, Mexico)
Lophophora williamsii seedlings (VM 534k; El Oso, Coahuila, Mexico)

I'm growing my Lophophora, Obregonia, Acharagma, Ariocarpus and Strombocactus in more or less the same way (Strombocactus being the exception).

Growing medium
Till now I've used a finer compost for sowing but this year I decided trying to sow in the same growing medium I'm using for my mature (limestone-loving) plants, i.e. equal parts of:

  • Coarse, loamy sand
  • Limestone gravel
  • Milled sphagnum moss peat
I'm usually not sterilizing my growing medium - just filling a pot with the compost and letting it soak for a couple of minutes before sowing. In the case of Strombocactus (extremely small seed and slow growing seedlings) the compost is sterilized by bringing it to a boil in the microwave (put the pot in a plastic bag before placing it in the oven - let the compost cool completely before sowing).

The seeds are placed individually (using a moist toothpick) directly on the surface of the compost and not covered. The pot is then sprinkled lightly with water and placed in a plastic bag with a bit of water at the bottom. Finally the bag is sealed closely and placed in a heated windowsill.

Hardening off seedlings
When most of the seed have germinated and the seedlings are well established it is time to introduce them to the harsh world (usually 4-5 weeks after sowing - but Strombocactus should be left considerably longer). This is done by puncturing the sealed bag to make the “atmosphere” less humid. The punctures are gradually expanded until the bag can be completely removed after 1-2 weeks. Until the roots are well established the seedlings must not be left dry for extended periods - this winter I almost killed off last years stock of Lophophora fricii seedlings by leaving them dry for 5 weeks!

The British Cactus and Succulent Society has a page on how to grow cacti and other succulent plants from seed. Steve Brack's Mesa garden has a list of basic germination tips.

Cactus seed and plant retailers

Below is a list of retailers/nurseries selling cactus seed and plants. I've only listed vendors I've done business with.

If you are looking to buy peyote seeds or plants, please check your local laws before doing so. All parts of peyote (Lophophora williamsii) plants and the seeds thereof are classified as Schedule I substances in the United States. Also, peyote is illegal to posses in France, Russia, and possibly more countries.

Jan Martin Jecminek has a lot of different seed. Many with locality information.

Another Czech seed retailer is Chrudimsky kaktusar. They are also selling plants. The germination rate of Pavel Pavlicek's seed is incredibly high.

Yet another Czech vendor is Jaromír Dohnalík (the Czechs are big in the cacti business).

Kaktusy Ryšavý has many different Lophophora seeds with locality information (and is by coincidence also Czech ;-).

If you can't find the seeds you're looking for at Steve Brack's Mesa Garden, you probably can't find it anywhere (except peyote seeds - illegal in the USA).

Köhres-Kakteen also have a large selection of cactus seeds - you can find their Lophophora seeds on their general cactus seed list (offering thousands of different varieties of cacti) or have a look at the dedicated "peyote seed list" found at

Navajo Country - Pediocactus, Sclerocactus, Navajoa, Toumeya and other hardy cacti.

Mesa Garden, Uhlig-Kakteen, Kakteen-Haage, and Albert Plapp all have huge selections of plants.

The German retailer Kakteen Kliem has a good selection of plants with locality information.

Affiliate Links
cactusplaza_4I have joined Cactus Plaza's affiliate program meaning that if you click through to Cactus Plaza and make a purchase, I'll receive a commission helping me to run this blog. Prior to joining the program I tested the quality of Cactus Plaza's goods and services by ordering this splendid crested Lophophora williamsii. (also by CactusPlaza) offers healthy and naturally grown seedlings of cacti and other succulents.

Grafting stock
Allies (formerly ...of the jungle) carries a good selection of Trichocereus cuttings (I bought Trichocereus 'Juul's Giant'). The people at Allies are extremely helpful and friendly, and their cuttings are healthy and good value.

Peyote plant with flower and fruit

Links page

Ariocarpus, Living rocks of Mexico - History, species and habitat information, field numbers etc. Everything you ever wanted to know about Ariocarpus.

Cactus Conservation Institute - The CCI is dedicated to the study and preservation of vulnerable cacti in their natural range – starting with peyote and star cactus. At their site you find information on the latest research by Martin Terry et. al.

The Cactus and Succulent Plant Mall - An extensive collection of links to organizations and information, including societies, clubs, nurseries, and literature.

If you are curious to learn the etymology of words like e.g. Lophophora, diffusa, and decipiens The Dictionary of Botanical Epithets is a great resource.

The International Plant Names Index (IPNI) is a database of the names and associated basic bibliographical details of seed plants, ferns and fern allies. Its goal is to eliminate the need for repeated reference to primary sources for basic bibliographic information about plant names. IPNI is the product of a collaboration between The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, The Harvard University Herbaria, and the Australian National Herbarium

Köhres' Lophophora information - A lot of habitat Lophophora photos. Ordered by state, location and species.

Ralph Martin's Field Number Database - Ever wondered what a field number like "SB 854" meant? Check it out at Ralph's cactus and succulent field number query page.

Affiliate Links

cactusplaza_4I have joined Cactus Plaza's affiliate program meaning that if you click through to Cactus Plaza and make a purchase, I'll receive a commission helping me to run this blog. Prior to joining the program I tested the quality of Cactus Plaza's goods and services by ordering this splendid crested Lophophora williamsii.

Link exchange

Bohemia Cactus - Cacti and succulents, books, journals, free links, advertisements and more.

Online Articles

John M. Coulter
A Preliminary Revision of the North American Species of Cactus, Anhalonium, and Lophophora.
Vol. III No. 2, 1894

My local copy of the article contains Coulter's proposal for a new genus for peyote alone: Lophophora. The full, unformatted text can be found as a Project Gutenberg Etext, also an abridged (the sections relating to Ariocarpus/Anhalonium species are reproduced), formatted version of the article is available at Living Rocks of Mexico.

Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Flora of North America
The Flora of North America provides an account of American plant species north of Mexico. Below I have included the descriptions for a list of species relevant to this site.

Butterworth, C. A. & J. H. Cota-Sanchez, & R. S. Wallace
Molecular systematics of Tribe Cacteae (Cactaceae: Cactoideae): A phylogeny based on rpl16 intron sequence variation.
Systematic Botany 27(2), 2002: 257-270

The paper documents the close relationship among Acharagma, Lophophora and Obregonia. Based on DNA evidence the species are placed in a well-supported clade (the Lophophora Clade).

ABSTRACT. Parsimony analysis of plastid rpl16 sequences from 62 members of Tribe Cacteae, and four outgroup taxa yielded 1296 equally parsimonious trees of length 666. Strict consensus evaluation of these trees established a highly pectinate topology, which delimited clades within the tribe that correspond to several previously considered generic groups. Aztekium and Geohintonia, which manifest ribs in their stem morphology were shown to represent an early divergence in the tribe, forming a sister group to remaining members of the tribe. Clades containing other genera having ribbed stems also are basal to those that develop tubercles. The most derived clade forms a distinct group of typically small stemmed species with tubercular stem morphology. Within Mammillaria, species formerly placed in the genus Cochemiea and members of the Series Ancistracanthae formed a well-supported, sister clade to the remaining members of Mammillaria. Length variation of the intron in two members of Mammillaria series Stylothelae was also observed.

Preliminary Revision of the North American Species of Cactus, Anhalonium, and Lophophora.

by John M. Coulter

U. S. Department of Agriculture
Division of Botany
Vol. III--No. 2
Issued June 10, 1894

LOPHOPHORA, gen. nov.

Depressed-globose, proliferous and cespitose, tuberculate-ribbed,
unarmed plants: tubercles at first conical and bearing at summit
a flower-bearing areola with a dense tuft or short pencil of
compact erect hairs, when mature becoming broad and rounded (with
the remnant of the penicellate tuft as a persistent pulvillus in
a small central depression) and coalescing into broad convex
vertical ribs: spine bearing areolae obsolete: flowers borne at
the summit of nascent tubercles: ovary naked (that is free from
scales, but often downy): fruit and seed unknown.

These forms have been variously referred to Anhalonium and
Echinocactus, but seem to deserve generic distinction. They
differ from Anhalonium in the entire suppression of the upper
highly differentiated portion of the tubercle, in the broad and
rounded development of the lower portion, and in the coalescence
of the enlarged tubercles into broad vertical ribs. In fact, in
young specimens, the plant appears almost smooth, with shallow
furrows radiating from the depressed apex. The genus differs
from Echinocactus in the suppression of the spine-bearing
areolae, and the naked ovary. In the examination of developing
tubercles the relation to Anhalonium is evident. In the latter
genus the young tubercle bears on the summit of its pedicel-like
lower portion the tufted flower-bearing areola the modified upper
portion of the tubercle at that time appearing as a bract beneath
the flower. In Lophophora there is the same condition of things,
except that the bract-like upper portion is wanting. From this
point of view it would appear that the differences between
Lophophora and Echinocactus are intensified by the fact that the
flower-bearing areola in the former genus is to be regarded as
really lateral on a tubercle the upper part of which has
disappeared. This genus occurs abundantly in southeastern Texas,
extending southward into Mexico. Mrs. A. B. Nickels reports that
the Indians use the plants in manufacturing an intoxicating
drink, also for "breaking fevers," and that the tops cut off and
dried are called "mescal buttons."

1. Lophophora williamsii (Lem).
Echinocactus williamsii Lem. Allg. Gart. Zeit. xiii. 385 (1845).
Anhalonium williamsii Lem. in Forst Handb. Cact. i. 233 (1846).

Hemispherical, from a very thick root, often densely proliferous,
transversely lined below by the remains of withered tubercles:
ribs usually 8 (in young specimens often 6), very broad,
gradually merging above into the distinct nascent tubercles which
are crowned with somewhat delicate pencillate tufts, which
become rather inconspicuous pulvilli on the ribs: flowers small,
whitish to rose: stigmas 4. (Ill. Bot. Mag. t. 4296) - Type

Along the Lower Rio Grande, Texas, and extending southward into
San Luis Potosi and southern Mexico.

Specimens examined: Texas (Mrs. Nickels of 1892): San Luis
Potosi (Eschanzier of 1891): also growing in Mo. Bot. Gard. 1893.

2. Lophophora williamsii lewinii (Hennings).
Anhalonium lewinii Hennings, Gartenflora, 410 (1888).

A much more robust form, with more numerous (usually 13) and
hence narrower and more sinuous ribs, and much more prominent
tufts. (Ill. Monats. Kakteenkunde, October, 1891) - Type unknown.

Along both sides of the Lower Rio Grande.

Specimens examined: Texas (Wm. Lloyd of 1890, mouth of the
Pecos; Mrs. Nickels of 1892, 1893): Mexico (specimen collected
across the Rio Grande, near Laredo, in 1894): also growing in
Mo. Bot. Gard., 1893.

The extreme specific and varietal forms seem worthy of specific
distinction, but abundant growing material in Mo. Bot. Gard.
showed such complete intergradation that a specific line of
separation was found to be impossible. The varietal form is
said to be an important one in the ceremonial rites of the


These forms are evidently Mexican in origin, and the specimens seen
are all from the Rio Grande region. They have crossed that river
below the "Great Bend," and probably belong to lower-lying, more
eastern Mexican provinces than do the species of Anhalonium.
L. williamsii is reported from southern Mexico, but so little is
known of the distribution of these plants that their eastern
Mexican range is conjectural.

The above text is based on scanned pages from the Contributions from the United States National Herbarium Vol. III. The scans are included below and are courtesy of the Botanicus Digital Library, Missouri Botanical Garden.

High-resolution copies of the scans can be found in the files section of the Lophophora Google group.

Contributions from the United States National Herbarium Vol. III, p. 131
Contributions from the United States National Herbarium Vol. III, p. 132

The first illustration of peyote appeared in Curtis's Botanical Magazine in 1847 (plate 4296).

Back to online articles.

20. Astrophytum

Lemaire, Cact. Gen. Sp. Nov. 3. 1839.

[Greek asteros, star, in reference to the star-shaped stem cross section of the type species, and phyton, plant]

Allan D. Zimmerman & Bruce D. Parfitt

Plants stem succulents, unbranched [to several branched from base], mostly low and deep-seated in substrate [taller in Mexican species]. Roots diffuse. Stem unsegmented, dark green or gray-green, hemispheric or depressed-spheric [to spheric or short cylindric], (2.5-)6-15(-60)[-100] × 6-10(-20) cm, speckled [or entirely hidden] by numerous tufts of dense, whitish, multicellular hairs less than 0.5 mm; ribs [4-]8-10, crests uninterrupted, straight [to sinuous and/or helically curving around stem], broad and nearly flat or rounded [sharp or keeled]; areoles distinct, [2-]6-9[-20] mm apart along ribs, circular; areolar glands absent; cortex and pith hard, not mucilaginous. Spines absent [1-25 per areole in some Mexican species]. Flowers diurnal, near stem apex, at adaxial edge of areoles, funnelform, 4.5-5.4[-8] × 3.8-5.2[-6] cm; inner tepals yellow, proximally red [all yellow], 25 × 6-10[-12] mm, margins entire; ovary sparsely to densely scaly, axils spineless long hairy with arachnoid trichomes, distal scales spine-tipped; stigma lobes [8-]10-12, yellow [pale yellowish], 4 mm. Fruits indehiscent or splitting irregularly, green or pinkish to red, ovoid to spheric, 15-20 × 12 mm, initially fleshy, drying immediately after ripening, sparsely to densely scaly with spine-tipped scales; axils of scales long woolly, spineless; floral remnant persistent. Seeds dark brown to blackish, appearing hollow or bowl-shaped from strongly expanded, inrolled rim around sunken hilum, 2-3 mm in greatest dimension, nearly smooth; testa cells very slightly convex. x = 11.

Species 4-5 (1 in the flora): sw United States, Mexico.

Astrophytum is most often recognized as a distinct genus. Chloroplast DNA evidence (C. A. Butterworth et al. 2002), however, confirms that it is among the closest relatives of Echinocactus. Unlike Echinocactus, the stem surfaces of Astrophytum species are speckled by numerous tiny white tufts of minute, matted hairs in addition to the regularly spaced woolly areoles.

1. Astrophytum asterias (Zuccarini) Lemaire, Cactées. 50. 1868.

Star-peyote, star cactus, sea-urchin cactus

Astrophytum asterias distribution mapEchinocactus asterias Zuccarini, Abh. Math.-Phys. Cl. Königl. Bayer. Akad. Wiss. 4(2): 13. 1845

Plants flat-topped and usually flush with soil surface, or at most, above-ground portion low, dome-shaped. Stems shiny, sparsely speckled by bright white extra-areolar hair tufts 0.5-1 mm diam.; ribs usually 8, straight, very low, nearly flat or rounded; areoles 3-5 mm diam., with yellow or gray wool. Flowers opening widely, externally long woolly; inner tepals lanceolate, acuminate. 2n = 22.

Flowering Mar-May and sporadically after summer rainfall. Grasslands, shrublands, Tamaulipan thorn scrub, gravelly slopes and deep soil of flats; of conservation concern; 20-100 m; Tex.; Mexico (Nuevo León, Tamaulipas).

The vernacular name of Astrophytum asterias, star-peyote, reflects its superficial similarity to peyote, Lophophora williamsii, which has very soft, uniformly pale blue-green stems quite unlike the hard, speckled, almost shiny, green stem surface in A. asterias. Astrophytum asterias is extremely rare and localized north of Mexico, presently known only from Starr County, Texas.

Astrophytum asterias drawing

Back to online articles.
The Flora of North America web site.

32. Lophophora

J. M. Coulter, Contr. U.S. Natl. Herb. 3: 131. 1894.

Peyote [Greek lophos, crest, and phoreus, a bearer, in reference to tufts of hairs in areoles]

Allan D. Zimmerman & Bruce D. Parfitt

Plants erect, commonly unbranched, becoming many branched and moundlike in old age, deep-seated in substrate. Roots taproots. Stems unsegmented, usually gray-green or blue-green to dark green [yellow-green in L. diffusa of Mexico], usually flat-topped and cryptic in soil surface, sometimes protruding above it with recessed apex, ribbed or weakly tuberculate, 2-7.5 × (4-)5-12 cm, softly fleshy, soft skinned, dull, glabrous; ribs 5, 8, or 13 (rarely 21), low, broadly rounded, straight, vertical or less often helically curved around stem; areoles 3-15+ mm apart along ribs or at apices of low, humplike tubercles, circular, copiously hairy, hairs usually in compact, erect tufts to 7-10 mm; areolar glands absent; cortex and pith not mucilaginous. Spines absent. Flowers diurnal, deeply nestled in copious areolar hairs at stem apex, arising from adaxial edges of areoles, campanulate, 1-3 × (1-)1.5-2.5 cm; outer tepals whitish to greenish pink, midrib greenish, margins entire or minutely fringed or ciliate distally; inner tepals usually white to pink [rarely yellowish white or magenta to reddish violet, at least in Coahuila, Mexico], 8-14(-22) × (1-)2.5-5 mm, margins ciliate or entire; ovary smooth, scales, hairs, and spines absent; stigma lobes (3-)4-8, white or pinkish, 1-3 mm. Fruits indehiscent, white to pinkish [to purple], clavate to nearly cylindric, 11-25 × (2-)4-5 mm, weakly succulent, quickly drying and contracting after ripening, upon drying becoming translucent and brownish white or whitish, spines and scales absent; pulp colorless; floral remnant weakly persistent or tardily deciduous. Seeds black, somewhat pyriform, cylindric, or obovoid, 1-1.5 × 1-1.2 mm, not glossy, with large, flat hilum; testa cells strongly convex. x = 11.

Species 2 (1 in the flora): arid regions, sw United States, Mexico.

1. Lophophora williamsii (Lemaire ex Salm-Dyck) J. M. Coulter, Contr. U.S. Natl. Herb. 3: 131. 1894.

Mescal buttons, divine cactus

Lophophora williamsii distribution mapEchinocactus williamsii Lemaire ex Salm-Dyck, Allg. Gartenzeitung 13: 385. 1845; Anhalonium williamsii (Lemaire ex Salm-Dyck) Lemaire

Plants 0-50-branched, nearly flush with soil surface. Roots fleshy, broadly carrot-shaped, 6-12 cm. Stems flat or domelike with deeply depressed center; ribs to 25 mm broad. Flowers: outer tepals narrowly elliptic to oblanceolate, apex acute, mucronate; inner tepals elliptic, margins white to greenish pink, midstripes darker, apex mucronate or attenuate; ovary 3-4.5 mm; styles white, 5-14 mm. 2n = 22.

Flowering Mar-May(-Sep). Chihuahuan desert scrub, Tamaulipan thorn scrub, usually on or near limestone hills; 100-1500[-1900] m; Tex.; Mexico (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas).

Long used for religious and medicinal purposes by native peoples, Lophophora williamsii is famous for its psychoactive alkaloids, primarily mescaline, which are concentrated in the small, photosynthetic, above-ground portion of the stem. Experienced peyoteros harvest only the top few millimeters of the stem, leaving the deeply recessed apical meristem, thus allowing regeneration. The plants live for many decades and grow very slowly. Anhalonium, a later name for Ariocarpus, has been applied to species of Lophophora, and was widely used in older pharmaceutical literature.

Fruits abruptly ripen up to one year (rarely longer) after flowering.

Lophophora williamsii drawing

Back to online articles.
The Flora of North America web site.

31. Ariocarpus

Scheidweiler, Bull. Acad. Roy. Sci. Bruxelles. 5: 491, figs. 1-5. 1838.

[The genus Aria and Greek karpos, fruit, referring to the Aria-like fruit]

Allan D. Zimmerman & Bruce D. Parfitt

Neogomesia Castañeda; Roseocactus A. Berger

Plants erect, unbranched [or branched], deep-seated in the substrate [or somewhat subterranean for whole seasons]. Roots taproots. Stem unsegmented, gray-green (yellow-green or purplish with age or stress), above-ground portion flat, concave, or weakly hemispheric, usually flush with soil surface and cryptic, strongly tuberculate, 0-2(-10) × [3-]5-10(-15) cm, hard, rigid, tough skinned [thin skinned in A. agavoides of Mexico]; tubercles arranged in rosettes or mosaics, ± triangular, 8-20[-60] × [3-]11-25 mm, hard, exposed faces of tubercles strongly differentiated from sides [except in some Mexican species], prominently fissured [wrinkled, roughened, or nearly smooth]; areoles elongate [circular and axillary, circular and subapical, or 2-parted], forming a wide woolly groove on each tubercle; areolar glands absent; cortex and pith not mucilaginous, "mucilage" restricted to elongate cavities. Spines absent [sporadic and rudimentary in some Mexican taxa]. Flowers diurnal, borne in axils of tubercles near stem apex, broadly funnelform to almost salverform, 1.5-5 × 1.5-5 cm; outer tepals brownish or greenish with pink tinge, 12-35 × 5-9 mm, margins entire; inner tepals pink or magenta [white or yellow], 13-34 × 4-10 mm, margins entire; ovary smooth (scales, hairs, and spines absent); stigma lobes 5-10, white, 1.2-5 mm. Fruits indehiscent (very rarely explosively dehiscent), white or cream to pale greenish [reddish], spheric to clavate or cylindric, proximally or almost completely buried in copious wool of stem apex, 10-25 × 5-10 mm, initially fleshy, drying and collapsing a few days after ripening, scales and spines absent; pulp white to pale greenish; floral remnant apparently persistent. Seeds black, spheric to obovoid, 1.2-1.6(-2.5) mm, minutely tuberculate, shiny; testa cells strongly convex (conspicuous with lens). x = 11.

Species 6 (1 in the flora): arid regions, sw United States, Mexico.

Ariocarpus species mostly grow in broken rock substrate and closely mimic it. Some Mexican species display additional adaptations, e.g., A. kotschoubeyanus (K. Schumann) K. Schumann withdraws into seasonally inundated, fine lacustrine soil and can be completely buried between growing seasons.

SELECTED REFERENCES Anderson, E. F. 1965. A taxonomic revision of Ariocarpus. Cact. Succ. J. (Los Angeles) 37: 39-49. Anderson, E. F. and W. A. Fitz Maurice. 1997. Ariocarpus revisited. Haseltonia 5: 1-20.

1. Ariocarpus fissuratus (Engelmann) K. Schumann in H. G. A. Engler and K. Prantl, Nat. Pflanzenfam. 106[III,6a]: 195. 1894.

Living-rock cactus, star cactus, chaute, chautle

Mammillaria fissuratus Engelmann, Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts 3: 270. 1856 (as Mamillaria)

Varieties 1-3 (1 in the flora): Texas, Mexico.

1a. Ariocarpus fissuratus (Engelmann) K. Schumann var. fissuratus

Ariocarpus fissuratus var. fissuratus distribution mapPlants protruding above ground 0-2(-10) cm. Stems: tubercles forming coarse mosaic, closely packed, exposed faces of tubercles deltoid to hemispheric, deeply fissured on either side of central areolar groove, coarsely rugose, often sharply angled apically; areoles to 3 mm wide, sometimes confined to middle of tubercle faces instead of extending to tips. Flowers 2.5-5 cm diam., 2 times wider than long when fully expanded; inner tepals 21-30 × 5.5-7.5(-10) mm.

Flowering Sep-Nov. Chihuahuan desert scrub, low, rocky hills of limestone chips; 500-1500 m; Tex.; Mexico (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango).

The stems of Ariocarpus fissuratus are normally flush with the soil surface and resemble limestone chips in shape, color, and texture, rendering the plants extremely cryptic. The species is often found growing with Agave lechuguilla and species of Leucophyllum, and Parthenium.

Ariocarpus fissuratus var. fissuratus drawing

Back to online articles.
The Flora of North America web site.

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