Monday, October 14, 2013

Growing the Weirdest of the Weird

Astrophytum caput-medusae


As plants go, cacti are weird.  They are usually round or cylindrical and either covered with spines, hair, wool, or some strange textured material.  Since I like weird plants, I collect and grow cacti, and one of my favorites are the species and varieties of the genus Astrophytum, the star cactus.  The astrophytums are round or slightly columnar, and their bodies covered with small tufts of white hairs or scales called trichomes.  Their flowers are relatively large, usually yellow, often with red centers.  As plants go, like the other cacti, astrophytums are weird.   Shown at the right is Astrophytum myriostigma. 
On August 28, 2001 in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, Manuel Nevárez discovered a very strange, and weird cactus, one that had never been seen before.  Finding a plant, in this case a cactus, new to science is a great discovery. But this cactus was not only new, it was really weird.  It wasn't round or cylindrical, instead, it had tentacles (botanically known as tubercles).  The tubercles were covered with white wool or scales, just like astrophytums.  When it flowered, the flowers were relatively large, yellow, with red centers, just like astrophytums.  The fruit and seeds were also just like those of other astrophytums.  Although there are disagreements, most botanist now believe this is another species of astrophytum, perhaps the weirdest of the weird.
The photo of the new Astrophytum caput-medusae
at right is from the book "Ariocarpus et cetera" by John Pilbeam & Bill Weightman. which has a wonderful section on astrophytums.  I didn't have my own photo of A. caput-medusa because I had never grown one.
Since I like growing astrophytums, and this was certainly an interesting one, I finally ordered 10 seeds.  I sowed the seeds in March 2013.  Eight seeds germinated but two of the tiny seedlings died during the first few weeks, but six survived and are now beginning to developed into that weird form complete with long, tentacles covered with the white trichomes.  The growth is very slow, likely because these plants have a large, tuberous root,  which develops before the top growth gets large.  Right now my Astrophytum caput-medusa seedlings (shown at right) are growing under fluorescent lights and will remain there until next summer when I will introduce them to the sun.
I always enjoy growing new and unusual plants, although it is always a little scary when you have no experience with them.  I look forward to watching them grow and mature, and hopefully produce their beautiful flowers.  I'll try to keep their progress posted right here on Cactus Hill Adventures.   If anyone out there is growing, or has grown this strange plants please tell us about it.  Thanks.   



  1. Amazing! I have some A. myriostigma seeds I've been wanting to plant, I think I'll give them a go. The caput medusae variety remind me of my Tillandsia caput medusae, trichomes and all!

  2. I was looking at John and Bill's book just before I read your blog. I lived close to both before I moved to my current home. Bill grew great Ariocarpus and I was able to buy one of these after he died so I have a reminder of him.
    Sorry a bit off topic.