Friday, March 7, 2014

Unfinished business: Leuchtenbergia principis

I spent a lot of yesterday working on a different, longer post, but it became clear that I wasn't going to finish soon enough to publish it today, so instead you get this. We'll call it a follow-up to the Leuchtenbergia principis profile.

I noted in that post that different sources gave wildly conflicting information about the color of Leuchtenbergia fruits, and guessed that they were perhaps just that inconsistent about fruit color. Since that post was written, my two mature plants' fruits have ripened, and in fact the two plants do not agree on the proper color for ripe fruit. The small plant's was pinkish-purple,

and the large plant's was yellow.

This is sort of backwards -- the small plant's flower was solidly bright yellow, but the fruit was pinkish; the large plant's flower was a pinkish, but produced a solid yellow fruit. So I guess the lesson here is that they turn whatever colors they feel like turning, at all stages of the process. Leuchtenbergias are the honey badgers of the plant world.

Both of the above photos date from last November; at the beginning of February, the small plant's fruit had browned and shriveled up, so I pulled it off, and I learned the truth behind another thing that had confused me while researching. A couple sources mentioned something about the seeds coming out of a small hole at the base of the fruit, which didn't make sense to me until the small plant's fruit came off -- the hole the seeds come out of is where the fruit was originally attached to the tubercule. (The way it was phrased, I'd thought that maybe the fruit stayed attached to the plant and, like, grew a hole on its side or something. Which didn't seem like a sensible way for a plant to go about distributing its seeds, but I thought maybe Leuchtenbergias were just kinda crazy. See above re: honey badger.) The dried fruit works more or less like a salt shaker -- seeds kept falling out of the hole as I moved it around. And it was basically packed full to begin with.

So I guess they don't actually need animals to find and eat the fruit, because the fruits will dry up and disperse the fruits all on their own. Which may explain the inconsistent fruit coloration: if you don't have to attract animals in order to get the next generation going, you can color your fruits however you want. So everything makes sense now, and I'm happy.

So, now, I have 15 seedlings in tiny clay pots in the basement, there's another six in the plastic container where I germinated them last May, I have maybe 70 seeds left over from the ones I bought, and I have an unknown number in the two fruits. So for the love of all that is good and pure in the world, please, if you are at all interested in having seeds or seedlings of Leuchtenbergia, send me an e-mail and ask. Something can be worked out, I promise.


Peter said...

Nice job! Too bad Leuchtenbergias are one of the least popular cacti around.

Unknown said...

I can't let that comment go unchallenged! L. principis is probably my absolute FAVE cactus. It is utterly spectacular is all ways - huge flowers, especially give the size of the plant itself; an amazing growth form; seriously weird spines; what is not to like? This is also one of the cacti that just gets better with age - the older and more gnarly they get, the better they look, and they can live a seriously long time, so you can leave them to your descendents!

Loona said...

I also think Leuchtenbergias are very cool. But they are rare around here (I guess - I don't even remember having seen one in real life - which is, well, not actually true, I suppose, but I doubt I have seen them around in shops, or even cactus fairs. That said, I have only been to a few small ones). I wish it wasn't the case, and I wish we didn't have an ocean between us - I'd totally love to get some seeds from you, but if I remember correctly you don't ship outside the US.

mr_subjunctive said...


I haven't been shipping plants outside of the U.S., in part because I don't have any idea how long it would take them to arrive and I couldn't trust that they'd be in okay condition when they did. Seeds, on the other hand, might be possible.

Google is not amazingly helpful in this particular case (lots of results regarding mailing cannabis seeds into the U.S.; not much of anything about sending regular garden plant seeds out). I did find this post at Garden Web that suggested that it might be possible to mail Leuchtenbergia seeds to other countries as long as they were labeled as such and in small quantities. I can try looking into that if you think you might be interested, though admittedly I don't have any very good ideas about where to look.