Fat plants

Ferocactus - Ferocactus herrerae


The genus ferocactus includes about thirty species of succulent plants, belonging to the family of the cactaceae, widespread in nature in the northern areas of Mexico and in some desert areas of the southern states of the USA; the ferocactus, as the name deriving from the Latin ferox also suggests, are characterized by the presence of sharp spines, in some species even very large and sharp, often of red or rosy color, which are the most evident peculiarity of these cacti. THE ferocactus cultivated in Europe they usually have a rounded shape, and quite small dimensions, as their growth is very slow; in the areas where they develop naturally, over the years they tend to become columnar, or to take on the typical barrel shape, or with the central part of the stem that widens slightly; hardly i ferocactus they gather, more easily, individual specimens are found. The stem is marked by deep ribs, on the edge of which areolas develop that carry the big thorns; this characteristic of the ferocactus is necessary for its survival: these cacti grow in desert places, where the rains are only sporadic; in periods of particular rainfall, in the event of rainfall, the plants tend to be easily removed, due to their shallow root system, and to thorns, which cling to any branches or debris that are dragged by the water. In this way the ferocactus colonies can be moved to the depressions, where the rainwater accumulates a little longer, allowing the plants to restore their water reserves. In summer, at the apex of the plants, large, bright red, yellow, pink flowers bloom, followed by fleshy capsules containing seeds.

Ferocactus latispinus

Species that well exemplifies the main characteristics of ferocactus, much appreciated by collectors; it has a globular stem, which over the years can reach 30-35 cm in diameter; the color is medium green, and the ribs are very deep; on the crest of each rib there are many areolas with a base consisting of a thin down; each areola has some thin thorns, at the center of which there are 4-6 flattened spines, and a central curved spine, usually red or brown. The spines of ferocactus latispinus are very sharp and sharp, and can cause lacerations with great ease if not handled with care. The flowers bloom in spring or early summer, and are bright red or yellow; typically, also the young specimens bloom, if cultivated in a proper way. This species is widespread in nature in Mexico.

Ferocactus glaucescens

Another Mexican species, the name suggests the typical color of the stem, which is blue-gray, there are also mutants with a speckled stem in yellow or white; this ferocactus is roundish in shape, and can reach 45-55 cm in diameter, and it can happen that it will settle, forming large colonies. The ribs are quite evident, and the areolas carry some long, sharp, pale yellow spines. The flowers bloom in spring, and are lemon yellow in color, and give rise to small clear, cream-colored or yellowish fruits. Also this species has a very slow development, but fortunately the ferocactus glaucescens begins to bloom even in young age, and therefore we can easily enjoy the flowers even with very young specimens and of small dimensions.

Ferocactus hamatacanthus

Cactacea native to Mexico and Texas; it has a roundish stem, very slow development, which can reach 35-45 cm in diameter, and rarely creep; the ribs are deep and evident, and carry well-defined areolas, with about a dozen long, light, cream-colored, elongated thorns; at the center of the areola there are 3-4 very long spines, often folded, and sometimes a single large hooked thorn. The flowers bloom in spring, are large, yellow or pink, and give rise to quite large, juicy fruits, which are edible. Some authors classify ferocactus hamatacanthus as a separate genus, called hamatacanthus.

Ferocactus pilosus

Also called ferocactus stainesii, it is a species widespread in Mexico, it has a dark green stem, which often becomes columnar, even in fairly "young" specimens, and which tends to shrink. The areolas are clearly visible along the ribs, and carry some long spines, in some specimens so thin as to be reduced to long white hairs; at the center of the ribs the thorns thicken and become bright red, of strong contrast on the dark epidermis of the cactus. The flowers bloom in late spring, or in summer, and are bright red or yellow; the fruits are yellow or red, not very fleshy. Flowering occurs only in very large specimens, which are several years old, and therefore often difficult to see for a common European collector.

Ferocactus robustus

Ferocactus species native to central Mexico; contrary to what happens for most of the other species of the genus, the ferocactus robustus tend to accede with great ease, and to develop large colonies, also constituted by specimens born from seed; every single plant never reaches large dimensions, remaining below 15 cm in diameter, but in the areas of origin, the colonies of ferocactus robustus can reach 4-5 meters in diameter. The ribs are clearly visible, and the body of the plant is dark green; the areolas are separated from each other, and carry some long, light or reddish spines, with thin white hairs. The flowers bloom in spring, or in summer, and are yellow.

Growing ferocactus

In nature these cacti live in desert places, but in areas where they can enjoy sporadic rains; in pots they are quite easy to grow, also thanks to the fact that they take several years before taking on dimensions that are difficult to manage, and their contained radical apparatus does not force us to purchase excessively spacious containers. The ferocactus are grown in fairly small pots, often in bowls, where they seem to tend to develop better; the soil must be very well drained, so that when we water it does not form water stagnations; in general, universal soil is used, mixed with an incoherent material, such as pozzolana, gravel, lapillus, pumice stone: the result must be a stony ground that is not inclined to retain moisture. The waterings will be only sporadic, in the spring and summer period, from April to May, until September; when we water a succulent plant let's remember however to wet the soil well, and to water again only when the substratum is well dry. In June, watering will be necessary even every two or three days, while in the spring and autumn months, the rains will provide sufficient water, without our intervention, except in the case of particular periods of drought. Let's place the pots in the sun, all year long, so that direct sunlight hits the plants for at least 4-5 hours every day. When the cool comes, in autumn, we let the soil dry, and we position the pots so that they do not receive the rain water. In winter the soil must remain completely dry. These plants can withstand short frosts of slight entity, but only on condition that they are dry; therefore in the cold months we move our ferocactus to an area sheltered from the rains, and with a cold climate, but without excessive frosts; for example, a cold greenhouse facing east or south may be the best choice. In the months of vegetative development, between April and September, every 20 days we provide specific fertilizer for succulent plants, poor in nitrogen. Every 3-4 years let's remember to repot the plants, being careful not to ruin the characteristic spines.

Pests and diseases

The cultivation method of succulent plants is what favors the development of pests typical of these plants, first of all the cochineal: this insect loves dry and unventilated climates, and therefore it is the sworn enemy of those who own a greenhouse cold, where the plants remain without watering and ventilation even for months. The best product against cochineal is white oil, to be used as a prevention, in late winter, but also as a real insecticide, against insects already present. However we avoid the use of white oil in the warm months. If we have only one small ferocactus, we can also kill scale insects by simply removing them. Another problem that harasses ferocactus growers is due to rot, which often tends to develop in case of excess watering, or especially when the soil of the pot tends to create water stagnation. To avoid rotting, we water only when the soil is dry, and make sure we wet it well, but avoid leaving the saucer full; if we consider it necessary, we can water the vessels by immersion, leaving them to drain well before repositioning them. Often the ferocactus tend over the years to lignify the base, becoming brown or reddish in the first centimeters off the ground; this feature unfortunately often masks the development of fungi and bacterial diseases, which begin to be noticed only when their spread is wide along the stem of the plant. This type of disease is favored by excessive watering, or by strong water changes, due to excessively sporadic watering, or carried out in periods with excessively cool climate. There is no cure for this type of parasites, which tend to develop along the stem, but also in the pulp of the plant; the only way we have to save a plant that shows conspicuous bleached or dark patches along the stem is to remove all the diseased part. This often involves having to cut the apical part of the cactus, dust it with a powder fungicide, let it dry for a day, and then place it on fresh soil, hoping it will root.

Propagate the ferocactus

Most ferocactus tend to not produce basal suckers, so to propagate the only way consists in sowing; also this operation is not always feasible, as some species bloom only when they have reached significant dimensions; therefore, we will have to get the seeds from specialized shops, also considering the fact that the seeds of some species can be expensive, as many ferocactus are endangered species in the areas of origin. In nature the ferocactus produce the flowers in quite humid periods, and the seeds simply fall to the base of the plants, which provide a little shade; only after months of desert climate the seeds germinate; so we will have to take this into account when we sow a ferocactus in the house. Germination will be very slow, and can be accelerated by the scarification process, or by actions that thin out the cuticle that covers the seeds, and which makes them waterproof. Scarification can be carried out by slightly sanding the seeds, but being those of very small ferocactus, the process is decidedly complicated to practice; more often we proceed by simply dipping the seeds in warm water for a few hours, or for very short periods of time in diluted sulfuric acid (a few seconds); the seeds are then rinsed, dusted with a broad-spectrum fungicide, and placed on a universal damp soil, which should be kept in a bright, cool and humid place for a few weeks, until they begin to germinate.
Watch the video