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What is Aztekium?

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  • Written By: Sonal Panse
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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Aztekium is a genus of cacti that can be found growing on vertical, limestone and gypsum cliffs in Nuevo León state in Mexico. The genus contains two species, Aztekium hintonii and Aztekium ritteri. These are small globular and star-shaped cactus plants, and have been found to contain a number of alkaloids and other chemicals; they may prove to be valuable as medicinal plants.

The cacti get the first part of their names from the Aztec people; the shape of the cacti is said to bear some resemblance to some forms of Aztec sculpture. The second part of the cacti names come from the botanists who discovered them. Aztekium ritteri was discovered by Friedrich Ritter in Rayones, Nuevo León, Mexico, and was named after him by Friedrich Boedeker in 1928; native Mexicans call it Peyotillo. For many years, this was the only known species and it was assumed that the genus contained only this single type. In 1991, however, George S. Hinton discovered the Aztekium hintonii in Galeana, Nuevo León.

Aztekium ritteri is a very small cactus, only about 1.96 inches (five cm) in diameter, and with a very slow growth rate; it can take several years to reach normal size and develop new clump extensions. It is yellowish green when young and then turns grayish green. It has about 10 rounded ribs that are crossed with horizontal wrinkles, giving the cactus a rather crumpled look. White "wool" is produced at the growing center of the cactus.

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In the summer, the ritteri plant produces tiny white and pink flowers, which are only about 0.39 inch (one cm) in diameter and are produced from the central white wool. The flowers may or may not be fragrant. Tiny, berry-like pink fruits, containing many fine seeds, make their appearance after the flowering.

The hintonii type is larger in size, measures about 3.93 inches (10 cm) in diameter, and has a comparatively faster growth rate. The color of this cactus can also range from light green to grayish-green, and it has around 18 ribs with distinct grooves. The flowers, when they appear, generally measure around three cm and are dark pink or magenta in color.

Both cactus types can be propagated from seeds, but, given their slow growth rates, this can be a rather difficult task; the seedlings often wither away before they attain a viable size. Grafting the plants has been found to be successful to some extent. Once the specimens have established roots, however, they are quite easy to manage. They should be planted in a well-drained area, with full sun or partial shade, and should be protected from pests like spider mites and mealy bugs.

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