What is Echinocereus?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Echinocereus is a genus of cacti with around 100 species found distributed across the American Southwest. These cacti are famous for their large, colorful flowers and are grown in cultivation all over the world. They are ideally suited to cultivation in homes or greenhouses, as they are naturally small and take to container gardening very well. People interested in growing an Echinocereus cactus can find specimens at nurseries, in catalogs, and through exchanges with other gardeners, particularly those interested in cacti and succulents.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

These ribbed cacti grow in a cylindrical shape and are covered in spines. They share the common name “hedgehog cacti” with a number of other cacti genera, a reference to the even distribution of spines across the body of the cactus. The flowers vary in color, depending on the species, although stunning pinks and reds are common, and some species produce variegated flowers. The blooms can last longer than those of other cacti and will develop into edible fruit.

In nature, Echinocereus likes dry, coarse soil and can be found growing in the crevices of rocks. It prefers dry, sunny conditions although it can tolerate heavy rainfall, and the genus is cold hardy. Like many desert plants, it can handle temperature extremes from quite hot to freezing in a single day and some species require cold shocking in the winter to produce flowers. The hardiness of the genus makes it an excellent choice for beginning gardeners.

For container gardening, Echinocereus should be established in a pot with a coarse soil mix containing lots of sand or small rocks. The cacti are less sensitive to overwatering than some of their relatives, but they should be permitted to dry out entirely between waterings. Pots with good drainage are recommended so the soil stays light and dry and the plants should be established in an area with bright, indirect light. Strong drafts and high heat are not recommended.

In the garden, this plant can be grown with other succulents and cacti. Beds should be prepared with coarse soil to create a hospitable environment, or the plants can be established in containers in the garden. Echinocereus is a good choice for rockeries and other low-water garden features. In regions with water restrictions, cacti can be used in low-water landscaping schemes with a variety of colorful plants. Local gardening societies can often help gardeners locate sources for low-water plants, as well as help with planning a landscaping scheme.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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