Another fascinating species sharing a similar range as Coryphantha echinus is Echinocactus texensis (USDA zones 5-9), commonly known in Texas as Horse Crippler. Unfortunately because of its stout spines, it can puncture a hoof, so ranchers relentlessly rouge this species from pasture land so their livestock won’t step on them. However, as a garden specimen this barrel type species is much more valued. It can grow to a foot or more in diameter. The thick claw-like spines are very ornamental as are the large burnt orange flowers that ring the top of the flat stem. Later in the summer the large showy orange fruit crown the plant.
Ferocactus hamatacanthus (USDA zones 6-10) is the most cold hardy of the Ferocactus genus best known for its whopper sized specimens found in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. Ferocactus hamatacanthus, however, is from West Texas and is considerably smaller, growing to 15 inches in height and a foot or more in diameter. It has long (often 3 to 4 inches) hooked pink or straw yellow spines and large showy yellow flowers.
The Pediocactus are a small genus of cacti with Pediocactus simpsonii (USDA zones 4-7) and its subspecies Pediocactus simpsonii v. minor being the most widespread. It is a sub-alpine species most often found in the higher altitudes of the many mountain ranges in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and southern Idaho. As one might expect Pediocactus simpsonii is happiest in gardens located above 5,000 ft. in elevation. This species which varies in size from tiny single plants to large clusters of tall stems, doesn’t mind partial shade, especially at lower altitudes. Be aware that it detests humid heat. However, when happily situated in the garden the pink, white, and sometimes yellow flowers are a welcome sight in early spring. (Note that the flower color is variable for this species through its range.) Pediocactus simpsonii often blooms while there is still snow on the ground.
Though the genus Opuntia includes some very difficult to handle species, I do recommend using Opuntia basilaris (USDA zones 5-10) or Beavertail cactus from the Mohave desert. The naked pads are ornamental in their own right, but the double flowered pink or yellow flowers are breathtaking. Place it where it will receive baking heat for best growth and flowering. Give this species some room to spread, as it can grow to cover a 2’ by 2’ wide area. Don’t hesitate to prune it back should it start to overgrow the smaller plants around it.
Reprinted from the March/April issue of The American Gardener with permission of the American Horticulture Society. 7931 E Blvd Dr., Alexandria, VA 22308 or on the web at www.ahs.org.