Echinocereus is a genus of many species of cacti (family Cactaceae), native to southern North America, through Central America, and northwestern South America.
The name derives from the Greek words this (spiny) and cereus (waxen). The species are commonly called hedgehog cactus, kingcup cactus, or strawberry cactus.
They are easily recognizable by their spiny stems and large flowers. They are popular as ornamental plants in gardens and pots, both indoors and outdoors.
Echinocereus species are found from the southwestern United States south to Guatemala and Honduras. Echinocereus reichenbachii grows only in Mexico, but several hybrids have been made between it and other species in cultivation.
Echinocereus are very variable in form, size, and color. Some grow into large clumps, others remain solitary for decades. The stems can be short or long, fat or thin, depending on the species and their habitat; from a few centimeters high to more than 30 cm tall. The spines vary from almost none too long central spines to shorter radial spines. Spines can be easily lost when the plant is handled carelessly.
Importance of Echinocereus
- Hedgehog cactus has been used for medicinal purposes by Native American tribes for hundreds of years. However, it hasn’t been scientifically proven to be safe or effective.
- Hedgehog cactus contains chemicals called alkaloids that might help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It also contains chemicals that can help make the urine more acidic.
- People take the hedgehog cactus for diabetes, high cholesterol, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive disorders. They also take it to promote urination and to cause sweating.
Growing this plant, however, is not always easy. In general, the problem is that they are very difficult to grow from seed; if you get seedlings to germinate, they will die after a few weeks. The natural solution to this problem is to buy an adult plant, but these can be very expensive and difficult to find.
Your best bet at growing Echinocereus is to find a friend or family member who has a mature plant that is not being used. These plants reproduce by dropping their seeds on the ground, and then later producing small plantlets called “pups”. If you have a mother plant to start with, you can simply remove one of her pups and then grow it in your own garden.
- Size & Growth
Hedgehog cacti are slow growers and tend to reach a height of only about 6” inches during their lifetime. Older plants may grow larger, but do not expect them to become very large.
- Flowering and Fragrance
The hedgehog cactus bears small flowers along its edges which bloom at different times depending on the specific species. Colors may include shades of red, pink, and orange. The flowers are often very attractive and may last for several weeks each year.
- Light: Most Echinocereus prefer a sunny exposure. In very warm climates, some afternoon shade may be required for the larger growing species.
- Water: While the plants are dormant in winter, watering should be withheld. In summer, water thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch.
- Soil: A very well-drained mineral potting mix is the ideal growing medium for Echinocereus.
- Fertilizer: Feed with a high potassium fertilizer during the growing season to encourage flowering and promote root development.
- Temperature: It requires a temperature range between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with an ideal room temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Humidity: This one’s easy—your Echinocereus loves medium to high humidity. They love it so much that they will be happiest with a humidity level of 65% or higher. Don’t worry about their cactus nature; this is a very humid-loving plant. Just give them lots of love to keep them happy!
Propagating a hedgehog cactus can be done in either of two ways: by seed or by cutting.
If you want to try growing Echinocereus from seed, be aware that it will be much more difficult than other types of plants. You should plan on spending at least one year growing the seeds before transplanting them into the soil. They will also need high humidity and warm temperatures for germination; if you live in an area that gets cold winters, then you may need to provide extra heat for your seedlings during the day and night time.
If you would prefer to propagate your hedgehog cactus by cutting, wait until spring or summer and take a 4 to 6-inch cutting from the tip of a stem. Allow the cut end to dry for 2 days before planting in potting soil that is gritty but well-draining. Immediately place the cut end in filtered shade and cover with a plastic bag to increase humidity levels. Water very sparingly—only enough so that the soil remains damp but not wet—and remove the plastic bag once new growth appears.
Pest and Disease Control
Here are some pests and diseases Echinocereus may face and how to prevent them.
Echinocereus can be susceptible to several insect pests, most notably mealybugs and scale insects. These pests are sap-sucking insects that can be identified by their white wax coating. Scale insects can also appear as small bumps on the cactus, while mealybugs appear as cottony lumps at the base of the cactus or in the axils of its spines. Both of these insects can be controlled by applying insecticidal soap directly to the infested plants.
Unfortunately, Echinocereus is not resistant to any notable diseases. The most common disease affecting this plant is root rot, caused by overwatering and poor drainage. This is a fungal disease that presents itself as soft, brown rot on the roots and stem of the plant. The best way to prevent root rot is to follow proper watering practices for your climate and growing zone. You should also make sure that your soil drains well and is not overly moist or damp at all times.