Monday, July 16, 2012

Epithelantha micromeris

Epithelantha micromeris ssp. micromeris in fruit in June. 

Epithelantha micromeris is a button-sized cactus clad in a dense covering of white spines and hairs, native to the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. Its flowers are vanishingly small and pallid, and easy to overlook. The clusters of toy-store Barbie-aisle pink fruits that follow in late spring and early summer, however, are hard to miss. In The Cactus Family, Edward Anderson relates some weird ethnobotanical lore associated with E. micromeris, including the notion held by the Tarahumara people that it can grant a long life and the ability to see sorcerers.

My four-year-old plants, grown from seed from Mesa Garden, are flowering and fruiting this year for the first time. This plant material was originally collected in Mesa Garden's home town of Belen, New Mexico, which is the northern limit of the range of E. micromeris subspecies micromeris. Epithelantha plants grow only in soil derived from limestone, in crevices and among limestone rubble, where the ghostly pale plants are well-camouflaged. I visited the Epithelantha locality in Belen in the mid-1990s, but was unable to locate any plants. Possibly they were just well-hidden, but I suspect that collectors, aggravated by cattle grazing, have seriously impacted or extirpated the population.