Habitat: Atacama Desert (Chile)
Cultivation: The genre Copiapoa needs exposure to half sun (or in full sun, but only in ventilated areas), high temperatures and scarce watering have completely to be stopped during July and August. It is characterized by a very slow growth.
Curiosity: The name comes from the city of Copiapó, located in the Chilean region of Atacama where this genre has grown at the center of the development area.
THE Copiapoa: KEY FEATURES
The genre Copiapoa consists of globular cactus that, stretching with growth, assumes tubular shape. With time, also, the new stems grow next to each other forming characteristic tufts. The plants are almost never high: they usually reach a length that can range from 30 cm to 1 m in height. The stem has got a color of gray-green, with a peak covered by gray and thickly thorny felt. The flowers are yellow or yellow-pink, they only appear on adult plants and allow to distinguish Copiapoa among the other cacti in Chile.
Most of the special features of this plant come from the special environment where it is developed such Atacama Desert, considered to be the driest area in the world, it is also characterized by extremely poor soils. It is a very homogeneous area from the climatic point of view located near the coastal strip and this can give the right humidity, that comes from the sea, to the plant.
VARIETY AND TYPES
The copiacoa are considered a genre in its self since 1922, while previously they were part of Echinocactus family. According to the used classification system, there are 20 to 40 different species of Copiapoa. The best known species is certainly the Copiapoa cinerea. This species produces on the stem a white cuticular wax layer which helps the surface to be waterproofed and to be more protected by dangerous sunburn. All that a very clear color, gray-white (hence the name). Thorns, however, are usually black or dark brown. Among the other species we remember the Copiapoa lauii, the smallest species that is known in this genre, with stems that remain of globular form and produce beautiful yellow blooms. In Copiapoa solaris the ribs of the stem is much more noticeable than in other species and the form recalls the one of other cacti. It is very difficult to find it on the market and it has slow growth time.
TIPS FOR GROWING
The cultivation of plants of the genre Copiapoa is not easy and the growth is very slow, so they are usually difficult to find on the market. In fact, it needs slightly different care than those are usually reserved to the other cacti: needs even less water especially in summer and a land with mineral substrate. The Copiapoa want exposure to half or full sun. If they are in full sun, they must be in a position with good air circulation or they risk sunburn. The ideal temperature is between 6 ° C and 30 ° C.
It’s about watering that Copiapoa reveal to be particular plants. Consider that they developed in the driest desert on the planet, in a region where there is still more rain in winter than in summer but, on the other hand, plants can absorb moisture from the air that rises from the sea. So watering should be extremely poor, the ground must dry out completely between waterings. They should, however, be suspended during July and August: in this period instead of watering It will be appropriate to spray the plant early in the morning, before the temperature warms up, thus simulating the conditions that they would have in their natural environment. The soil should be formed from a mineral substrate (for example, granite crumbled) mixed with very little universal soil. Fertilizing should be extremely light: they are sufficient, in any case, from April to June. Considering that it is a very slow-growing plants, you can repot every 3-4 years (with differences according to the single species).
The reproduction by seed is possible, but very difficult and slow: the plants typically produce few seeds that must be planted very fresh and they have a very slow development. For this, the most widely used system to multiply the Copiapoa is the division of clumps that are created at the base of the stem, which can be picked up and planted separately.