Opuntia sulphurea is native to semi-desertic areas of north-western Argentina. It is also widespread in Chile and Bolivia. Its habitat are rocky, clayey arid soils in hillsides or scrubs abudantly inhabited by xerophyllous bushes, at an altitude range between sea level and 3500 meters above it. Like many other species of Opuntia, O. sulphurea tends to grow in groups but, while other species grow upwards, it usually stays low to the ground. This succulent has evolved to be very resilient, and it manages to survive also in environments disturbed by agricultural practices and grazing on lower altitude subpopulations. Unlike many succulent plants, it likes soils rich in nitrogen; it thrives in disturbed areas, where there has been an exploitation for pastures and thus the soil results in being rich in Nitrogen.
O. sulphurea is a low, erect bush, that reaches a diameter of usually 1,5-2 meters and 50 centimeters in height. Like almost every Opuntia, its stem is formed by paddle-shaped, rounded, flattened organs called cladodes, growing one on another, connected by narrow, fragile joints, so that the single cladodes easily detach from the stem and fall on the ground to put new roots and spread the bush. In this species, the bright green cladodes are furrowed with tubercles. On each tubercle, there is an areole: areoles are the buds of cacti, which give birth to spines. In O. sulphurea, the spines are 1 to 8 in each areole, thick, erect and acuminate, white to brownish-orange-yellow in colour. The flowers, like in all Opuntias, are gorgeous. They are solitary, 4 centimeters long, bright yellow, equipped with numerous petals. Also the central part of the flower is yellow, filled with crowded stamens and a central, tipped in green, stigma. The fleahy fruits are not deemed to be edible and their colour vary between yellowish and reddish.
Opuntia sulphurea is a tough plants and requires little care: this makes it perfect for beginners! Anyway, here are our tips:
Put your Opuntia in a bright spot, exposed to direct sunlight. In half-shaded positions, in fact, flowers production might be reduced.
The minimum tolerated temperature reaches -5ºC to -12ºC, as long as its substrate is maintained completely dry. Opuntias, in general, require low temperatures in Winter to induce dormancy. If they don’t go into dormancy and continues to grow, producing too weak and fragile branches;
Choose a well-drained substrate: a standard soil for cacti is the best option. It can also be grown in clayey soils as long as their drainage is good and overvatering is avoided.
Waterings should be scarce: about once a week from March to October, always waiting for the soil to dry up before each watering. In Winter, suspend any irrigation.
Repot your O. sulphurea once a year: it grows rather fast.
O. sulphurea, like most Opuntias, is propagated mainly through the separation and consequent replanting of the cladodes (the flattened, rounded stem organs). It is sufficient to detach one of them and leave it lying down on the ground: it will put roots in any time during the growing season, that goes from March to October. Propagation by sowing is also possible. Sow in Spring, providing a temperature between 20-28ºC, maintaining the substrate slightly moist until germination occurs (it usually does in 7-14 days).
Opuntia was named after “Opunte”, the capital of Locride region in ancient Greece. It’s uncertain, instead, whether the species name “sulphurea” refers to the orange-yellowish, sulphur-like colour of the glochids or either to the preferred soil of this species, probably with a good amount of Sulphur.
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