Puna clavarioides is a cacti native to Argentina, in particular from the provinces of Mendoza and San Juan, where it can be found in an area of around 3000 kmq.
Its habitat are high-altitude, extremely arid steppes: between 2000 and 3000 meters above sea level! The small dimension and the camouflaging attitude of this cacti allows it to hide among the rocks, where it can be sheltered from the heavy wind typical of these altitudes and thus manages to survive in barren places where any other plant can’t make it. P. cavarioides camouflages so well that it’s very difficult to find it! Nevertheless, in its occurrance areas, these species tend to be abundant. It can also be found among shrub and grasses, where the latter can still survive. The species is threatened by habitat loss due to mining activities and also by tourism.
P. clavarioides is a dwarf, creeping cactus. It’s also commonly called “Dead man’s fingers” and also “Mushroom opuntia”. These names are due to its finger-shaped little stems, which make it look like a creepy man’s hand or a strange mushroom. The finger-shaped stems sprout from the edges of a central, cylindric, wider stem, with a central depression, that barely sprout from the soil surface. The colour of the stems is dark green, almost black, with some brownish tinges. Nevertherless, the surface of the stems is barely visible, being completely covered in dense, white, short spines, which sprout, along with tufts of fluffy white hair, from the very abundant areoles. “Areoles” is a botanical term to describe the typical buds of the family Cactaceae, from which the spines are usually formed. Another reason why this species is so appreciated and sought after by cacti lovers, along with its oddity and rarity, is its gorgeous blossomings. The flowers, borne laterally by funnel-shaped, scaled perioles at the top of the finger-shaped stems, are usually yellow or olive green, with light brown tinges in their abundant, papery, delicate petals. The central yellow button is filled with plenty of stamens. Flowers end up to produce pear-shaped, dry fruits, with only one seed each. Another distinctive feature of P. clavarioides is its huge (if compared to the plant’s size) taproot, which acts as a stock for water and nutrients and thus helps the plant to survive to the severely dry and barren native habitat.
P. clavaiorides is not the easiest cactus to cultivate. However, if you follow a few tips, it can reward you with its beautiful blossomings and its extremely decorative attitude.
Due to its extremely big taproot, P. clavarioides requires deep, wide pots, filled with an extremely well-drained mineral potting mix. It grows slowly, so, if you choose a deep pot from the beginning, it won’t be necessary to repot it.
Put in a bright spot, exposed to direct sunlight. P. clavarioides, being native to high-altitude environments, can also survive light frosts: down to -5/-10ºC, as long as its substrate is maintained completely dry. It’s important to expose to cool temperatures in Winter, if you hope to obtain a healthy blossoming during the following season. An airy environment is preferable: P. clavarioides doesn’t like still, humid air. During the vegetative season, water your P. clavarioides regularly, at least once a week, always waiting for the soil to dry up before each irrigation. In Winter, instead keep it dry, as it’s very subsceptible to root rotting. Gradually decrease the irrigation frequency during the Autumn.
Propagation is usually carried out either by cuttings or by grafting. In cultivation, grafted plants are more common as they are usually more resistant to cultivation conditions.
The name “Puna” comes from a plateau called “Puna”, located between Argentina and Bolivia, the place of origin of this species. It’s a region extending from Peru to northern Argentina and including a part of Bolivia. The species attribute “Clavarioides” refers instead to its resemblance to a fungus genus called “Clavaria”, due to its club-shaped stems.
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