Copiapoa is an interesting genus of family Cactaceae and consists of around 30 species of amazing-looking cacti. Cacti from this genus are native to northern Chile. They are one of the most favorite plants of cactus-lovers.
Although Copiapoa cacti are cultivated in various regions, in the wild they are restricted to northern Chile. They occur mainly in the Atacama Desert, where the annual rainfall is negligible. In this habitat, they get moisture from coastal fogs.
Characteristics of Copiapoa
Copiapoa cacti grow very slowly. Almost all cacti in the Copiapoa genus are globose. This means they have globose-cylindrical stems. These stems have well-defined ribs and a woolly apex that develops beautiful flowers. Almost all Copiapoa cacti develop yellow flowers. Flowers are bell-shaped, have a diameter of around 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) and are quite similar to each other.
On the other hand, spines of Copiapoa cacti may differ from each other. They may be long and strong in one plant and may be absent in the other.
Other components too may differ. Fruits may be globose to turbinate, apically dehiscent. Seeds are shiny and may be reddish brown to black. Roots may be fibrous or large tubers, larger than the parts above the ground. Some plants are solitary while some others form clumps, in the form of magnificent mounds with hundreds of stems spread several feet across. Even coloration may differ within the same species, from deep green to glaucous blue-green to brown.
While most Copiapoa cacti flourish in arid regions, some tolerate cold and even frosts.
Ease of Growing
Although they grow in the wild in extreme conditions, Copiapoa cacti are incredibly easy to grow at home. Whether it’s about sowing seeds or taking care of mature plants, this genus is very lenient. These cacti start flowering from a young age and will reliably bloom every following year.
Unfortunately, Copiapoa cacti are largely affected by illegal trade, up to the extent that many of the species are facing the danger of extinction.
Therefore, while choosing Copiapoa cacti for growing in your home, you should make sure the species you choose come from crops permitted by CITES and have not been taken from their natural habitat.
All Copiapoa cacti need full sun to grow but they can tolerate partial shade. They will also need good air circulation if placed in full sun, to prevent sunburn.
If Planted in a Container: You should prefer a container made of clay as the plants will root better in it than in a plastic pot. Also, the container must be wide and should have holes at its base.
Potting Mix: You should create the potting mix by mixing a mineral substrate (such as crumbled granite) with a very little universal soil, or porous substrate of the pumice style or fine 1-3mm thick gravel.
If Planted in Garden: The garden soil should be light, sandy. It should not flood easily. If required, make a large hole and fill it with the above-mentioned substrate.
Watering: Copiapoa cacti need very little water, so you should water these plants very sparsely. Also, you must make sure the soil is completely dried out between waterings. Also, watering should be totally stopped during the summer months. Instead, you should spray the plant early in the morning, before the temperature rises. This will simulate the conditions in which they grow in the wild.
Fertilizer: You should fertilize very lightly in spring and summer.
Since the Copiapoa cacti are very slow-growing plants, you can repot them every 3 to 4 years.
Propagating Copiapoa cacti by seeds is possible but is very slow and difficult because these plants produce a very few seeds that need to be planted immediately when they’re still fresh. Once planted, they grow very slowly.
An easier and most widely applied method of propagation is dividing clumps formed at the base of the stem. You should pick them and plant them separately.
Some of the Most Popular Species of Genus Copiapoa
C. mollicula is known as lowland in its native place. It’s a type of branched cactus with a greenish body covered with black spines. It reaches a height of up to 10 cm and produces small, yellow flowers.
C. krainziana is also known as chascon and its body is cylindrical or spherical and grayish green in color, and is covered by protective grayish-white spines. Apart from that, it may also have ‘hair’ or ‘fibers’ due to which it looks similar to Cephalocereus senilis (known as old man’s head). It attains a height of more than 15 cm. Flowers are yellow.
This cactus is also known as humildito. It’s a branched cactus with globose-cylindrical, greenish or brown-violet body depending on the subspecies. It’s around 20 cm tall and produces yellow, somewhat odorous flowers.
This is a highly branched globular cactus. Its body is gray-white and is up to 1.8 meter high. It produces yellow flowers.
This cactus is also known as coquimbano. It has a globose-cylindrical, greenish body that usually forms 1-meter high clumps. Its spines are black at the young age and later become gray. Flowers are yellow or reddish inside and are fragrant.
This cactus comes in an attractive globose-cylindrical shape in its young age. But it becomes slightly columnar as it ages. It’s grayish-green in color but in its natural habitat, a white waxy layer covers its body to protect it from the sun. it attains a height of up to 1.2 meters. Color of the spines may be brown or black. Flowers are yellow.
Copiapoa hypogaea comes in two forms in its native place – the first (which is rare) is found in the north of the town of Chanaral (coastal Chile) and has rugose epidermis and the second is found close to the town in the south area and has smooth epidermis. The second form is more popular among cactus collectors. The plant can be solitary or may clump slowly by offsets at the base. Its stem is more commonly bronzed or sometimes gray-brown, 3-4 cm in diameter (can be even 7 cm in cultivation). The aerial portion is virtually disc-shaped and sunken in the ground. It has white wool in the center. Flowers are shiny yellow.
Growing Copiapoa cacti is an amazing experience as the plants grow easily and need almost no maintenance. They look great and produce lovely flowers. Definitely, they can be valuable members of your cactus collection.