Just last week I wrote a blog post on my visit to the San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society Summer Show and Sale. In that post I showed a box full of plants I had purchased while there. One of those plants was an Ariocarpus agavoides, commonly known as the Tamaulipas Living Rock Cactus. I didn’t waste anytime planting it, as it went into the garden that very day I returned home. Luckily for me I decided to walk up on the hill and check on it a few days later. Had I not, I would have missed this:
Ariocarpus agavoides in flower is an astonishing sight for a plant so small. It is one you must be quick to observe because their flowering cycle only lasts a few days. The other roughly 360 days of the year you are looking at a plant that can easily be lost in a garden when grown in the ground. Ariocarpus agavoides is a short plant, most only reaching about 2 inches tall. In the wild you won’t find one until you have stepped on it. However, all this becomes irrelevant once it flowers. The Tamaulipas Living Rock Cactus comes to life and its magenta flowers glow in the sun.
The species name “agavoides” means ‘similar to an Agave.’ To me it is most similar to Agave albopilosa, and coincidently enough their habitats are not separated by more than 100 miles or so. However, unlike a true Agave, the Ariocarpus dark green ‘leaves’ are really tubercles. The majority of the plant is a hidden sub-globose stem and big tap roots. Large, old plants of some Ariocarpus (most likely stolen from the wild) can fetch thousands of dollars due to their slow growth.
Along with my Ariocarpus agavoides, I also have an Ariocarpus retusus growing in the same planter bed. Ariocarpus retusus is a larger plant that can be found growing to 8 inches in older specimens. It is much harder to get to flowering size in cultivation and when, or if, it does decide to flower, the color will be white. As you can see my Ariocarpus retusus is still quite small, so most likely many years from flowering for me.
I gained a lot of real world experience while growing my Ariocarpus retusus that I planted last year. I used the words “real world” because so many false things have been written and shared about their supposed difficulty in cultivation. For me the reality is that they are actually carefree, albeit slow, growers. The hardest thing for my two plants to get past was moving from the greenhouse growing condition most growers use, to direct, full sun in my garden. As you can see in the photo above, my Ariocarpus retusus is burnt, but new growth is a happy darker green. I am pretty sure my Ariocarpus agavoides will burn as well, as I know it too was greenhouse grown and I planted it right into full sun, smack-dab in the middle of summer here in Southern California.
I will be treating the Ariocarpus agavoides as I have my Ariocarpus retusus. That means grown in straight decomposed granite with moderate watering in the spring, summer and fall but no water in winter. Treated properly, I should be able to enjoy it for many decades to come. It could even become an heirloom.