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History, description, cultivation, soil, sun exposure, care, informations and curiosity about genus Melocactus.

by: Divisione divulgazione26/02/2013

The genus Melocactus belongs to the family of Cactaceae and includes about 40 species. The genus is native to Central and South America (Mexico, Argentina, Peru) and the specimens in the wild can be observed both at sea level and high altitude (even up to 2800-3000 m above sea level), reflecting the variability of the optimal environmental conditions of the different species. Some of them, such as M. conoideus, M. deinacanthus, M. glaucescens, M. paucispinus are currently endangered, so to be included in Annex A of the EU Regulation n.1158/12 of 27 November 2012 ("CITES").

A bit of history

The first name given to the species (we are in the year 1570) was Melocardus echinatus, resulting from the merger of the latin words meaning thistle, melon and sea urchin; then, the famous botanist C. Linneo assigned to the species the name of Cactus Melocactus. The peculiarity of the current name is in its Latin origin: it derives from the words "Cactus" (cactus) and "Melus" (melon) because of round or cylindrical cephalium at the apex of the stem, typical of adult plants.


Despite the typical differences of the various species, the Melocactus are united by certain peculiarities easily recognizable: the plant has a globular shape round, a classic green color, edges (8 to 15) pronounced and spiny; haloes have curved spines. It's not a large plant and rarely in adulthood it measures more than 20 cm in diameter. Characteristic of this genus is the cephalium, a sort of buffer at the apex of the plant, which appears in adulthood: when this happens, the plant stops growing.


Often considered to be a genus of difficult cultivation, in the past Melocactus were not very common in the collections of private nurseries, populating almost exclusively botanical gardens and research institutes greenhouses. Today, however, its cultivation is a little easier and following a few basic rules you can get plants healthy, strong and long-lived, especially if grown from seed, even in temperate climate. The germination rate is usually high (see the germination rate found on our seeds) and during the first winter after birth, the baby seedlings must be kept at a temperature between 15°C and 20°C and watered occasionally (or better vaporized) to avoid excessive wilting and then a too slow vegetative growth in the spring. During the growing season (and possibly after the first spring watering) you should fertilize the soil with a fertilizer low in nitrogen and high potassium content; waterings are then reduced when the plant gets advanced age and the cephalium begin to appear. The watering shall be made only when the soil is completely dry after the previous wetting and should be entirely suspended during the winter. Observe that, in the phase of dormancy, the young specimens (without cephalium), better withstand low temperatures and humidity. The plant usually blooms in late spring, but not before 5-7 years of life at least.


The substrate for Melocactus requires an excellent drainage. It may seem heretical but, unlike most other Cactaceae, in the preparation of the soil you can also add a small amount of low acidity peat, in addition to the perlite around the root . They have a well developed root system, with long fibrous roots that provide the plant a good anchorage to the ground: hence should be grown in pots not too small but still compatible with their needs.

Sun exposure

Melocactus loves a bright environment and appreciate even a few hours a day of direct sunlight. They fear the cold winter and should be rest in dry, at a temperature not under 14°C.







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