About the genus
Plants from the genus Echinopsis have long been known to hybridise readily with others from the same genus, as well as with those from related genera such as Lobivia, Trichocereus and Hildewintera. As with all hybrid breeding, whether it be roses or cacti, the aim is to produce a plant that ‘improves’ on nature in terms of the size, shape and colour of the flower, its ability to repeat flower in the season, etc.
The plants come with a variety of stem shapes ranging from globular, through columnar to trailing stems ideal for a hanging basket type display. Some are well armed with attractive spines whereas others may have none.
The flower size is variable, from as big as 24cm down to less than 10cm. Regarding flower colour the full range of combinations can be found except for ‘black’ and blue!
Just as for species cacti some hybrids need to be several years old before they will flower for the first time, although there are many that will flower at 3–4 years old. Once they reach maturity they will flower each year.
How to grow them
Like the species involved in their genetic makeup, these hybrids are pretty straightforward to grow by following a standard cactus regimen.
A good gritty, free-draining compost, such as John Innes No 2 mixed with coarse grit in a ratio of 50/50 is a good choice. Pot them on regularly but do not over-pot them. The next size up is usually adequate.
Introduce the plants to water around the end of March as the days lengthen and temperatures rise, and through the season water when they dry out. As with most cacti, if in doubt whether to water then leave it another few days. Cacti are much more tolerant of underwatering than all other plants and these hybrids are no exception. Do not leave them standing in water for prolonged periods as this will encourage roots to rot.
An occasional application of a low nitrogen fertiliser, at a weak strength, during the growing season will be beneficial. Reduce watering during September with a view to having dried them out by early October. They will then be perfectly happy kept dry until the following March, and indeed a cool, dry winter rest helps to promote flowering the following year.
These plants are suited to greenhouse cultivation and, if dry, will easily manage down to as low as 5°C in the winter. However, a lot of people grow them well in a bright conservatory or on the sunniest windowsill in the house. If the plants are kept indoors over winter they will be warmer and a small amount of water applied mid-winter on a bright day will help stop them shrivelling. Many people who grow indoors move their plants to a cooler room in the house once growth has stopped in the early winter, and in this situation bright sunlight is less important.
A hybrid will not come true from seed so has to be propagated vegetatively from cuttings. Luckily a lot of Echinopsis hybrids make this simple by producing offsets that are loosely attached to the parent plant. Often they form roots while still attached, and careful removal gives you a mini-plant to grow on which is a genetic copy of its parent.
Text and photos: Peter Cupial-Jones
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