About the genus
The genus was created by the American botanists Nathaniel Britton and Joseph Rose in 1922 at a time when only a few species had been discovered. After extensive exploration of Peru in the 20th century, most notably by Friedrich Ritter, the number of species of Matucana now stands at about 30.
The genus features considerable diversity, more than in most other small cactus genera. The spination, flowers, flowering time and cultural requirements vary from species to species, reflecting the different kinds of habitats in which they are found. The genus is endemic to Peru, where most cacti are cereoids so, from a cultivation standpoint, the mainly globular matucanas are among the best Peruvian cacti to grow. Most have tubular zygomorphic flowers, an unusual shape for globular cacti although, recently, more species with actinomorphic bee-pollinated flowers have been discovered. The flowers are usually red but yellow, pink, orange and very rarely white also occur. You may find these plants referred to the genus Borzicactus to which they are closely related.
How to grow them
All species are best cultivated in a sunny glasshouse and many are hardy down to 0°C in winter as long as they are dry. Their tolerance of cold winters can be deduced from where they occur in nature. The hardiest species are those that grow naturally at high altitudes, generally the ones with denser spination. A bright well-ventilated location and cold winters will improve the spination and encourage flowering.
Examples of this group are:
M. haynii, M. aurantiaca, M. aureiflora, M. ritteri and M. weberbaueri.
The easiest species to flower when young are those from lower altitudes in the drainage of the River Marañón. Some of these need a minimum of 10°C to survive the winter unscarred, but they reward the grower with a succession of flowers during the summer.
Examples of this group are:
M. paucicostata, M. krahnii, M. tuberculata, M. pujupatii and M. madisoniorum.
These lowland matucanas appear to be opportunistic flowerers, producing their dramatic blooms after rain. They are also adept at flowering synchronously, resulting in a spectacular display in your collection when many specimens of the same species flower on the same day, even if they were obtained from different sources. This phenomenon can be repeated on several occasions during the growing season. Plants in this group are also capable of flowering when young, even in a 6cm pot.
An open, acidic compost with occasional feeding in the growing season is suitable for all matucanas. Plants should be watered freely in summer with rain water, continuing into early autumn when some are among the last cacti in the year to flower. Using tap water can result in the build-up of alkalinity in the compost which will stop the plants growing and result in root loss.
Some of the lowland species readily produce offsets, often already with their own roots, so propagation can be achieved by removing these and potting them separately. Growing from seeds is the best way to propagate matucanas, easily achieved by following the usual methods for cacti. Plants can be attacked by mealy bugs and red spider mite resulting in browning of the plant bodies, particularly near the growing point.
Text and photos: Graham Charles
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