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Origin and Habitat: Quebrada el León - Chile (Atacama Region)
Altitude: It grows between the sea and the first coastal hills and inland to up 970 metres metres above soil level.
Habitat: It grows both in sandy hill slopes and on gravelly soil covered with pebbles or boulders, often in rock cracks. In open areas without any surrounding vegetation or among sparse Euphorbia lactiflua shrubs. Other cacti that grow in this area are: Copiapoa marginata, Echinopsis deserticola and Eulychnia breviflora.
- Copiapoa leonensis I.Schaub & Keim
Description: Copiapoa leonensis is the local or morphological form of the very variable Copiapoa humilis from Quebrada el León, Chile (Atacama Region). It is distinguished from the type C. humilis from Paposo for its more firm body and root system (usually quite soft in typical C. humilis). Flowers yellow-orangish. Spines long and stout.
Habit: Usually one or two headed, occasionally whit more heads
Stem: Hard to the touch, 55 mm in diameter (35 to 80 mm) spherical or, sometimes, slightly elongated, grey-green turning pinkish if exposed to direct sunlight. The apex is flat and woolly.
Root: Napiform, strong, large up to 150 mm long and 30 mm wide with a narrow neck.
Ribs: 11-16, about 8 mm thick and 40-50 mm long, dull, young plants have spiralling tubercles (not arranged in ribs), but the ribs are clearly visible in mature plants.
Areoles: 20-30 mm in diameter, woolly when young, later glabrous, slightly depressed 30-80 mm apart.
Radial spines: 8-10, straight, needle-like, 50-130 mm long, porrect and radiating in all directions.
Central spines: 1-3 slightly thicker, spreading away from the body, becoming dark gray with time. On older areoles, some spines missing. Copiapoa leonensis growing at higher altitudes shows the strongest spination.
Flowers: 1 to 2 at a time from the woolly apex, 20 to 30 mm long, diurnal, closing at night, fragrant, protracting the period of opening many days, funnel-shaped. Outer perianth segments, green, turning yellow at the base, the end is brownish red. Tepals up to 12 mm long and 3 mm wide, rounded at the end. The edge of the outer petals brownish. Ovary circular 3 mm in diameter. Style
light yellow 13 mm long. Stigma slightly darker with 7-9 lobes. Stamens parallel, inner ones about 9 mm long and the outer 4 mm long.
Fruits: Globular, 5-6 mm in diameter, green.
Seeds: 1 mm long and 0.7 mm wide, black and shiny.
Subspecies, varieties, forms and cultivars of plants belonging to the Copiapoa humilis group
- Copiapoa humilis (Phil.) Hutchison: is a very small low growing cactus with roots like turnips, usually clumping. It's a highly variable taxon with several more or less similar forms. Distribution: Antofagasta
- Copiapoa humilis f. cristata hort.: Crested form.
- Copiapoa humilis var. longispina (F.Ritter) A.E.Hoffm.
- Copiapoa humilis subs. tenuissima (F.Ritter ex D.R.Hunt) D.R.Hunt: is a geophytic cactus arising from a large tuberose root that can slowly branch from the base to form small clumps. Distibution: South of Antofagasta.
- Copiapoa humilis subs. tenuissima f. cristata hort.: Crested form. Garden origin (Nursery produced cultivar)
- Copiapoa humilis subs. tenuissima f. monstruosa cristata hort.: Monstrous and crested form. Garden origin (Nursery produced cultivar)
- Copiapoa humilis subs. tenuissima f. monstruosa hort.: Monstrous form. Garden origin (Nursery produced cultivar)
- Copiapoa humilis var. tocopillana (F.Ritter) G.J.Charles: stem usually solitary, glaucous-green to greyish greem, globose to short cylindrical. Distribution: Antofagasta: (Tocopilla) It is the most northern Copiapoa.
- Copiapoa humilis subs. variispinata (F.Ritter) D.R.Hunt: has unusual green body. It form clusters that are wider than hight. Distribution: Quebrada Izcuna on the south of Caleta Botija, between Paposo and Blanco Encalada about 50 km north of Paposo.
- Copiapoa leonensis I.Schaub & Keim: Related with C. humilis and C. hypogaea, has small greysh stems ( max. 5 cm) with a strong taproot. Flowers yellow-orangish. Spines long and stout. Distribution: Quebrada el León, Atacama, Chile.
- Copiapoa maritima Kníže: has dark body and off-setting freely. This plant corresponds to Copiapoa humilis subsp. humilis, and the town of collection mentioned (Paposo) is the type locality of this species.
- Copiapoa paposoensis F.Ritter: has harder stems than that of the Copiapoa humilis. Paposo
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) F. Ritter “Kakteen in Sudamerika” Volume 3. 1980
2) A. Hoffmann, H. Walter “Cactáceas en la flora Silvestre de Chile” Ediciones Fundacion Claudio Gay, Santiago, Chile. Second Edition. 2004
3) G. Charles “Copiapoa. The Cactus file Handbook 4” Cirio Publ. 1998
4) R. Schulz and A. Kapitany “Copiapoa in their environment” Schulz Publishing, Teesdale, Australia. 1996
5) P. Hoxey “Some notes on Copiapoa humilis and the description of a new subspecies.” in: BCSJ Vol. 22 (1) (Mar. 2004)
6) Ingrid Schaub and Ricardo Keim “Copiapoa leonensis I. Schaub & R. Keim Species nova“ Cactus & Co. 2 (10) 2006.
Cultivation and Propagation: It is not too difficult in a greenhouse, although grows quite slowly. It is usually seen as a grafted plant but can grow on its own roots too.
Soil: Use a mineral well permeable soil with little organic matter (peat, humus).
Exposure: They need a good amount of light shade to full sun this help to keep the plants healthy, although slow growth.
Watering: Water sparingly from March till October (weekly during summertime, if the weather is sunny enough), with a little fertilizer added. Less or no water during cold winter months, or when night temperatures remain below 10° to prevent root loss. It is sensitive to overwatering (rot prone).
Fertilization: Feeding may not be necessary at all if the compost is fresh then, feed in summer only if the plant hasn't been repotted recently. Do not feed the plants from September onwards as this can cause lush growth which can be fatal during the darker cold months.
Hardiness: Keep perfectly dry in winter at temperatures from 5 to 15 degrees centigrade. (but it is relatively cold resistant and hardy to -5° C, or possibly colder for short periods) In the rest period no high atmospheric humidity!! (Temperature Zone: USDA 9-11)
Uses: It is an excellent plant for container growing. It always looks good and stays small. It look fine in a cold greenhouse and frame or outdoor in a rockery.
Pests & diseases: It may be attractive to a variety of insects, but plants in good condition should be nearly pest-free, particularly if they are grown in a mineral potting-mix, with good exposure and ventilation. Nonetheless, there are several pests to watch for:
- Red spiders: Red spiders may be effectively rubbed up by watering the infested plants from above.
- Mealy bugs: Mealy bugs occasionally develop aerial into the new growth among the wool with disfiguring results, but the worst types develop underground on the roots and are invisible except by their effects.
- Scales: Scales are rarely a problem. It is wise to treat your whole collection with a systemic insecticide twice a year in spring and autumn.
- Rot: Rot is only a minor problem with cacti if the plants are watered and “aired” correctly. If they are not, fungicides won't help all that much. To prevent rottenness it is also advisable to surround its root neck by very rough sand or grit, this help a fast water drainage.
Propagation: Seeds (or offsets if available), Grafting is often used to speed growth rate and to create a back-up to plants in collection. Seeds germinate in 7-14 days at 21-27° C in spring, remove gradually the glass cover as soon the plants will be well rooted (ca 1-2 weeks) and keep ventilated, no full sun for young plants! Cuttings will take root in a minimum temperature of 20° C (but better in hot weather). Cuttings of healthy shoots can be taken in the spring and summer. Cut the stem with a sharp, sterile knife, leave the cutting in a warm, dry place for a week or weeks (depending on how thick the cutting is) until a callus forms over the wound. Once the callus forms, the cutting may be inserted in a container filled with firmed cactus potting mix topped with a surface layer of coarse grit. They should be placed in the coarse grit only; this prevents the cut end from becoming too wet and allows the roots to penetrate the rich compost underneath. The cuttings should root in 2 to 6 weeks.
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