My choice for this month is one of the most frequently seen species of the very popular genus Gymnocalycium. It is a perfect plant for beginners, being easy to cultivate, and quickly growing into a spectacular specimen. It remains solitary when young but some forms eventually grow offsets and make large clusters of stems. Its golden spines are characteristic and make a dramatic addition to any collection.

0719 Fig.1 G monvillei GC391

 Fig. 1   A white-flowered seedling of GC390.01 from above Alta Gracia, Córdoba, Argentina, 1030m

Given a bright, sunny location, flowers are produced from the young areoles when the plants are about 10cm in diameter. These are usually a pale pink but can also be pure white, a much brighter white than most other species of the genus. To encourage good growth and flowering, the plants should be kept moist in summer, regularly fed and followed by a dry winter rest. Seeds and young plants are frequently offered for sale and they can easily be grown into impressive specimens.

0719 Fig.2 G monvillei GC1001

 Fig. 2   A plant in habitat, GC1001.02 between Cumbre and Ascochinga, Córdoba, Argentina, 1560m

The species has a long history. It was originally described as Echinocactus monvillii by the Frenchman Charles Lemaire in 1838. He named it for Baron Hippolyte Boissel de Monville, a French industrialist who accumulated a large collection of cacti and was the first to cultivate this plant. The description was accompanied by an impressive engraving of a plant without flowers. Its origin was stated as Paraguay but plants that look like this have never been found there so the name is now applied to plants from central Argentina. Later Echinocactus multiflorus was published by Hooker, with a lovely plate in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1845), now considered as a synonym.

The natural habitat of G. monvillei is an extensive area in the mountains west of Córdoba in Argentina where it is common and easy to find. Another population occurs further south in Province San Luis where the plants have finer spines and smaller flowers. The name G. brachyanthum is sometimes applied to this southern form.

 Graham Charles

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