Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
Despite their fearsome appearance, members of the cactus family (Cactaceae) produce some surprisingly delicate flowers. Wide-spreading and colorful, the petals can be so fine as to be nearly transparent.
The old-lady pincushion cactus (Mammilaria hahniana), in the Cactus and Succulent House—the right-hand side of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory—is blooming now.
Its flowers are barely a half-inch across, but they are intensely pink and are clustered in a ring near the top of the plant. The buds have been swelling for some time and they have just started to pop open whenever it’s sunny.
The plant is nearly spherical, which is the best shape for reducing surface area and potential moisture-loss, and it is covered with white hairs and spines, giving it a frosted appearance. This cactus is native to central and northeastern Mexico.