Astrophytum – Collectors choice, slow growing Mexican rarities

Astrophytum Plants

Astrophytum Lemaire (1839)

If our appreciation of symmetry and geometric shape is central to our attraction to cacti and succulents, then Astrophytum embodies these qualities better than any other genus of cacti, with Ariocarpus a close runner-up.

The pentameral symmetry of A. coahuilense or A. myriostigma and the radial symmetry of A. asterias can only be rivaled by members of Echinodermata, sea stars and urchins. The geometric simplicity and minimalist perfection of body structure in naturally occurring 4-ribbed or cultivated 3-ribbed A. coahuilense and A. myriostigma is unique in the plant kingdom.

All species are ornamented with woolly flecks of various size, density and fuzziness, distributed uniformly or forming patterns, giving the plants a unique smooth almost artificial look. At the other end “nudum” varieties entirely lacking epidermal flecks have an irresistible shinny look and a charm of their own.

Astrophytum coahuilense f. quadricostatum

Natural Taxa and Variants

Astrophytum is a small genus with only 5 (or 6) species and less than 20 naturally occurring varieties. The placement of Digitostigma caput-medusae within the genus is still under debate, although molecular phylogenetic dataseems to support its inclusion in Astrophytum. With the exception of A. asterias which has a few outlier colinies in south-eastern Texas, all taxa are endemic to Mexico.

We should note that some naturally occurring Astrophytum forms and varieties rival or surpass in beauty many of the human-made cultivars, for example the many and impressive A. capricorne v. niveum ecotypes, large growing forms of A. coahuilense, round body A. myriostigma or lovely spotted A. asterias found in nature. Seed of these is available in cultivation and purchase of field collected plants or seed should be avoided and condemned.

Although it is not commonly acknowledged, Astrophytum spination rivals some of the best spined cactus species like Gymnocaclycium spegazzinii or Echinocactus horizonthalonius. The spine variability of a single species, A. capricorne and its subspecific forms and variants, is rare among cacti, ranging from long, thin, wispy, dense spines completely covering the stem found in southern Coahuila, to the short, thick, stout ribbed spination in v. crassispinum occuring around Cuatrociénegas, COA.

Astrophytum capricorne v. niveum


An unprecedented project for the genetic enhancement of Astrophytum has been initiated in Japan more than a century ago, geometry simplified, ornamentation exaggerated, spination taken to extremes, resulting in the lovely cultivars that we all adore like cv. ‘Superkabuto’, cv. ‘Onzuka’, cv. ‘Fukuryu’, etc. Although the cultivation of Astrophytum cultivars has spread to other Asian countries, Thailand and recently China and Europe, in most cases material originating from Japan is unrivaled in form but most important in genetic purity.

The seed selection that we offer includes a number of beautiful natural taxa and forms, as well as, several cultivars mostly originating from Japan and Thailand. As is the case, with Astrophytum and other cultivars, some are well stabilized with offspring having a consistent morphology similar to that of the parent plants, while others are not stabilized or are variable by nature, producing a range of different forms among their offspring.

For example, the inherent variability of cultivars like cv. ‘Hakujo’ and cv. ‘Fukuryu’  will result in a broader morphological spectrum of seedlings, some having better traits than their parents and some with new traits, both welcome by the collector. On the flip side some cultivars resist stabilization, notorious examples variegated A. asterias or A. myriostigma v. nudum, in which despite stabilization efforts, only a small percentage of the offspring displays substantial and well distributed variegation. In cultivar strains that we have accurate knowledge of expected morphology and variability, we include it in the description.

For genuine cultivar stock, usually obtained from Japan or Thailand, we offer high purity seed produced on parent (P) plants, this seed is designmated F1 in the description or seed produced on select F1 plants, designated as F2.

Astrophytum asterias cv. 'Hanazono'