The Cactus Moment: Getting to Know Basic Cacti

By Amy Lastimosa

It is unstoppable. I mean the craze that recently hit our country and the world for that matter. The once lowly cactus has reached celebrity status, and everywhere they pop, they are greeted like rock stars. It is a happy twist in the horticultural tale, where in the normal run of things, those prickly desert beauties come last. The cactus is finally having a moment!

In a green-thumbed nation such as ours, where we seek solace in growing things, who could possibly resist the wide array of choices in cactus? From the fragile looking to the fiercely stunning, there is something out there for everyone, even for the superstitious who believes that spiny plants bring bad luck. And the thing about these plants, monstrous doesn’t mean horrifying—it means something oddly beautiful.

Growing cacti is counterintuitive. You have to unlearn what you know when it comes to taking care of ornamental plants. You don’t water them as often. And when they say cacti thrive on neglect, that is mostly true. The key to success is a fast-draining medium, a pot with plenty of holes at the bottom, and a sunny spot.

Those who are not acquainted with the basics of botany could embarrass themselves on the scientific names because they are a mouthful. And most of the time common names are not applicable. But despite not being able to name any plant, we love them anyway.

So let us look at some cacti that are worth our attention.


It wouldn’t hurt to say that Gymnocalyciums are the best cactus for beginners because they are widely cultivated, relatively affordable, easy to care for, and very resilient. They flower effortlessly, and they come in different colors. The ubiquitous “Moon Cactus” is a grafted variety of Gymnocalycium that has become a novelty item.

Nowadays, the variegated Gymnocalyciums are well-sought after. And in recent years, amazing cultivars came out with hefty price tags. The “Daydream”, “Pink Diamond”, “Aurora Borealis” to name a few, have been on the wish lists of collectors.


From the Greek words astron, meaning “star”, and phyton, meaning “plant”, they are sometimes called “Star Cactus” because of their appearance when viewed from the top. Astrophytums are popular even for novice gardeners because of their spineless beauty and ease of care. They can even thrive on a sunny window sill.

A few years back, Astrophytums are hard to come by here in the Philippines. But because they are easily propagated from seed, the supply has finally caught up with the demand. The Astrophytum asterias, for example, has recently become a commonplace staple in garden stores. Consequently its price dropped dramatically. Nevertheless, its beauty is something we cannot argue about.


Commonly referred to as “Living Rock”, Ariocarpus looks more like a leafy succulent than a cactus. The triangular tubercles resemble leaves neatly stacked one on top of the other as seen in big specimens of Ariocarpus retusus. Despite its notoriety for slow growth, Ariocarpus is a reassuring and charming plant. Case in point, the grandiose beauty of the cultivars “Godzilla” and “Cauliflower”.

For a while, Ariocarpus plants are elusive so it wouldn’t be surprising if a novice cactus collector is unfamiliar with it. But this year, Ariocarpus is gaining popularity because it started creeping into cactus garden shows and exhibits. Just hold your breath on the astronomical prices. After all, this brilliantly low maintenance plant takes a decade to reach maturity.

So if you want to bring a slice of garden into your homes, make it a cactus. Whether a tiny pot, a balcony, or a windowsill garden, no doubt it will provide a sense of calm. A breakfast table, a cup of coffee, your pots of cactus, you have the best world. They are the unsung heroes in a world where the demands of a younger generation continue to vex. And they are here to stay.

Check out different kinds of cacti, as well as other plants at the Philippine Plant Festival from January 25 to February 5, 2019 at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife along Quezon Avenue, Quezon City.

Amy Lastimosa is the President of the Cactus & Succulent Society of the Philippines, Inc.

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