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  Copiapoa gigantea

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Copiapoa gigantea LH1314 Cobota, Chile.
This is one of the most attractive of the Copiapoas it  may be distinguished from the very similar 
C. haseltoniana by the shorter more numerous 'orange' coloured spines and less wool.  
 

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Copiapoa gigantea LH1314 Cobota, Chile.
The whitish-grey coloration is a waxy coating to prevent desiccation in it's extremely dry environment.


Copiapoa gigantea KK614  Paposo, Chile
Altitude: 100-300 m (ribs are more straight and without very evident  hexagonal tubercles)

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Copiapoa gigantea Nort of el Rinco 1300 m. This is a


form  from high altitude characterized by long spines.


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Family: Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Scientific name:  Copiapoa gigantea Backeberg
In: Jahrb. DKG. 1:104 1936

Origin: Endemic to the Atacama desert (Chile, Antofagasta) Tipically found 2 km from Paposo, Pampa, Antofagasta ( but some authors indicate a wider area ranging from north of Taltal up to 25-30 km north of Paposo)

Conservation status: Listed in CITES appendix 2.

Habitat: It grows among rocks and gravel in a scattered population at low altitude (between 100 and 1300 m over sea level) in areas where very little else grows. As it is common in this coastal desert climate the rain-falls are extremely scarce, often it doesn't rain at all for many years. It's a very drought tolerant species. But the extreme aridity is attenuated by the frequent, often dense, early morning costal fog (the humidity of the see furnish part of the water needed by this plants) . By the middle of the morning however, the fog cover dissipate and sun breaking through the gaps warming the ground. The nocturnal condensation is also an important and conspicuous source of humidity, that (especially in winter) may wet the ground down to 2 cm in depth. The root system of the copiapoas is sallow and allows them to uptake the maximum of this humidity.

It is a member of the Copiapoa cinerea complex.

Synonyms:  

  • Copiapoa cinerea subsp. gigantea (Backeberg) Slaba 1997
  • Copiapoa haseltoniana Backeberg 1956
  • Copiapoa cinerea subsp. haseltoniana (backeberg) N.P. Taylor 1997
  • Copiapoa eremophila F. Ritter 1980
  • Copiapoa tenebrosa F. Ritter 1980


 

 

Description: It is a large sized often elongated and columnar plant slowly branching from the base, forming large, open clumps with (usually) few individual stems. C. gigantea has the largest and stouter individual stems among the member of the Cinerea complex.
Stem: Globose to cylindrical, up to 1 m (or more) high, 20-30 cm across, pale olive-green, grey-green or ash-grey, the apex is very spiny, covered with reddish, orangish or yellowish-brown wool.
The whitish-grey coloration is a waxy coating presumably to prevent desiccation in it's extremely dry environment.  In cultivation the white waxy bloom is often not produced, revealing a brownish epidermis.
Ribs: 14-22(-37), rounded,
broad, obtuse, wavy, almost straight, thickened at areoles (tuberculate), becoming flattened. The ribs in the younger specimen have very geometric and conspicuous tubercles, typically with a hexagonal base.
Areoles: Up to 18 mm in diameter, orangish, fading in grey as they become older.
Radial spines: 7. 1-2 cm long horny-yellow to orange coloured,
terete, tipped darker, spreading, straight or slightly curved
Central spine: 0-1(-2)
Flowers: Yellow funnelform, 1.5 to 2.5 cm in diameter. The Ovary is naked;  it needs a lot of sunlight to bloom, so it's pretty rare to have blossoms when in cultivation in greenhouses.
Fruit: 1.5 to 2 cm. long;
Seeds: Black and shining.


Note: C. gigantea is a controversial taxon strictly related  to C. cinerea, but with thicker stem diameter and with thinner, needle-like spines and often indicated as a synonym of C. cinerea var. haseltoniana. Nevertheless C. gigantea may be distinguished from C. haseltoniana by the shorter more numerous 'orange' coloured spines and less wool (But the habitat areas of these two species overlap and some authors believe that they are the same, hence synonyms).
 



Copiapoa gigantea KK614  Paposo, Chile Altitude: 100-300m

This is a variable species, as is demonstrated by the number of  synonyms. The several classifications and reclassifications provide evidence of the confusion that rules regarding the names used in this variable species. It seems that many of botanists and hobbyists who have studied Copiapoa in habitat have formed their own concepts of what names should be applied to which plants. It is relatively easy to attribute some key features that dominate in certain populations, but it is equally possible to look more closely at plants in these populations, to find individuals that 'break the rules' and would easily fit another population's dominant characteristics.
 

Cultivation: This extremely slow growing cactus is kept for the beauty of its form.  It must be protected from excessive heat and sun in summer, and seems to do best in cultivation with a bit of shade.  It requires light but regular waterings in summer, but let the soil mix dry between waterings,  Prone to rot if over-watered.  Needs good drainage.  Keep warm and dry in winter (10C) to avoid rot.  Not highly tolerant of a great deal of frost. (Frost tolerance 0C)

Propagation: Seeds (or offsets if available), Grafting is often used to speed growth rate and to create a back-up to plants in collection.


Photo of conspecific taxa, varieties, forms and cultivars of Copiapoa cinerea  complex.
(This taxon has lots of synonyms (like most copiapoa, with several controversial varieties and subspecies)
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Home | E-mail | Plant files | Mail Sale Catalogue | Links | Information | Search

All the information and photos in cactus art file are now available also in the new the Enciclopedia of Cacti. We hope you find this new site informative and useful.