Echinocereus baileyi, "Bailey's Hedgehog Cactus" - Cactus Club

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Echinocereus baileyi, "Bailey's Hedgehog Cactus"

Plant of the Month > Species E to F

by Bruce Brethuaer

       It has been very nearly 20 years since I first began to grow plants of "Bailey's Hedgehog Cactus" - this was back when I first became interested in growing winter hardy cacti, an interest which quickly became a passion of mine. Within my first years, I had grown, or attempted to grow, practically every cactus species which had any reputation of being unusually cold hardy: very soon, I developed a particular fondness for the "Texas Lace Cacti" - now mostly recognized as sub-species and varieties of Echinocereus reichenbachii. There may be a few other varieties of the "Texas Lace" cacti which are somewhat more attractive than this plant, but "Bailey's Hedgehog Cactus" remains my hands down-favorite for its overall hardiness, adaptability, appearance, and for its fantastic flowers.

        This is a smallish cactus, with stems to about 8 inches tall, and to about 3½ inches in diameter. The plants are initially solitary, but under favorable conditions, will eventually branch from the base, ultimately producing large clustering plants with up to about 30 stems. It native habitat is restricted to the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma: I suspect that it grows at higher elevations and under somewhat wetter, cooler conditions than its relatives in Texas and eastern New Mexico. In my experience, it has proven to be one of the most adaptable and forgiving of all of the Echinocereus species, being the most cold hardy and moisture tolerant of the Texas Lace cacti, and faster growing, and a more reliable bloomer than Echinocereus coccineus (another desirable, and very hardy species of the Hedgehog Cacti); it is also more moisture tolerant and disease resistant than Echinocereus viridiflorus.     

   Bailey's Hedgehog Cactus is the shaggy dog of the Texas lace cacti, with longer, more widely spreading spines, and with multiple central spines; its spines have a more shaggy, less well groomed appearance than other varieties of the Texas Lace cactus group. The spines vary in color, with plants producing either all white, all brown, or even pinkish spines. The spines of other types of Texas Lace cacti tend to be shorter, and have a comb-like (pectinate) arrangement, and lie nearly appressed against the stem of the plant.     

       The flowers of Bailey's Hedgehog Cactus are large, to about 3.5 inches across, richly colored in tones of bright pink to magenta, with somewhat darker centers. Frequently, the petals are lightly frilled at their tips - other "Lace Cacti" typically have lighter, more pink-colored flowers, or darker, more purplish flowers.     

       Frequently, the plants will set fruits, and viable seed after flowering - it is one of the few Echinocereus species which has frequently produced volunteer seedlings in my cactus bed. But I usually choose to harvest the seed when the fruits split to reveal the seeds inside, and immediately clean and sew these to establish new plants. Under favorable conditions, the seedlings grow rapidly, and usually achieve blooming size by their 2nd or 3rd year. While I have been growing this species for about 17 years or so, most of the plants in my collection are comparatively young, and likely represent the 3rd or 4th generation of plants which I have grown in Ohio.     

       I have grown this plant exclusively as a hardy species outside in my garden and in outdoor planters, and have never tried to grow it as an indoor plant, so I cannot offer any advice on growing this as a pot plant or in a greenhouse. This is a truly hardy plant surviving temperatures to below -20 degrees Fahrenheit, high rainfall, and wet (or dry) steaming summers. It responds very well to conditions which I outline for growing other winter hardy cactus species, and is a plant which I highly recommend to people who have grown the hardy species of prickly pears, and who are now interested in some of the other genera of hardy cacti. If you are new to growing hardy cacti, this is a reasonably good plant to experiment with, although I would suggest that you begin with prickly pears to get some basic experience, and then attempt this species. While I have had great success in growing this species in my garden, and have always maintained a number of plants in my collection - there is always a degree of attrition every year: - I usually loose one or two plants each year to one thing or another - usually to disease. For this reason, I always recommend that you grow more than one plant of this species as a precaution, and try to grow more seedlings if your plant should ever produce fruits and seed. If your experience matches mine, you will have a good number of plants in a few years, and may be able to give away or trade seedlings with others.     

       As with all things taxonomic, The proper name of this plant has seen some changes in the recent past - presently, the favored name appears to be Echinocereus reichenbachii subspecies baileyi, but I have also seen it called E. reichenbachii v. baileyi, and E. baileyi, as well as several additional variations. Many of these names persist in the trade - but more than likely, if it bears the name baileyi, it is this plant.     

       This is my overall favorite of the hardy Echinocereus species, showing especially good cold hardiness, moisture tolerance, and disease resistance. It is a rapid grower, achieving flowering size in a very few years, and eventually clustering to produce an impressive cluster. But it always remains compact, never becoming sprawling or invasive. Best of all, it is a reliable bloomer, regularly producing flowers every year once it has achieved its flowering size. Its flowers are large and beautiful - frequently attracting the attention of neighbors and passers-by. If you have grown tired of the more sprawling prickly pears, and want to give other hardy cactus species a try, this would be an excellent choice.

   Plant sources for these species:
   Mesa Gardens
   High Country Gardens

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