I have written about Micropuntia pygmaea and M. wiegandii several times over the past two or three years. This article covers all of the plants that Backeberg lists in his Lexicon. I now believe that I have each of the plants that he lists. For a long time I thought that he listed some plants that were just a different looking form of plant X. All of the Micropuntia have now been shoved or lumped under Opuntia pulchella. If you are a fan of the NCL you will find it under Corynopuntia pulchella. If you are a follower of Anderson then they are shoved under Grusonia pulchella. In the Mesa Garden catalog they are all listed under Opuntia pulchella.
1116.91-pulchella RP43 /18/ Warm Springs, NV, caudex, purple fl 2.00+
1116.913-pulchella RP128 Snake Valley, UT/NV, large club joints 2.50*
1116.92-pulchella SB1453 s Callao, UT 2.50*
1116.93-pulchella /18/ Coaldale, NV, long soft spines, huge tuber 2.50*
I have been studying the Micropuntia for about fifteen years and as such now more or less know what plant grows where. I know that the seeds #1116.91 from Warm Springs, NV are Micropuntia pygmaea. Snake Valley covers a lot of area in eastern Nevada and western Utah. Snake Valley is a large curving valley that is at least 125 miles long and to about 45 or 50 miles wide in places; it is shaped like a crescent moon. Callao is in Snake Valley Utah and the seeds listed as # 1116.913 are Micropuntia barkleyana. The Coaldale, NV seed #1116.93 are M. wiegandii. Thanks to people going out and collecting seed I have most if not all the listed Micropuntia. A friend ordered seed from Mesa Garden and grew M. barkleyana, #1116.913 and 1116.92 [not listed above] which is M. tuberculosirhopalica. Once they gained a little size he grafted them on a Pereskiopsis species. They have been on the graft for several years and they look more like a bush than what they are supposed to look like. Grafted plants do not grow like habitat plants. Some really go haywire. Some grafted plants will look like habitat plants for quite a while but in time will become much larger or grow kind of strange. The plant stems on the two grafted plants look somewhat alike in that they are long stringy stems. The plant of M. barkleyana has stems that are about the diameter of a pencil and are to 18 cm long. My cultivated plant has stems that are 3 to 5 cm long and a true club shape. M. tuberculosirhopalica is about the same stringy looking plant but with stems only to 13 cm long. I am not showing photographs of the grafted plants.
I have taken several photos of the plants from different angles to give an all-around view of the plants. This way the reader can make up their own minds if the plants are different from each other or if they are all the same plant as the books try and tell us. The lumping approach is that all the plants have a tuber type root, stems that are smallish, and flowers that are in shades of pink, pinkish-red, or purplish-pink. So far all the flowers I have seen on different plants are in shades of pink and all about the same color. It is because of the small joints, the flower color and the tuberous roots that all the plants are considered as nothing but a Corynopuntia pulchella. With that kind of approach you could also say that they are an Opuntia basilaris for they are jointed and have pink flowers. Or you could say that they are an Opuntia erinacea [the common but pink flowering grizzly bear] because they are jointed and have pink flowers. Growing all over the deserts from California and all over the western states to the eastern sea board down through Mexico and in South America are jointed and yellow flowering cactus plants that also have spines. Do they list them all as one and the same thing? No, so why just because the Micropuntia have stems and a tuberous root and even short spines are they all considered just a C. pulchella? I will try and show why I do not think they are a C. pulchella.
The description of M. barkleyana says that it says ‘later clavate’ that is because when the seedling first grows it is like a small diameter stick sticking up. As the seedling grows it get the club shaped stems. It does not say very much about the size the plants become in habitat. Fig. 1 shows a typical stem with side stems. There the club shape shows up quite well. In Fig. 2 the club shape shows up much better and also showing up are rounded tubercles. Fig. 3 shows the club shape of the stems, the leaves and the spines. At the areole are leaves that are short and stubby and they and the spines grow out of a pad of felt. Also it can be seen that the spines taper and they are thickened below. In Fig. 4 is a close up of a stem. The leaves have mostly dried up and easy to see what looks like long tapering spines. In actually they are only about 1 cm long. In this photo and Fig. 5 it is easy to see the rounded tubercles. In Fig. 5 it is also easy to see the spine taper and that they are thickened below or at the base. Fig. 4 shows the side of the growing point which I was hoping would be a flower bud but it was a stem forming. Fig. 5 shows it from above and the very small leaves show up quite well. They are curved and green-red.
Fig. 1. Micropuntia barkleyana – typical stem
Fig. 2. Micropuntia barkleyana – typical stem with side stem
Fig. 3. Micropuntia barkleyana
Fig. 4. Micropuntia barkleyana
Fig. 5. Micropuntia barkleyana
Fig. 6 is of one of the plants, taken just before the plant started to grow after its spring dormant time. For many cactus plants in Nevada, Utah, northern Arizona and California; from about mid-April till the monsoon rains arrive is a time of no rain and they go dormant. As can be seen the stems are a bit wrinkled and even some of the tubercles are resting on adjacent tubercles. Compare that photo with Figs. 7-9, which are of actively growing stems. Here what I was hoping would be a flower bud has grown into healthy green stems. The tubercles are nice and rounded again and the plant still has some spines to grow or lengthen. Also seen is the felt at the areole and it is a bit longer than on older stems. The rains seem to knock some of the longer felt off leaving only a pad of felt. Fig. 9 is of one of the plants as it is actively growing. Easy to see is the club shaped stems, even the newest stems have the shape to them. I have not up-rooted my plants to see the tuberous roots but have seen roots on a plant that a friend had and there were no glochids on the roots. Also I saw in a photo a root of a plant someone dug in habitat to show the root and there were no glochids on that root either.
Fig. 6. Micropuntia barkleyana
Fig. 7. Micropuntia barkleyana
Fig. 8. Micropuntia barkleyana
Fig. 9. Micropuntia barkleyana
This article was originally published in Tephrocactus Study Group (the 'TSG Journal'), September 2012, Vol. 18, No. 3, pages 33-34 and 38-41. © TSG and Elton Roberts