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Gymnocalycium, une révision alphabétique (deuxième partie)

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John Pilbeam continues his review of the genus Gymnocalydum, providing updates to his book which was published over ten years ago and which is now out of print.
Photography by Bill Weightman, John Pilbeam and Graham Charles.
5l Chelsfield Lane, Orpington, Kent, BR5 4HG, UK. Email: jp@connoisseurs-cacti.fsnet.co.uk

In the first part of this potential saga, I got as far as thé letter 'A', a slow start, but this was due in part to thé introduction to this review, which took quite a large part of thé space. It seems from looking at thé 'B's of this genus that I shall not do much better in this part, but there are some worthy plants under this letter, and I would not want to sell them short.

The first, G. baldianum was thé first gymno I ever saw. I had been buying plants seen in local shops for a year or two, when I noticed that those I had been buying arrived in wooden boxes stamped with thé name of thé nursery, and that it was in Norwood, south-east London, not far from where I lived with my parents in Herne Hill (local pronunciation was “ern”ill). A phone call brought a good response and I was invited to visit thé nursery, which was not strictly open to visitors.

The owner appeared to me (a teenager) quite elderly; he must hâve been at least 3 5 years old! It was a sheer delight of a glasshouse, full to thé gunwales with hundreds of plants ranging from mature pre-war imports to dozens upon dozens of his propagations. The building was large and more or less square, with the floor several feet below ground level. This probably accounted for thé number of plants he had managed to keep throughout thé Second World War years, when no heat was allowed for glasshouses housing such friv-olous plants. One of them was thé aforementioned G. bddianum, and I was presented with an offset from an ancien! clump he had. One of thé many offsets produced subsequently from this plant is pictured (Fig. 1), a survivor in adversity if ever there was one. I subsequently acquired a few more plants of this species over thé years, sometimes labelled with thé subsumed name G. venturictnum, but thé name G. baldianum has never been even shaken under thé lumpers' bombard-ments over thé years, and this was an even more daunt-ing threat than that faced in thé years of 1939 to 1945.

It goes back a long way, being described in thé very early 20th century by Spegazzini, and cornes from near Andalgala in Argentina. It is popular in cultivation since it is easy to grow and gives its flowers freely every year in abundance, thé colour varying from red to somewhat pinkish-red, but always a delight to behold. Bill Weightman's photo of it in thé wild (Fig. 2) is an eye-opener: who would hâve thought that thé familiar, green-bodied, globular, clustering plant would indicate that it was having such a hard time in habitat,with an almost fiât topped, solitary stem sunk beneath thé sandy soil? In thèse circumstances why does it hâve such feeble spines for protection? Maybe since it does apparently sink beneath thé surface in times of drought, thé need for spines is reduced. I am given to understand that its more normal situation is among grasses so perhaps this pontification is unwarranted. It is still a favourite with me and among growers of this genus, and few collections are without it. In time it will make a clump of stems, and a clump in full flower is a sight for thé proverbial sore eyes.

Next in Une is another unassuming, but nevertheless attractive species from northern Argentina in thé Tucuman and Salta provinces, G. bayrianum (Fig. 3). It has maintained its individuality enough to get through as an accepted species since it was described in 1967 by Hans Till in thé German Society's journal Kakteen und andere Sukkulenten (KuaS). For me thé appeal is in thé velvet texture of thé epidermis, which bears close examination with a powerful magnifying glass to see thé texture which gives this tactile effect. The strong spines recurve onto thé flat-globular body, and it never seems to make a large plant, now and again getting to about 10cm or so in cultivation, nor to cluster readily. As you can see from thé plant illustrated, it will flower at an early âge, no more than 5cm or so in diameter. In good light thé matt body will colour with blush-orange tints. Its large flowers are about 6cm long and 4cm wide, creamy white with reddish-pink throat.

A species described only recently, and so not included in my 1994 book, is G. bercktii (Fig. 4), named after thé Gymno enthusiast, Ludwig Bercht, at one time edi-tor of thé Dutch and Belgian Society's journal Succulenta, and author of a review of this genus in a séries of articles in that publication in thé 1980s. It cornes from San Luis province in Argentina, and was described by Gert Neuhuber in thé Austrian Gymno Group's publication Gymnocalycium in 1997, pages 219-220.

Although it has been available for some years it is still not common in collections or on commercial lists. This may be because of its unprepossessing black body colour, but more likely because of its slow growth (it makes far more growth underground, having a thick taproot) and maybe its reluctance to adapt to cultiv-ation. But it is worth looking out for and trying to obtain and grow for its minimal size and growth, prod-ucing its flowers at only about 2 or 3cm in diameter in cultivation. It will slowly make a slightly larger plant than this (it was described as only 4 to 6cm wide in thé wild), but is never in a hurry, and thé old adage about making haste slowly certainly applies to this species if you want to keep it, as well as providing sufficient depth in thé choice of pot to allow proper develop-ment of thé long root. The 3 to 5 spines too are minimal, thin, black, to about 1cm long and spread fiât to thé body. Flowers are whitish with brownish pink throat, out of proportion to thé body, to nearly 8cm long, 6cm wide, no doubt to draw thé attention of pol-linators and gymno enthusiasts to an otherwise almost invisible plant.

A quick mention here of G. bicolor is appropriate, but it has been reduced to synonymy with G. mostii (yes, really!), so more of this anon. Which brings us to G. bodenbenderianum (Fig. 5), which I first ordered as seed simply because thé name had such an appealing ring to it. Many years later I was pleased that I had made this early purchase, as it was one of thé slowest growers in thé genus, making after some 25 to 30 years a solitary stem only about 12cm in diameter. It is one of those brown beauties of thé genus which seem to do so well in shows in thé UK, and rightly so, as to keep it growing well and unmarked for thé number of years required to get it to showable size is a history of care of several décades.

It was listed in Hosseus and Haage Jr.'s catalogue in 1928 and included by Berger in his “Kakteen” as Echinocactus bodenbenderianus. In 1936 Curt Backeberg rescued it from thé waters of limbo and pulled it into thé gymno boat where it clearly belonged; he knew a good gymno when he saw one in distress. It considerably précèdes thé now submerged species G. rio-jense, under which Hans and Walter Till in thé Austrian Gymno Group publication had a field day in 1991, sinking no less than 5 taxa, and erecting 7 new ones. Some of these I understand are to be acknowledged beneath G. bodenbenderianum as subspecies in the New Cactus Lexicon, viz. ssp. kozelskyanum (Fig. 6) (syn. G. kozelskyanum and G. riojense ssp. kozelskyanum), subsp. paucispinum (syn. G. asterium ssp. paucispinum, G. stella-tum var. paucispinum and G. riojense ssp. paucispinum), and ssp. piltziorum (Fig. 7) (syn. G. piltziorum and G. riojense ssp. piltziorum] - plus ça change 1) and the devil take the hindmost!

The other varietal names erected in thé aforesaid 1991 publication hâve disappeared into thé deep - if you are of a curious disposition see my book for thé list, or better still thé Austrian publication for text (in German) and pictures. I attempted to erect one of them, G. rio-jense subsp. paucispinum var. platygonum (Fig. 8), to species status in 1994, but transgressed International Code of Botanical Nomenclature rules (not difficult!), so it rests fully submerged beneath G. bodenbenderianum ssp. paucispinum - at least this beautiful plant has a name, albeit not on my plants' small labels: there just isn't room, and I can't be - (what's thé word?).

All these variations have their individual appeal, and I recommend anyone keen on this genus to grow as many of them as you can obtain. At least those now to be recognized are often listed commercially, and I hâve included photographs of them for your delight and maybe séduction into wanting to try them - start as young as you can!

And so to that most popular and widespread of species, G. bruchii (Fig. 9), a variable plant to say thé least. Also sunk hère, mentioned and pictured in thé first part of this review, is G. albispinum, rarely seen thèse days, but commonly around some time ago. This was a name erected by Backeberg for a plant with no known origins in thé wild, but essentially a larger bod-ied plant with more outstanding spines.

Also long forgotten are half a dozen forms erected in thé early war years (1941 — as a Londoner I remem-ber it well), by Oehme for minor variants; Backeberg had also recognized one of thèse forms as a variety in 1936, var. hossei (Fig. 10), and this was also in circulation in thé postwar years, but I hâve not seen it separ-ately identified for some time now.

More recently in thé 1980s two varieties were put up. The first described by Jorg Piltz, a nurseryman and Gymno enthusiast in Diiren, Germany, in Succulenta in 1987, for a plant discovered by his wife near Taninga, in Cordoba province, Argentina, and named accord-ingly, var. brigittae (Fig. 11), differing most apparently in ils darker body colour and more open aspect from smaller radial spines. This variety was wrongly pictured in my 1994 book, thé plant in thé colour photo owing more to G. calochlorum, although thé photo was sent to me labelled as var. brigittae by someone who should hâve known better, as indeed I should hâve donc too! It is correctly identified in the accompaning photo here.

The second variety was described by Walter Rausch, also in Succulenta, in 1989, as var. niveum (Fig. 12), for a small stemmed, remarkably densely white-spined variation from thé same province, near Capilla del Monte.

Some décades ago there were stout defenders of thé name G. lafaldense, for what was clearly this species, either as thé “proper” name for it or even as an addit-ional name for a slightly differing plant. It seemed that thé old guard had given up thé battle on this point, but there have been some récent dabblings of Austrian toes in the “bruchii” waters, which pulled this name once again out of thé depths. Gert Neuhuber in thé Austrian Gymno publication (2003) resurrected G. bruchii ssp. lafaldense, picturing a plant exactly like that I grew many years ago as G. bruchii var. hossei, and put into synonymy beneath it thé aforesaid hossei as well as ail Oehme's old forms of 1941 (albispinum included) as well as a later addition by F. Haage & Simon in KuaS (1973), fa. spinosissimum. He then went on, having demolished ail thé old forms, to describe two “new” subspecies: (1) ssp. pawlovskyi, distinguished by a more columnar habit and pectinate spines; and (2) ssp. susannae, a big girl apparently, larger bodied, depressed at thé crown and with a pale green epider-mis; and a new variety, var. glaucum, larger bodied and larger flowered, with dark glaucous epidermis. Confusing certainly, and on thé face of it no more valid than thé old Oehme forms in this very variable species, and this is probably thé level at which ail thèse chips off thé “bruchii” block should be considered.

Whatever, in any of its variations G. bruchii is a hand-some species quite unlike any other, with thé bonus of an absolute smothering of blooms every year, uncom-mon in this genus for its delightful flower colouring. As well as thé differing body and spination, thé flower colour varies from plant to plant, from almost white to quite deep pink.

Finally almost as a footnote, G. buenekeri, which Buining originally described as G. horstii var. buenekeri, in KuaS in 1970, and which was subsequently firmly pulled out as a good species in thé GB Society journal in 1978 by Geoff Swales. It seems it is about to be reimmersed in thé New Cactus Lexicon under G. horstii as a subspecies — I wonder what Geoff thinks about this.

So again: more anon, under thé letter H. If thé editor had permitted, I intended hère to exhort you not to miss thé next épisode by quoting a few bars from thé postwar period radio thriller Dick Barton -Spécial Agent. This was only a quarter of an hour épisode early each evening, but thé cause of more workers knocking off early from their jobs so that they could tune in — tape recorders were not common then. If you are now humming thé galloping thème tune, your âge is showing too; if not, ask your parents (or maybe your grandparents) about it.

Arbeitsgruppe Gymnocalycium - Ôsterreichische Kakteenfreunde.(1988-2004)
PILBEAM, J. (1995) Gymnacdlycium - A Collector's Guide. Balkema,Rotterdam, Netherlands.
HUNT, D. (1999) CITES Cactaceae Cbecklist.

 Gymnocalycium bayrianum
Figure 1 Gymnocalycium baldianum

 Gymnocalyoum baldianum
Figure 2 Gymnocalyoum baldianum in an unusually exposed situation in habitat north-west of Cordoba, Argentina

 Gymnocalycium bayrianum
Figure 3 Gymnocalycium bayrianum

Gymnocalycium berchitii
Figure 4 Gymnocalycium berchitii

Gymnocalycium bodenbenderionum
Figure 5 Gymnocalycium bodenbenderionum

Gymnocalycium bodenfaenderianum ssp. kozefsfcyanum
Figure 6 Gymnocalycium bodenfaenderianum ssp. kozefsfcyanum

Gymnocalycium bodenbenderianum ssp. piltziorum
Figure 7 Gymnocalycium bodenbenderianum ssp. piltziorum

Gymnocalycium bodenbenderianum ssp. paucispinum var. pfotygonum
Figure 8 Gymnocalycium bodenbenderianum ssp. paucispinum var. pfotygonum

Gymnocalycium bruchii
Figure 9 Gymnocalycium bruchii

Gymnocalycium bruchii 'var. hossei'
Figure 10 Gymnocalycium bruchii 'var. hossei'

Gymnocalycium bruchii ssp. brigittae
Figure 11 Gymnocalycium bruchii ssp. brigittae

Gymnocalycium bruchii var. Niveum
Figure 12 Gymnocalycium bruchii var. Niveum