Submitted by: Jim Tanner
Copiapoa is a genus of cacti from the dry coastal deserts, particularly the Atacama Desert, of northern Chile. It comprises about 26 species. These species vary in form from spherical to slightly columnar and in color from a brownish to blue-green body.
Copiapoa is a favorite genus among many cactus growers. While not known for any particular characteristic, such as the large flowers of Echinopsis, the species in Copiapoa exhibit a wide degree of “variation on a theme”. In common with each other, Copiapoa species are globose or globose-cylindrical plants that have well-defined ribs and a wooly apex which gives rise to nearly all yellow flowers. These flowers are funnel shaped, mostly between 1 and 2 inches in diameter, and are quite similar from one plant to the next.
In contrast, the spines may be long and fierce or mostly absent. The roots may be fibrous or huge tubers that are larger than the portions above ground. Some plants are small individuals many form clumps, some imposing mounds of several feet across with hundreds of stems. Coloration is also a variable even within the same species from glaucous blue-green, to deep green to brown. In this way, it is easy to identify a given plant as one belonging in the genus Copiapoa, but it is conversely difficult to then decide to which species it belongs.
As previously stated, Copiapoa is widely popular in cultivation. In the wild the genus is restricted to Northern Chile. There they are found primarily in the Atacama desert where annual rainfall is barely measurable. The plants in habitat get their moisture from coastal fogs. Images from this habitat often reveal vast barren areas where Copiapoa plants or clumps march across the void along with almost no other vegetation. Despite the extreme and specific conditions in habitat, Copiapoa as a whole are surprisingly easy in cultivation. From seed sewing to the care of mature plants, this genus is very forgiving. While staying manageable in size, Copiapoa in cultivation will flower from a young age and reliably so each following year.