In 1839 a cactus from Mexico was obtained by Carl Ehrenberg in Germany, and he described it in 1843 as Pelecyphora aselliformis. The name Pelecyphora is from the Greek pelekys, ax, and phoreus, bearer, thus hatchet bearer, referring to the shape of the tubercles. Unfortunately, Ehrenberg did not include an illustration, name the locality in Mexico, or designate a type specimen. A number of individual plants may be presumed to have arrived in the first or later shipments, and in 1858 Charles Lemaire included the first illustration of the cactus as plate 186 in his L'Illustration Horticole. The distinctiveness of the plant and Ehrenberg's accurate original description leave little doubt, however, that the illustration correctly shows P. aselliformis.
More than 80 years later another Mexican cactus was discovered, described in 1927 as Ariocarpus strobiliformis by Erich Werdermann. His original description included an illustration but no mention of type locality or specimen. Almost immediately this cactus was brought into cultivation and sold commercially. In 1929 Alwin Berger described the genus Encephalocarpus for this species, stating that the plants had been discovered by A. Viereck in Tamaulipas near Jau-mave. Later, Alberto Fric and Ernst Schelle transferred it to Pelecyphora, and a somewhat confusing situation was finally settled when Norman Boke and I (Anderson and Boke 1969) showed that, indeed, the two cacti are closely related and should be placed together in Pelecyphora (type, P. aselliformis). The two species flower April-July.
Pelecyphora Ehrenberg 1843 Encephalocarpus A. Berger 1929
Subfamily Cactoideae, tribe Cacteae. Plants geophytic, with single or multiple stems barely rising above ground level. Roots spindle shaped. Stems globose to flattened globose, greenish or yellowish green, 1-4 cm (0.4-1.6 in) high, 2-6 cm (0.8-2.4 in) in diameter. Ribs absent. Tubercles spirally arranged, triangular or elliptical in outline, with rudimentary areolar grooves or ridges. Areoles dimorphic with the spine-producing portion on the outer partand the flower-producing portion at the base of the tubercle. Spines 7-60, pectinate or more or less so, whitish, 0.7-2 mm long. Flowers borne at the bases of youngtubercles, open duringthe day, bell shaped orfunnelform, ma genta, 12-28 mm (0.5-1.1 in) long, 13-30 mm (0.5-1.2 in) in diameter; pericarpels naked. Fruits globose, greenish brown, dry at maturity, indehiscent, naked, 3.8-8 mm (to 0.3 in) long. Seeds kidney shaped, reddish brown, with a reticulate orstriate pattern on the testa, 1-1.3 mm long. Distribution: Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and San Luis Potosí, Mexico.
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