There are several species of Malacocarpus in cultivation but Malacocarpus erinaceus is one of the more common ones. The plant bodies are at first hemispherical bul later they become more erect and start to form woody stems. This phenomenon in no way detracts from the growing ability of the plant and is formed in the wild state as a protective skin. Generally they are extremely slow growing, although once ihey have reached a size of 2 to 3 in (5 to 8 cm) in diameter they will flower freely, producing the flowers from a thick woolly mat called a cephalium at the top of the plant.
The plants are sometimes sold under the name of Wigginsia which is probably more correct. M. erinaceus has dark green plant bodies which grow to a height of about 4 in (10cm) in time. These are surrounded by between fifteen and twenty broad prominent ribs with the areoles standing up between the notches on them. The radial spines are variable in cultivated specimens but are normally eight in number, greyer near the base of the plant and brownish at the top where they are younger. There is a single central spine of the same colour as the radials and the areoles when young have a considerable amount of white wool in them which forms the cephalium. The yellow flowers are produced from June onwards and their presence can be detected by the dense woolly buds on top of the
Malacocarpus sellowii is a similar species but it has longer spines and is rather more greyish green than dark green. The flowers are yellow and the stigmas in the centre of the flowers are bright red.
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