Escobaria vivipara- complex

Submitted by Weiser on

Cold hardy, moisture tolerant, low growing form, beautiful flowers,adaptable- -Five key phrases to look for, when choosing a cactus to fit into your rockgarden.
Escobaria vivipara is one of these cactus. It is found in seventeen U.S. states and three Canadian Provence's. With such a vast territory variability is to be expected. Again E viviaria does not let us down. The E. vivipara complex contains nine named varieties and one closely associated species.
The varieties are: arizonica, bisbeeana, deserti, kaibabensis, neomexicana, radiosa, rosa, vivipara (the most wide spread) and buoflama(the name is an acronym of Bureau of Land Management). The associated species is Escobaria alversonii at one point considered a variety.
The highest degree of variability occurs in the south western states. As you will see from my shots var. vivipara is a low clumping mat and arizonica a cylindrical upright clumper. The other varieties fall in between these two forms.

I grow six of the varieties in my zone 7 garden. They have all proved to be perfectly happy and health. In my previous zone 4 garden I grew var. vivipara for twenty years and never had winter kill or any sign of rot. I still grow this same cactus plant.
First is var. vivpara
Second var. rosea
Third var. neomexicana
Fourth var. buoflama
Fifth var. bisbeeana
Sixth var. arizonica


Submitted by Hoy on Wed, 04/21/2010 - 11:35

It is a pleasure to view such fine plants!
Maybe some of these could take my winters too?

Submitted by Weiser on Wed, 04/21/2010 - 12:26

Look for Escobaria vivipara var. vivipara. It is the hardyest and most moisture tolerant. This is the variety that can be found in the southern prairies of Canada.

Submitted by RickR on Wed, 04/21/2010 - 21:30

I will send you some seed, Trond.  Mine are from the Minnesota/South Dakota border - the easternmost colony of variety vivipara known, I think.  And therefore the most rain tolerant, one would expect.

Submitted by BalistrieriCarlo on Thu, 04/22/2010 - 07:37

I love these little hardy guys. During my move, I built a small hardy cactus bed. Mostly opuntias at this time, a major goal is to include smaller and barrel cacti.

Submitted by RickR on Thu, 04/22/2010 - 17:31

Welcome to the forum, Carlo!  Nice web site.  Would you (or anyone else) like some seed too?  I still have plenty.

Submitted by Jeremy on Sun, 05/02/2010 - 08:49

Rick and All,
My Coryphantha (as I call them) vivipara seedling/grubs aren't doing much of anything. After enthusiastically wiggling up out of the dirt all green and then getting whiskers, they turned a reddish color and just sit there. They get about 2 hours direct sun, 4 hours filtered, and the rest high shade and plenty of moisture. Should I be feeding them? I gave them a dilute slosh of Miracle-Gro. What do they want of me?  J

Submitted by RickR on Sun, 05/02/2010 - 18:46

The reddish color, as you might expect, is a reaction to high light and/or austere conditions.  As long as they are still plump and not shriveling, there is not a real problem, but perhaps they would grow faster if they received a little less direct sun.  When I grew my seedlings, there were to the north side of the house, a little away from the building, where the received late evening sun.  I don't think I ever fed them.  How is the water you are applying?  Is it high pH tap water that went through the water softener?

Submitted by Jeremy on Mon, 05/03/2010 - 22:33

So the little tykes are sunburnt! They have been relocated. Thanks!
They're getting well water, untreated, pH unknown. I could water them with rain water, but it's likely to be pretty acidic here in Mass.

Submitted by RickR on Tue, 05/04/2010 - 15:53

I don't think I would actually call it sunburnt, perhaps just a heavy sun tan.  More than likely, there is no damage done.  I forgot you were in Mass.  Here in the Midwest, municipal wells are from limestone aquifers, and further treated to an average of around 7.8-8.0 pH to reduce pipe corrosion.  I would expect the same for city water there too.  But well water, I wouldn't have a clue.  You could try watering with distilled water for a while and see if it makes a difference.

A local cactus and succulent grower acidifies his water to 6.5-6.7 pH.  He found that high pH was the limiting factor for growth of his plants.  He grows all his plants in 52 Mix, which is mostly processed pine bark, and has a pH range of 5.5-6.5.

Submitted by RickR on Fri, 06/24/2011 - 22:22

Coryphantha vivipara, grown from seed collected at the Minnesota/South Dakota border.  The two-tone coloring of the petals vs. sepals (I am assuming) seems more pronounced this year.

Submitted by Lori S. on Fri, 06/24/2011 - 22:33

Beautifiul, Rick!  How many years do these take to bloom from seed for you?  I have one survivor from the seeds you sent me years ago (remembering to water the seedlings was my downfall!)

Submitted by RickR on Sat, 06/25/2011 - 20:32

Yes Lori, it is surprising how much water those little tykes need.  I'll be sending you Jeffersonia diphylla and Peltoboykinia watanabei seed probably next week.  I'll throw in some more of the vivipara to play with, too, as I still have lots.   You won't get any seed from the one cactus (even though you may get berries) - it is self incompatible.

I think it took around 4-5 years to flower.  Maiden flowers, at least for me, always have less petals and washed out color, compared to later years.

Major hand pollination of my plants took place a few days ago, and I will get good berry set.  This year, I plan on eating some of them. ;D

Submitted by Lori S. on Sat, 06/25/2011 - 20:37

Thanks, Rick, much obliged! 
I have no idea what the fruits on Escobaria vivipara even look like, but do peel them first, okay?  (I'm shuddering at the thought of lips full of glochids!)

Submitted by RickR on Sun, 06/26/2011 - 08:23

This season will be the first time I'll be tasting, the skin might be a bit tough.  However, I don't think peeling them is an option.  The inside is not firm, but filled with a gelatinous material kind of like tomatoes.  

I'm not worrying about the tiny thorns (glochids).  There are relatively few, and the way the berries grow and are removed doesn't really allow for contact with any areoles (the thorny tufts).  As the berries grow, they push the tubercles apart to make room for themselves, and the stiff, wide spreading thorns keep the berries from touching the areoles at harvest.  One might think that the extraction of a ripe berry from this cactus would be difficult, but it's not.  Rarely, a berry might even pop out on its own.  More often, ripe berries detach but are trapped in place by the surrounding thorns.  Fortunately, the dried up remains of the flower remain securely attached to the inferior fruit, and provide an easy handle to grab with your fingers and pull the berry out.  There are always a few where tweezers are required, however.  



Submitted by Hoy on Thu, 06/30/2011 - 00:30

I think you'll have to eat quite a few to get satisfied, Rick! What about making jam?

I have to confess all my seedlings died - the last died during the winter although I grew them inside in a cool but frost free place.

Submitted by Weiser on Thu, 06/30/2011 - 08:12

Lori wrote:

Thanks, Rick, much obliged! 
I have no idea what the fruits on Escobaria vivipara even look like, but do peel them first, okay?  (I'm shuddering at the thought of lips full of glochids!)

Lori, no worries about glochids with most cactus fruits. It is only the Opuntias and their close relatives that produce them, and if the fruits were from Opuntias I would be careful too.

Submitted by RickR on Mon, 08/22/2011 - 20:43

Welcome to the forum, Desert Zone!

Those are some nice plants.  The eastern forms of the species seem to be less spiny, giving a more green look to them.  Yours are very attractive.  Where do you garden?

Submitted by DesertZone on Tue, 08/23/2011 - 12:46

I garden in southern Idaho 25 miles north of Twin-Falls.  My climate is a zone 5b.  I will try and put it by my user name later. :)

Submitted by Weiser on Tue, 08/23/2011 - 16:35


Great to see you join the forum!! I'm excited and look forward to your posts. It's great to have another hardy cactus enthusiast, join in the fray. ;D

Submitted by DesertZone on Wed, 08/24/2011 - 17:42

Good too be here. :)
  What a cool forum and such awesome gardens. :o  Also glad to see people I know from other forums.
PS thanks again for all the amazing seed. ;)

Submitted by cohan on Wed, 08/31/2011 - 12:38

Some great looking Escobarias, DZ--is it Aaron?
Rick, E vivipara covers a huge natural range with a lot of subspecies and forms.. check seed at Alplains and Mesa.. I have a few little seedlings from Alplains of a Texas(? if I'm remembering....) form that is supposed to have blackish spines.. not yet, but does have red and darker than my other viv seedlings..
the Alberta forms I have seen also seem to be somewhat more open and less spiny looking..

Submitted by DesertZone on Wed, 08/31/2011 - 12:52

cohan wrote:

Some great looking Escobarias, DZ--is it Aaron?

Yep.... Aaron :)

Submitted by RickR on Mon, 10/10/2011 - 19:29

A fairly good harvest of Escobaria vivipara berries, about 45.  These from plants grown from seed collected at the South Dakota/Minnesota borderland.  As "promised", a taste test ensued.


Except for the difference in texture (but not all that different), I'd almost swear they were Minnesota wild blueberries!  (perhaps just a bit more sour, but very sweet)  Skins were not tough at all.  I am extremely pleased!

John, would you (or anyone else) concur?

Submitted by Hoy on Wed, 10/12/2011 - 12:42

What about making jam?
Do you spit out the seed or are they wasted? (I assume you leave your droppings in a wc and not in the nature ;)

Submitted by RickR on Thu, 10/13/2011 - 02:31

Jam would be silly at this point.  I don't think the forty-some berries would even make a half cup (100 grams).  Seeds are tiny like blueberries, too.  Not spit-outable  ;D.  I will still get over a thousand seeds: plenty for everyone's needs.

Submitted by Weiser on Thu, 10/13/2011 - 06:57

I went out and tried a couple myself. They are tart with, a hint of a berry taste.
I also tried a ripe Escobaria missouriensis it is drier, with a taste more in line with rose hips. Rather bland with just a slight hint of sweetness.

Submitted by RickR on Thu, 10/13/2011 - 08:51

Thanks John.  What kind of tart: lemon, grapefruit, dry astringent, "no taste" tart... ?  I couldn't detect any "flavoring" with the little tartness in my berries.  Certainly not astringent, though.  My berries are still firm and plump with varying amounts of reddish blushing.  A week or so before picking, temps got down to 34F for two nights.  I wonder if that affects taste with cactus?

So your missouriensis was a little mealy, too?

Submitted by Weiser on Thu, 10/13/2011 - 10:19

Tart as you would experience eating a Granny Smith apple or sour grape.
The missouriensis had more fibrous tissue and not as much viscous gel, but I wouldn't call it mealy.

Submitted by RickR on Mon, 10/17/2011 - 19:21

Hoy wrote:

What kind of animal usually eat the berries and disperse the seed?

That's a good question.  I've never seen any berries plucked out in the wild or at my home.  I suspect they aren't consumed until the body of the cactus has shrunk for winter, and better exposes the berries for easier harvest.  In my photo above, the cactus has already begun to shrink considerably.  I have seen many wild specimens in Minnesota as late as the end of September, when the berries have been ripe with a reddish blush for at least a few weeks and none have been removed.  But I haven't seen them in the wild after the cactus have shrunk down to really know what happens then.

Submitted by RickR on Fri, 02/03/2012 - 09:38

I do, Andy.  Seed from plants grown from seed from the MN/SD border (ex MN/SD border).  Click on my name, and PM me with your address and I will send you some.

Submitted by RickR on Fri, 06/29/2012 - 20:54

Escobaria vivipara in the wild, in Minnesota near the South Dakota border. This one grows at the edge exceedingly slow growing moss over granite with lichens.  Apparently there are good pollinators there, but 150 miles east where I live, I need to hand pollinate mine to get good seed set.


Submitted by Weiser on Fri, 06/29/2012 - 22:57

What a nice find! Looks like it put on quite a show this spring! You'll have to go on a seed collecting trip later, I hope you GPSed it's location.

Submitted by cohan on Tue, 07/03/2012 - 22:28

RickR wrote:

Escobaria vivipara in the wild, in Minnesota near the South Dakota border. This one grows at the edge exceedingly slow growing moss over granite with lichens.  Apparently there are good pollinators there, but 150 miles east where I live, I need to hand pollinate mine to get good seed set.

Good find! Seems really tiny? I wish Escobaria habitat in Alberta was closer, but its a good several hours drive just to get to the start of it, and I only found one plant last time I searched, prob need another hour driving to find more...

Submitted by RickR on Sat, 07/14/2012 - 16:22

Still only about 2-3 inches high, but I have seen a "mat" in the wild (Minnesota) half again larger than what you show, Aaron.

Submitted by Weiser on Sat, 07/14/2012 - 18:19

I have seen some of the low matting form, found in short grass prairies of the Dakotas with approx 100-150 heads and some were around 18-24 inches across but it is rare to see them that large.

Submitted by DesertZone on Sat, 07/14/2012 - 22:01

A mat form would be awesome! 

I love this cactus, they work in dry, moist and are cold hardy. 8) 

Submitted by Andy71 on Sun, 07/15/2012 - 16:47

DesertZone wrote:

I love this cactus, they work in dry, moist and are cold hardy. 8)   

I lost all my viviparas two winters ago. It was strange and I don't know why. Nothing noteworthy unusual for the weather.

Have lots of my own seedlings now, I hope they last.

Submitted by DesertZone on Sun, 07/15/2012 - 21:31

Andy71 wrote:

Have lots of my own seedlings now, I hope they last.

Glad that you more too try, I hope they do better. :)