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Uebelmannia pectinifera is a real Brazilian beauty with skin like mauve sandpaper that is set off to perfection by its neat comb-like spines. Slow growing, it never outlives its welcome and my plant has been with me since I bought it as an excited teenager at a long ago National Show.

0920 Uebelmannia pectinifera

Fig. 1 Uebelmannia pectinifera

It has been part of my life for some 40 years and grows in a very gritty compost with the addition of a little home-produced, sterilised leaf mould. I water and feed it regularly during the growing season and, like other Brazilian cacti, it appreciates a warm winter. During the colder months of the year, it shares a heated mat with my melocacti with the thermostat set to 15°C.

0920 U. pectinifera flowers

Fig. 2 Flowers of Uebelmannia pectinifera

This is not a plant that anyone would grow for its flowers, which are tiny and an underwhelming greenish cream. When I was writing this piece, I discovered the only photograph I have ever bothered to take of this plant in flower was a quick snap on a mobile phone. You are never going to impress your friends on Facebook with these flowers. They emerge from the apical wool in spring and each bloom lasts no more than a day or two. Despite claims in Schulz and Machado’s book Uebelmannia and their environment that Uebelmannia pectinifera var. pectinifera is self-fertile, I have always failed miserably in setting seed. This year during lockdown, I finally had the opportunity to take my paintbrush to the flowers every day and still had no luck. I have concluded that I am going to have to buy another plant for cross-pollination, but this is such a beautiful species that having a second or even a third will be no hardship.

Commercial seed is hard to come by and germination rates are often very low as Uebelmannia seed needs to be fresh for best results. Plants can be found for sale in UK and European nurseries but often only in small quantities, which sell out quickly. It is, however, a plant that is well worth seeking out for its unique appearance and colouring.

Gillian Evison

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