Crested Eve’s Needle
Austrocylindropuntia subulata f. cristata
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According to The Plant List, Austrocylindropuntia subulata (Muehlenpf.) Backeb is the correct and accepted name for this species of cactus. It was described as such by Curt Backeberg in Die Cactaceae: Handbuch der Kakteenkunde in 1942*. It was first named Pereskia subulata by F. Muehlenpfordt and described in Allgemeine Gartenzeitung in 1845. Then the name was changed to Opuntia subulata by Georg (George) Engelmann and described in Gardener’s Chronicle in 1883.
*Some websites give different dates and publications by the same author, such as Cactaceae in 1939 and even in 1941.
The correct scientific name for this form is Austrocylindropuntia subulata f. cristata hort.
I bought my Crested Eve’s Needle on 8-25-12 at Lowe’s in Greenville, Mississippi. I liked the way it was growing in kind of a circular shape and has the small leaves on top. The label said it was an Opuntia subulata cristata even though that name changed in 1942…
Austrocylindropuntia subulata is native to the high elevations of Ecuador and Peru in South America. They are a large tree-like species that can grow up to 13 feet tall and have round cylindrical joints that can grow up to 2’ tall and 2 1/2 inches thick. Austrocylindropuntia subulata f. cristata is a form that is a nursery created cultivar but can also occur in nature. Some information suggests the cristate forms can occur due to an injury to the plant at a young age such when insects eat the growing tip. This causes the cells at the tip of the branch to multiply at a much faster rate which creates the cristate form.
The photo above and below were taken at the mansion in Mississippi during our first winter together. The leaves have been drying up because it is the plants dormant period.
Other than their appearance, their cultural requirements are very similar to the “normal” Austrocylindropuntia subulata. The species as a whole are a semi-hardy cactus that does NOT like temps below 25° F (-4°C). They prefer their night temperatures not to fall below 40° although the species can tolerate some light frost. Personally, I would not recommend the cristate or monstrose forms to be outside under 40. I grow mine in pots so I can easily move them inside. Even though some cactus can survive a frost, some species may scar from it. Well, I guess I am kind of paranoid when it comes to cold weather since I have never lived anywhere it doesn’t frost or freeze.
I bought this plant with me when I moved back to the family farm in mid-Missouri in February 2013. I put most of the plants in the basement for the remainder of the winter. You would be surprised, as I was, at how well they did in a cool, poorly lit environment.
They are summer growers and need regular watering during that time but the soil should dry between watering. Do not water during the winter unless you notice the plant beginning to shrivel, then only water a little
Since these plants have developed differently than the species, they may be better suited in light to part shade rather than full sun.
Common Name: Crested Eve’s Needle
Origin: The cristata form is a nursery produced cultivar, but the species is a native of Ecuador and Peru in South America
Zones: 9a to 10b: from 20 °F (−6.7 °C) to 40 °F (+4.4 °C).
Height: 12-20” (one website said 4’ tall x 10’ wide!)
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Provide regular water during the summer months and very little during the winter.
Soil: Fast-draining soil mix with additional gravel or grit.
Repotting: Some information says they like to be “underpotted” while another says to provide adequate space for their large root system… Seriously, a cactus with a large root system?
I really enjoyed this plant and never had a lick of problems with it. It was always happy and went in and out of dormancy as normal. BUT, unfortunately, during the 2013-2014 winter, it started to rot and eventually died. You can bet I will soon find another one.
I hope you found my tribute to the Austrocylindropuntia subulata f. cristata helpful. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, I would like to hear from you.