Hmmm… How do you write a post about a mislabeled plant that has yet to be correctly identified? First, I guess I will start off by saying that if it “was” indeed a Mammillaria elegans it wouldn’t be now because the name changed. In fact, it has changed more than once. Now, the Mammillaria genus is fairly large but not as large as it used to be because many species were synonymous with other species. I applaud the work of botanists, horticulturists, collectors for going through the vast list of species and making correct ID and necessary changes.
Let me begin with the beginning…
I bought this cactus labeled Mammillaria elegans from Wal-Mart on 2-1-16. The grower hot glued a fake flower on top of their cactus and calls them “strawflowers’. GEEZ!!! Anyway, it was in a tiny 2 1/2” (4 oz). pot. The plant measured approximately 2 1/8” tall x 2 1/2” wide. The label says:
“Mammillaria elegans, native to Mexico, is a globular cactus with dense white spines and white wool. Long lasting rings of magenta flowers provide beautiful contrast to white, wooly body. Forms clusters in time. Protect from frost. Provide bright light. Hardy to 32 degrees F; to 8” tall. Water thoroughly when soil is dry.”
Well, you can clearly see this plant has NO white wool…
When I first did my research about the name Mammillaria elegans I was using The Plant List, Llifle (Encyclopedia of Living Forms), the CactusGuide, GRIN (Germplasm Research Information Network-USDA), and Dave’s Garden. The Plant List, CactusGuide.com, and Dave’s Garden said the scientific name Mammillaria elegans DC. was a synonym of Mammillaria haageana subsp. elegans. The Llifle website and GRIN (Germplasm Resources Information Network-USDA) said that Mammillaria elegans was a synonym of Mammillaria geminispina Haw . The Llifle website also mentions a misapplied name. Quoting from the Llife website: “Mammillaria elegans A.P. de Candolle, 1828, is a ‘nomen confusum’ (confused name) also applied to Mammillaria haageana subsp. elegans and refers both to Mammillaria geminispina with latex in the stem (Subgenus Mammillaria section Hydrochylus series supertextae ) and to Mammillaria haageana, without latex in the stem ( Subgenus Mammillaria, section Galactophylous, series Leucocephale).” I read that, and quoted it but I have no clue what it means.
The cactus-art.biz website said that Mammillaria elegans was a synonym of Mammillaria haageana subsp. elegans while the Llifle website says Mammillaria geminispina. That was strange because Cactus Art contributed much information on the Llifle website. I thought for a long time that the Cactus Art guy was the same person who made the Llifle website and I am still not sure…
I was informed by a correspondent from Kew (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew Science, etc.) that The Plant List was no longer maintained which is why it hasn’t been upgraded since the 2013 version. He directed me to a new site, Plants of the World Online by Kew. They are still uploading data and hope to be finished in 2020. So, I had to change gears and start using Plants of the World Online for current scientific names.
Today, February 19, 2017, as I am writing this page, current information from Plants of the World Online says that Mammillaria elegans DC. is a synonym of Mammillaria geminispina Haw. Llifle (Encyclopedia of Living Forms) now agrees that Mammillaria geminispina is the correct and accepted scientific name for Mammillaria elegans. and NOW the CactusGuide is in agreement also. BUT, even though his Mammillaria geminispina page says Mammillaria elegans is a synonym, their Mammillaria haageana subsp. elegans information still says Mammillaria elegans is a synonym of that subspecies.
The Llifle website says Mammillaria haageana subsp. elegans is an accepted subspecies and Mammillaria elegans is not on the list of synonyms BUT the photo DOES, in fact, look like my plant… So, is my plant…???
This is about as confusing as it comes.
IF my plant, labeled Mammillaria elegans, which is now a synonym of Mammillaria geminispina, why do the photos of that species not look like my plant?
SO, I did a name search for Mammillaria haageana subsp. elegans on Plants of the World Online. It says that name is a synonym of Mammillaria haageana. GEEZ!
Now, folks, I have looked at a lot of photos of Mammillaria species on Llifle and the CactusGuide and there are so many that it could be. Most Mammillaria species are quite variable and so much alike.
In conclusion, we know that the industry mislabels plants all the time and they also label plants with former names. The industry is as current as spoiled milk.
If this plant is, or was, Mammillaria elegans in the first place, it would look similar to the photos of Mammillaria geminispina. Well, it doesn’t. That species has much longer spines. In my opinion, it is more like Mammillaria haageana subsp. elegans which, according to Plants of the World Online, is now simply Mammillaria haageana.
BUT, since this plant died, I guess there is no point in thinking about it any further…