Horse Crippler Cactus (Echinocactus Parryi)

From a distance, this cactus blends into the earth, slightly popping the top of its head just enough to get an ants eye view of its surroundings. The gathering of menacing, sharp white spines around the head of this plant makes it look a little unusual in cacti collections. However, it is an exquisite sight when it unleashes its bright yellow bellflowers. It is known to cripple any humans and animals that disrespect it. This formidable bad boy is Echinocactus parryi or better known as the Horse Crippler cactus.

This intimidating plant is one of the 80% of cactus species belonging to the subfamily Cactoideae. The botanical name Echinocactus parryi is derived from the ancient Greek words ‘echinos’ (εχινος) that means meaning ‘prickly’ and ‘kaktos‘ that refers to a cactus.

A mental picture of the Horse Crippler Cactus

The Horse Crippler legends go back to its original habitat, hidden in the arid terrain of the Sonora and Chihuahua deserts of Mexico. Instead of acting like other rough wilderness cacti and growing impressive, above ground bodies, the Horse Crippler only displays the top of its head that is heavily armed with tough-looking spines. Desert cowboys would attest to these plants crippling their horses by stepping on one of them when not watching their path. Ouch.

This typically solitary cactus likes its space, but in the right conditions, it can branch out spontaneously. It is a slow grower and may take many years to reach the adult size of 20 to 30 cm (7.87 to 11.81 inches) tall and 25 to 35 cm (9.84 to 13.77 inches) in diameter.

This well-armed cactus has a glabrous, greyish-green stem, with approximately 13 acute ribs around it that are better seen in mature plants. The ribs have almost circular areoles covered in grey wool where dense, clusters of four, chalk-white to greyish-pink spines jut out from the stem.

During the summer, the Horse Crippler blooms bright yellow flowers with streaks of orange-red and later produces copiously wooly fruits. The spines slightly curve in all directions camouflaging the stem and making it difficult for flowers to fully open.

Rearing the Horse Crippler

While the Horse Crippler can take root on mountain foothills and rocky slopes, this xerophilous cactus adapts perfectly to scrubby desert environments. It will manage well growing in areas with an altitude of 1100 to 1300 meters (3608.924 to 4265.092 feet) above sea level. This cactus can comfortably endure extremely bright situations. It relishes blasting hot sunshine, encouraging flowering and heavy spine production. The Horse Crippler can tolerate some frost (up to -12° C, 10° F) but only if its soil is kept dry prior to and during the cold weather.

This cactus thrives in extremely dry soils, preferring a very porous mineral cactus mix soil. It needs a relatively sized pot with good drainage because its roots need plenty of space to grow. It would appreciate being repotted every other year or when it starts to outgrow its pot.

The Horse Crippler will be fine to go all through the cold months without a drink and have occasional thirst-quenchers during the summer. As a true desert plant, the Horse Crippler cannot handle humidity or standing water because they are prone to root rot.

What irritates the Horse Crippler

The Horse Crippler attracts birds, bees, and insects but a healthy plant should be relatively pest-free. The right soil, ventilation, and great sun exposure should keep their arch enemies (the mealybug and aphids), away from the wooly growth on their heads. Red spiders, scale, and whitefly also have an affinity for this cactus.

Growing and grooming the Horse Crippler

To grow the Horse Crippler from scratch would need patience. Plants that are grown from seeds may take up to 20 years before they begin branching. However, this cactus can also be grafted, although both methods have an incredibly difficult and low rate of success. If you are feeling adventurous, you can purchase Horse Crippler seeds at your local gardening store. Place the seeds in a shallow hole in cactus mix and keep them slightly moist and warm. Then wait.

The best time to repot the Horse Crippler is at the beginning of summer. Always put on protective gloves to shield your hands from the spikes. Ensure the soil is completely dry and gently remove the pot from the plant. Gently knock away the old soil from the roots of the plant, making sure that any rotting or dead roots are removed. Place the plant in its new pot and spread the roots as you fill the pot with soil. Let the plant settle for a week before giving it measured sips of water.

The Horse Crippler should be seen but not touched

This cactus has built a name for itself as being a well sought-after plant by collectors. It has unfortunately acquired the CITES conservation status of Near Threatened (NT) due to illegal collection and the human impact on environmental degradation.

As fierce as the Horse Crippler sounds, it is still a stunner in a dish garden or indoor display. It will be your friend but do not get too friendly. It is, after all, a Horse Crippler.

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