Astrophytum asterias

Accession Count: 0
Common Name: Sand Dollar Cactus
Family Name: Cactaceae
Botanical Name: Astrophytum asterias
Synonyms:
Botanical Synonyms: Echinocactus asterias
Sub Species:
Variety:
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Cultivar:
Characteristics: Astrophytum asterias is a small spineless cactus that assumes a flat, non-branching form (1). Because A. asterias grows so close to the ground, it is nearly completely buried by the soil in its native habitat (2). The stem is dark green and flat, with 8 ribs, and many woolly areoles (1, 2). There are numerous, loose, hairy scales that are scattered throughout the plant in irregular patterns, occasionally arching around the areoles, or forming a line (2). Large yellow flowers with orange centers are produced, often larger than the plant itself (1), followed by an oval to round fruit, green, pink, or grayish-red in color, densely covered with spines and white wool (3, 1). The seeds are a glossy brownish-black and shaped either like a bowl or a helmet (3).
Compound: Ast ast
Geographic Origin: Texas and Mexico
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Natural History: The Sand Dollar Cactus, Astrophytum asterias, was discovered by Wilhelm Friedrich Karwinsky von Karwin, a famous German botanist and naturalist from the 19th century (4). In 1826, Karwinsky was sent by the German-American Mining Society of Dusseldorf and the Bavarian government to Mexico, where he returned in 1840 and subsequently discovered A. asterias (4, 5). Historically, Karwinsky was rumored to have discovered the cactus while exploring an area in the state of Tamaulipas called Tierra Caliente. His hat was blown away by the wind and landed upon a specimen of A. asterias, leading to the cacti’s discovery. Plants were collected and sent to Munich, where in 1845 Zuccarini named the cacti Echinocactus asterias (4). It wasn’t until 1868 that Charles Antoine Lemaire dubbed the plant Astrophytum asterias, the current accepted name (6). Astrophytum asterias has been famously confused with Lophophora williamsii, a cactus known for possessing hallucinogenic properties. Due to the similar morphology of both cacti, A. asterias has been mistakenly included in peyote harvesting at a rate of 0.1%. However, A. asterias is a federally listed endangered species with only three metapopulations remaining in its native Texas, each with less than 4000 individuals. (7). Because hundreds of thousands of L. williamsii specimens are harvested every year, the resulting harvest of A. asterias has been extremely detrimental to its numbers in the wild, and the population continues to decrease with every harvest (8).
Cultivation Notes: Astrophytum asterias must be provided with specific conditions in order for it to grow and bloom successfully. It must be watered in moderation in order to prevent root rot, only from March to October, when the soil becomes dry (9, 10). The cactus will go through a dormant period where it must be kept completely dry at a temperature between 5 to 15 degrees Celsius (41-59 degrees Fahrenheit) in order for growth to succeed. Although A. asterias can be grown either in full sun or partial shade, the cactus flesh will become a darker green when exposed to shade (9). Repot at the beginning of each growing season and provide fertilizer during this time in order to achieve the best growth and most magnificent flowers (1). A. asterias can be propagated by seed, grafting, or through somatic embryogenesis, which is considered to be the most successful method of reproduction for this endangered species (11, 12).
Ethnobotany: Although Astrophytum asterias has been commonly mistaken for peyote, Lophophora williamsii, it does not possess any of the former’s medicinal or hallucinogenic properties. Instead, A. asterias is only used in cultivation, and is very popular as an ornamental plant and collector’s item (8). When collected by peyote harvesters, specimens of Astrophytum asterias are cultivated in peyote gardens and given to customers as lagniappe, a special bonus gift (7).

Height: 0 - 5 feet
Width: 0 - 5 feet
Growth Rate: Slow Growing
Grow Season: Summer
Flower Season: ForeSummer
Color: Yellow
Function: Accent
Spread: Spreading
Allergen: Non-allergenic
Invasive: Benign
Toxicity: Benign
Hardy: Hardy
Water Use: Low water Use

Citations:
 1. World of Succulents. Retrieved May 5th, 2020.
 2. Cactus Art Nursery. Retrieved May 5th, 2020.
 3. The Encyclopedia of Cacti. Retrieved May 5th, 2020.
 4. Rare Cactus Plants for Sale. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
 5. JSTOR Global Plants. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
 6. Tropicos. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
 7. U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
 8. MAPS. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
 9. Planet Desert. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
10. Desert-Tropicals. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
11. Dave’s garden. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
12. ResearchGate. Retrieved May 6th, 2020.
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Astrophytum asterias