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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Cacteae
Genus: Turbinicarpus
(Backeb.) Buxb. & Backeb.

See text.

Turbinicarpus is a genus of very small to medium-sized cacti, which inhabit the north-eastern regions of Mexico, in particular the states of San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, Hidalgo, Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.



These succulent plants grow mostly on limestone soil (never on volcanic soil), at altitudes between 300 and 3300 meters above sea level. Turbinicarpus are usually confined to specific habitats, generally hostile for the majority of plants, mostly in very drained rocky areas, composed of limestone, sandstone, schist (neutral or alkaline), or in very acidic and humiferous underwood, or in gypsum veins, sometimes so pure that is almost white. In particular, Turbinicarpus strictu sensu are adapted to extreme niches: more than 80% of the species grow in rock cracks or among the pebbles beneath them, where enough dust accumulated to enable root development. It would seem almost impossible that plants so small could survive in such an environment, however in those species that inhabit dry and exposed areas, the root is very thick, becoming a taproot and acting like an anchor on the slopes but, more important, as a water storage for the dry periods, capable of significantly retracting into the ground so that the stem is less exposed to the sun; the spines are often changed to adopt a very papery structure, capable of absorbing good quantities of water. Furthermore, the general look is extremely mimetic, thanks to the epidermis colour and the interlacing spines, guaranteeing a certain protection from eventual herbivores.


The taxonomic history of the genus Turbinicarpus is rather complex and often mixed with that of other genera like Echinocactus, Echinomastus, Gymnocactus, Mammillaria, Neolloydia, Normanbockea, Pediocactus, Pelecyphora, Strombocactus, Thelocactus and Toumeya, as the results of almost two centuries of constant evolution in the understanding of the affinities and relationship inside the Cactaceae family. Many points of view about the classification of Turbinicarpus are available currently, but the most convincing appear the genus revision by Davide Donati (2003, and 2004 with Carlo Zanovello), thanks to its thoroughness. This work is based on:

  • carpology
  • ecology
  • chorology
  • intercrossing test, to test the concept of biological species
  • ontogeny of the entire body and above all of the spination
  • DNA analysis
  • flower characters
  • seed characters
  • morphology

At the end of that study, Rapicactus is considererd as a distinct genus from Turbinicarpus. The genus Turbinicarpus is subdivided in 2 subgenera at the light of the results of the DNA analysis, and in many series because of the ontogeny of the spination.

Species list

Genus Turbinicarpus

Subgenus Turbinicarpus

Serie Gracilis
  • Turbinicarpus dickisoniae
  • Turbinicarpus gracilis
  • Turbinicarpus hoferi
  • Turbinicarpus swobodae
Serie Lophophoroides
  • Turbinicarpus alonsoi
  • Turbinicarpus bonatzii
  • Turbinicarpus flaviflorus
  • Turbinicarpus knuthianus
  • Turbinicarpus jauernigii
  • Turbinicarpus laui
  • Turbinicarpus lophophoroides
  • Turbinicarpus rioverdensis
Serie Macrochele
  • Turbinicarpus macrochele
  • Turbinicarpus macrochele subsp. frailensis
  • Turbinicarpus macrochele subsp. polaskii
  • Turbinicarpus macrochele subsp. valteri
Serie Turbinicarpus
  • Turbinicarpus klinkerianus
  • Turbinicarpus klinkerianus subsp. schwartzii
  • Turbinicarpus klinkerianus subsp. hiemalis
  • Turbinicarpus klinkerianus subsp. planiziei
  • Turbinicarpus schmiedickeanus
  • Turbinicarpus schmiedickeanus subsp. rubriflorus
  • Turbinicarpus schmiedickeanus subsp. andersonii
Serie Valdeziani
  • Turbinicarpus pseudopectinatus
  • Turbinicarpus valdezianus
Serie Gymnocactus
  • Turbinicarpus nieblae
  • Turbinicarpus saueri subsp. saueri
  • Turbinicarpus saueri subsp. nelissae
  • Turbinicarpus ysabelae
Serie Viereckii
  • Turbinicarpus gielsdorfianus
  • Turbinicarpus major
  • Turbinicarpus viereckii subsp. viereckii
  • Turbinicarpus viereckii subsp. neglectus
natural hybrids
  • Turbinicarpus X mombergeri (pseudopectinatus X laui)

Subgenus Kadenicarpus

Section Bravocactus
  • Turbinicarpus horripilus
Section Kadenicarpus
  • Turbinicarpus krainzianus
  • Turbinicarpus krainzianus subsp. minimus
  • Turbinicarpus pseudomacrochele

Genus Rapicactus

Subgenus Rapicactus

  • Rapicactus beguinii
  • Rapicactus beguinii subsp. hintoniorum
  • Rapicactus booleanus
  • Rapicactus canescens
  • Rapicactus donatii
  • Rapicactus subterraneus
  • Rapicactus zaragosae

Subgenus Lodia

  • Rapicactus mandragora
  • Rapicactus pailanus


The following genera haven been brought into synonymy with Turbinicarpus:

  • Gymnocactus Backeb.
  • Normanbokea Kladiwa & Buxb.


  • D. Donati & C. Zanovello, Knowing, understanding, growing Turbinicarpus-Rapicactus (Ed. Cactus Trentino SudTirol, 2005) pp. 254
  • Grupo San Luis, The Genus Turbinicarpus in San Luis Potosì (Ed. Cactus&Co, 2004)
  • Edward F. Anderson, The Cactus Family (Timber Press, 2001), pp. 665-673
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Turbinicarpus". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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