What Happened to My Cactus When I Went to New Zealand?

Hi guys,

I have a question for you about a beautiful Ferocactus latispinus that I purchased from you in February. The plant had been living at your shop, on one of the outdoor racks, for many months through the Berkeley winter. About a week after I bought it I moved to Los Angeles…en route to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the cactus had to stay behind in southern California, where it is living with my mom. About 5 days after we (the cactus and I) arrived in LA I noticed that parts of the plants were experiencing what looked like bleaching or loss of pigment. It was warm in LA, but not too hot, and for acclimation reasons I had put the plant in an area where it would get some direct but mostly filtered light. I thought the bleaching would be a temporary effect of the transition to a warmer and/or brighter setting, and that the pigment would return, but my mom just sent me some photos and it looks like those parts of the plant are still quite pale…about the color of the pale/yellow form of Euphorbia ammak v. variegata. This concerns me, but the cactus does appear to be (somewhat) “happy” as it is growing and the region of new growth on the top of the plant is the deep green color I’d expect. Can you explain what I’m seeing? This little guy is my favorite plant and I want to do whatever I can to keep him healthy and happy. I’d send a picture but my mom doesn’t have a digital camera. If you need a pic for proper diagnosis I can arrange for one to be taken. Thanks very much for your help! Hope all is going well at the jungle.

Department of Zoology
University of Otago
New Zealand


It sounds like the bleached parts are a sign of sunburn, it most likely happened by the north facing side suddenly getting rotated to face south after the move and the skin cells that were not ready for UV getting a good zap. It will take a long time to heal up and if it was a bad burn it may convert the burned areas to “bark” rather than green skin… but the chlorophyll may still recover. As long as the growing tip at the crown looks green and healthy, the plant will eventually grow out it though it may have scars.

Take care,


p.s. does your post-doc in zoology get you out to see the Tuatara? They are so cool! I want to meet one someday.

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