Genus honouring Prince Maximilien Joseph Eugene Auguste Napoleon de Beauharnais, duke of Leuchtenberg (1817- 1852) and not as commonly seen by mistake in the cactophilous literature (except the Russian journal, in Gapon 2001), Prince Eugene de Beauharnais, Duke de Leuchtenberg (1781-1824), who was his father. Maximilien of Leuchtenberg is considered as having been a person passionate in arts and letters, and a talented botanist. For that reason, William Jackson Hooker honoured him in 1848 by creating the only species at present known for the genus, Leuchtenbergia principis (see portrait above, public domain).
Monospecific genus of usually solitary, sometimes caespitose plants, globose to shortly cylindrical, with big fleshy roots. Stems without ribs but with long triangular tubercles, each having a terminal areole. Spines elongated, papery, often twisted, flexible and not aggressive, yellowish.
Flowers diurnal, self-sterile funnel-shaped, pollinated by insects (mainly hymenoptera), perfumed, silky yellow, appearing at the base of areoles. Fruits elongated, dry, variable in colour when ripe, basally dehiscent, floral remains persistent. Seeds large, matt, papillose, blackish.
The monotypic genus Leuchtenbergia grows in the Chihuahuan desert, and has a very wide geographic distribution but in very scattered and never abundant colonies, on mineral soils, limestone outcrops, in crevices, among bushes and shrubs, very mimetic, almost invisible (except when flowering), easily confused with the dry grasses with its long papery spines, from 1400 m up to 1800 m in altitude, together with other cacti (Ariocarpus, Lophophora…).
Mexico (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas).
Currently only one recognised species:
– Leuchtenbergia principis* WJ.Hooker 1848