Types of Cactus Plants: Most Common Varieties

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Growing succulents and cactus species has become a popular trend among indoor gardeners.

People mainly grow these plants because of their wonderful approach, colorful flowers, and fewer demands.

Many gardeners think that growing succulent plants adds a desert touch to their gardens.

But what is a cactus?

Cactus plants are considered succulents because they store water in their leaves and stems for a longer period of time.

The name cactus comes from the Latin word “Kaktus”, meaning “spiky plants.” This is the core difference between a succulent and a cactus.

Cactus species have spikes around them, while succulents usually don’t have any thorns that cover the stem.

Therefore, not all succulents are called cactus.

The spine of a cactus protects the plant from being eaten by animals.

There are approximately 2000 different varieties of cactus species that belong to the Cactaceae family.

Cactus plants are traditionally used in many pharmaceutical industries because they contain essential health-supporting nutrients [1].

In this article, we will focus on the most popular and attractive cactus species that can be grown indoors.

Types of Cactus Plants

Cactus plants are undoubtedly the most common type of succulent. Remember, cactus plants are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

Some of the most common types of cactus are mammillaria, opuntia, and cylindropuntia (more commonly known as cholla cactus).

As with most succulents, cactus plants are simple to care for and maintain, which is one of their greatest advantages.

Gardeners can grow these plants without worrying about killing them in a week.


Related post: How Fast Do Cactus Grow?


Below is a list of what we think are the most popular types of cactus plants you can grow.

Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)

Thanksgiving Cactus - type of cactus plant

The Thanksgiving cactus is also known as the False Christmas cactus or Crab cactus.

These are native mainly to the Brazilian moist forests and are often confused with another specimen, called Schlumbergera bridgesii, or Christmas cactus.

However, there are many differences between these two varieties.

Firstly, the Thanksgiving cactus produces tubular-shaped flowers and has leaf-like stems with sharp and serrated edges. The blooms can be white, pink, or red, but these colors depend on the variety.

Each of the segments on the stem can be 2.5 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide. An entire plant can reach up to 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)

Schlumbergera-Bridgesii

Remember that Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus, and Easter cactus are known as the Holiday cactus varieties. 

Schlumbergera bridgesii looks similar to the Thanksgiving cactus. But you can easily identify the differences by observing the stem segments and patterns.

Unlike the Crab Cactus which has sharp and serrated edges, these cacti have relatively flat stems with rounded edges.

However, the flowers of Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus are similar and come up in fuchsia pink or red. So, you need to distinguish them by their stems.

This specimen grows to around 10 inches tall and 24 inches wide. You will find it widely distributed across the southeastern coastal mountainous areas of Brazil.

Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri)

Schlumbergera-Gaertneri

The Easter cactus is a variety of the Schlumbergera genus but was previously known as Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri.

Commonly, it is also sold under different names, including Spring cactus or Whitsun cactus. You can find it widely distributed across southeastern Brazil.

Many people often confuse this variety with Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus. Unlike the previous two varieties, the Easter cactus has more rounded leaves.

Also, the flowers bloom during the spring. Flowers are mainly short-tubed and have a reddish color.

This plant can reach up to 25 inches (more than 2 feet) tall and 15–18 inches wide.

Fairy Castle Cactus (Acanthocereus Tetragonus)

Acanthocereus-Tetragonus

Acanthocereus tetragonus, or fairy castle cactus, is a slow-growing cactus species that looks similar to a fairy castle. These plants can reach around 6 feet tall.

They are native to Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, and other parts of North America.

These tall and columnar cacti have dark green stems that can be 2-3 inches in diameter.

Every stem of this plant is separated by five sides that are covered by white spines. The flowers of these cacti are nocturnal and have a whitish color.

The flowering tube can be 3-6 inches tall, and each flower is 5-7 inches in diameter.

It prefers a bright location, a warm temperature, and a moderate humidity level.

Bishop’s cap cactus (Astrophytum myriostigma)

Astrophytum-Myriostigma

Astrophytum myriostigma, which is commonly known as Bishop’s Cap cactus, Bishop’s Miter cactus, or Bishop’s Hat, is native to the central and northeastern regions of Mexico.

It is a spineless variety that has three to five (up to seven) vertical ribs. One can easily recognize this Bishop’s cap cactus by its ribs.

This plant can grow around 2 to 3 feet tall and 5-8 inches in diameter. The cylindrical stem is covered with white trichomes.

From spring to early summer, these cacti produce yellow flowers that have a reddish or orange center.

It enjoys full sun, and the growing environment should have a 50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit temperature.

Star cactus (Astrophytum asterias)

Astrophytum-Asterias

Astrophytum asterias is also known as star cactus, Sea Urchin cactus, and more popularly, the Sand Dollar cactus.

This beautiful and unique-looking cacti plant has only a small and round stem, which can reach up to 3 inches tall and 5 inches in diameter.

From above, the stem looks like a disc that is divided into 7 to 10 ribs.

The Sand Dollar Cactus is native to Texas and Mexico. They bloom with flowers during midsummer and come up with orange to yellow flowers.

These species need a partially shady region, a warm and dry environment, and a well-draining potting mix.

If you can properly take care of star cacti, they will reward you with beautiful large flowers.

Old lady cactus (Mammillaria hahniana)

Mammillaria-Hahniana

Mammillaria hahniana, or Old Lady cactus, is a wonderful species of the Mammillaria genus belonging to the Cactaceae family.

It is native to Central Mexico and may reach up to 10 inches long and 20 inches wide.

The entire stem is covered with white spines. But the most amazing fact about this plant is its bright pink to purple flowers.

These cacti plants have fewer demands. You need to make sure that they receive bright but indirect light.

Although they are sun-loving, you can provide them with a little shade. A warm and dry environment is mostly preferred.

Don’t water them too frequently because excess moisture will cause root rot.

Ladyfinger Cactus (Mammillaria elongata)

Mammillaria-Elongata

Mammillaria elongata is commonly known as the Ladyfinger cactus or Gold Lace Cactus.

This beautiful variety has small golden yellow spines, which make these plants extremely popular. It grows with five tube-like stems in one pot.

Each of these stems grows around 6 inches in length and produces white, pink, or light yellow flowers in spring.

The Ladyfinger cactus is native to Central Mexico. It prefers a desert climate.

Therefore, if you are living in an arid region, you don’t have to worry about its temperature and humidity conditions.

Just make sure that they receive sufficient sunlight. Don’t overwater these cacti species, as too much water can damage them.

Feather cactus (Mammillaria plumosa)

Mammillaria-Plumosa-cactus

Mammillaria plumosa is commonly known as the Feather Cactus because of its downy and soft appearance.

It is native to the Mexican deserts, but you can grow it indoors by providing them with a warm and dry environment.

People mainly grow this for its small feather-like look and white flowers.

Feather cactus can grow into a spherical or columnar form, which can grow to be around 4 inches tall and 3 feet wide.

Many gardeners have opined that the flowers of these cacti species are sweet and strongly scented.

These flowers attract various pollinators, like butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

Powder Puff Cactus (Mammillaria bocasana)

Mammillaria-Bocasana-Cactus

The Powder Puff cactus, scientifically known as Mammillaria bocasana, is a clumping cactus that forms a large mound.

Due to its cotton ball-like appearance, it is called the “Powder Puff Cactus.” It has a small, round stem that is covered with white-colored silky hairs.

The light to the bluish-green colored stem may reach around 5-8 inches tall and 4-6 inches in diameter.

These beautiful cacti are also sold as “Powder Puff Pincushion.” It is easy to grow and produces funnel-shaped, white, creamy, pink, or yellow flowers from spring to summer.

This specimen can tolerate a minimum of a 20-degree Fahrenheit temperature. Don’t water this plant too frequently as it is prone to root rot.

Strawberry cactus (Mammillaria dioica)

Mammillaria-Dioica

The Strawberry Cactus, scientifically known as Mammillaria dioica, is a unique cactus species that comes with a stem covered with spikes.

This cactus plant is alternatively known as a strawberry pincushion, fishhook cactus, or California fishhook cactus.

This plant is native to the Colorado desert, the Sonoran desert, Baja California, and Mexico.

These cactus plants have a short blue-green stem with a cylindrical shape. It may reach about 10 inches in height and 2-3 inches in diameter. It needs a well-drained cactus mix.

A sunny spot is often preferred. It cannot tolerate frost conditions. During the mid-spring, it produces bisexual flowers that have cream to white colors.

These flowers are the main attraction of this cacti species.

Moon Cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii)

Gymnocalycium-Mihanovichii

The Moon cactus, or Ruby ball cactus, is the most unique-looking cactus species on this list.

These types of cactus are grown mainly for their multi-colored, large, and bright flowers.

Growing these types of cacti plants will truly add a colorful vibe to your indoor garden.

Unfortunately, this variety has a relatively short lifespan compared to the other varieties.

The stem of this plant lacks chlorophyll. As a result, it is unable to produce sufficient food for itself through photosynthesis. Hence, you may have to turn it into a grafted cactus to increase its lifespan.

Under favorable conditions, these cacti may reach up to 6-10 inches. If you ever notice that their leaves are beginning to fade, move them to a shady location.

African milk tree cactus (Euphorbia trigona)

Euphorbia-Trigona

Euphorbia trigona, locally known as African milk tree cactus, Cathedral cactus, or Abyssinian euphorbia, is a popular succulent species that can be found in Central Africa.

Although Euphorbia trigona (and other Euphorbia) look like cactus, they are not. Visually, it might be difficult to distinguish between the two types of plants. Euphorbia plants grow long stems with spines and branching arms just like cactus. Cacti and Euphorbias both have prickles, but their prickles are not the same. For example, the spines, which are modified leaves, originate from areoles, which are features present on all cacti. In contrast, Euphorbias do not have areoles.

The upright stem of this cactus plant has a few branches. The stem has a dark green color and is covered with 5mm thorns on the ridges.

People mainly grow this plant for ornamental purposes. This succulent doesn’t produce flowers. It prefers partial sun and a warm environment.

Remember that they aren’t cold hardy cacti, so, you will have to move them to a warmer location if the temperature starts falling.

The growing medium should be well-drained as these plants can not tolerate waterlogged conditions.

Tom Thumb Cactus (Parodia mammulosa)

Parodia-Mammulosa-cactus

Parodia mammulosa is commonly known as the Tom Thumb Cactus, which is famous for its golden yellow flowers.

This perennial succulent plant has a deep green stem and needle-like spines that can grow up to 0.5 inches long.

These plants are native to southern Brazil, northern Argentina, and all parts of Uruguay.

The flowers appear in the spring. The golden-yellow-colored flowers have red or purplish stigma lobes.

The blooms have a diameter of around 1.5 inches and are covered with brown bristles.

These flowering plants cannot tolerate extreme direct sunlight. Therefore, you need to manage a spot with partial shade.

Indian Head Cactus (Parodia ottonis)

Parodia-Ottonis-cactus

Parodia ottonis, or Indian Head Cactus, is a wonderful specimen that is very popular for its large yellow flowers with a red-orange center.

This plant is native to South American countries, including Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.

The dark green stem has 16 distinctive ribs that have bristle-like thorns.

These plants usually bloom in the late summer. In the winter months, the plant becomes dormant and the dark green color changes from maroon to a purplish color.

However, if you can provide them with sufficient light, they will stay green.

Remember that these cacti can not tolerate temperatures lower than 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, they are sensitive to overwatering.

Silver Ball Cactus (Parodia scopa)

Parodia-Scopa-cactus

The Silver Ball Cactus is one of the most beautiful varieties of cactus plants. If you look at this plant from above, you will easily realize why it is called the silver ball cactus.

Its green and ball-shaped stems are covered with dense silver-colored spines, and each of these spines may reach up to 7 mm in length.

This beautiful cactus produces yellow flowers during the mid-summer, which is also another wonderful fact about this cactus.

Remember that these cactus houseplants cannot tolerate a harsh winter. So, you will have to move them indoors when the temperature starts falling below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bunny Ear Cactus (Opuntia microdasys)

Opuntia-Microdasys-cactus

Bunny ear cactus comes up with a unique appearance. It is native to northern Mexico. This giant cactus plant can grow to about 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

The stem of this cactus looks like a pad that has yellow-colored glochids and thin spines.

The pads appear in pairs, which gives the entire plant a bunny ear look.

Like the other cacti, it needs full sun exposure. It enjoys a warm and dry environment. Make sure that the temperatures don’t fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

The potting mix should be well-drained. These types of cactus can be found across central and northern Mexico.

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)

Opuntia-Basilaris-cactus

Opuntia basilaris has different names, including Prickly pear cactus, Beavertail prickly pear, or Beavertail cactus.

These Prickly Pear cacti are popular for their bright pink flowers that show up during the spring to early summer.

These plants are widely distributed across the southwestern part of the United States.

The oval-shaped stems of this cactus can reach a maximum of 16 inches tall. Like the Bunny Ear Cactus species, this specimen also has pads, which may grow 2–8 inches long and 4 inches wide.

These types of cactus are generally spineless, but you may notice a few spines in the upper section of the pads.

This indoor cactus grows well under full to partial sun.

Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

Carnegiea-Gigantea

Carnegiea gigantea, or Saguaro cactus, is a famous specimen on this list. This huge cactus species can grow up to 50 feet tall and may weigh around 9 tons.

It is a simple, leafless, giant cactus tree that blooms with flowers after nightfall.

This Sonoran desert plant, although it has a shallow root system, is better to keep outdoors because of its huge shape.

You can grow Saguaro cacti in your home garden if your area doesn’t receive any frost because lower temperatures are the only limitation for growing these types of cactus.

Also, the soil should be well-drained. Waterlogged conditions or the presence of excess moisture in your garden can damage the roots.

Blue Columnar Cactus (Pilosocereus Pachycladus)

Pilosocereus-Pachycladus

Pilosocereus pachycladus, or Blue Columnar Cactus, is a column-like plant that grows quite tall.

Due to its large shape, it is often regarded as the mini version of the Saguaro cactus.

Its stem has a bluish color, and that’s why it is called the blue columnar cactus. During the summer, the plant produces large white flowers at night.

Like other cactus plants, this specimen prefers a desert climate. If you’re living in an arid region, you don’t have to worry about too much.

Just make sure that these plants aren’t exposed to low temperatures. Also, well-draining soil is required as waterlogged conditions can kill these cacti.

Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis)

Aporocactus-Flagelliformis

Rat tail cactus is famous for its large, deep, and reddish-purple flowers. Its slender and long stems bear beautiful blooms.

This flowering cactus is often grown as an ornamental species because of its hanging nature.

You will also notice bristle-like, tiny reddish spines. They produce flowers in the mid-to-late spring.

These plants are ideal for growing in hanging baskets. They need bright and direct sunlight for a prolonged period to thrive at their full potential.

The ideal temperatures for growing rat tail cactus are considered to be around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

For fertilizing, you can feed these cacti with liquid organic fertilizer during the spring.

Balloon Cactus (Notocactus magnificus)

Notocactus-Magnificus-cactus

Balloon cactus is scientifically known as Notocactus magnificus, but it has many other names, like Green Ball Cactus or Blue Ball Cactus.

This specimen is native to the South American countries, including Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

It has a blue-green stem that has 11–15 vertically arranged ribs.

Notocactus magnificus produces large yellow flowers, and each of the ribs contains many spines. It prefers bright and direct sunlight.

A warm environment is recommended, and make sure that the plant isn’t exposed to cold temperatures.

The growing medium should be well-drained. You should use coarse and sandy materials to prepare an ideal soil mixture.

Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Echinocactus-Grusonii

The Golden Barrel Cactus is one of the most beautiful cacti on this list. It is also known as the golden ball cactus.

It can be identified by its golden spines that are arranged on approximately 35 ribs.

These wild cacti are native to the east and central regions of Mexico. This beautiful cactus is grown as an ornamental plant.

The stems of golden barrel cacti are heavily ribbed and have a pale green color, but the formation of the golden spines in a dense format gives them a golden barrel appearance.

This barrel-shaped cactus may reach around 3 feet tall once it gets mature.

During the summer months, the golden barrel cactus produces beautiful, large yellow-colored flowers.

Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

Echinocereus-Engelmannii

The Hedgehog cactus is popular for its beautiful small pink flowers. You can easily identify this variety by its large and sharp spines and cluster formation.

These types of cactus are usually found across California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and the Sonora desert. The stems can reach around 25 inches tall.

These cactus plants bloom funnel-shaped, pink to purple flowers between April and May.

These cactus enjoy growing under the full sun, but partial sun with a bright location is also alright.

The temperature should be kept between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil mixture should be well drained.

Green Pitaya (Echinocereus viridiflorus)

Echinocereus-Viridiflorus

The Green Pitaya (Echinocereus viridiflorus) is commonly known as the Nylon hedgehog cactus, which is an indoor cactus grown for its unique green flowers.

This specimen is well-distributed across northern Mexico and the south-central U.S.

It has a cylindrical stem that can grow up to 10–13 inches in length and 3 inches wide.

The flowers are the main attraction of this cactus plant and bloom during the spring. These flowers have a greenish color with light or pale yellow center.

Each petal is around 1 to 2 inches long. It needs bright sunlight to grow and a warm environment.

For propagation, you can collect seeds and sow them in a well-draining soil mix.

San Pedro Cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi)

Echinopsis-Pachanoi

The San Pedro cactus is a relatively fast-growing specimen that is native to South American countries. You will find it widely distributed across the Andes mountains.

The stems of this cactus have a bluish green appearance during the younger stage, but the color changes to dark green as the plant gets older.

This cactus is very easy to grow. You can quickly grow it in well-draining soil and in a sunny location.

This isn’t a cold hardy cactus, so you will have to be careful during the winter months.

Remember that it can handle a minimum of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It produces large white flowers during the summer.

Starfish Cactus (Stapelia hirsuta)

Stapelia-Hirsuta

The Starfish cactus, scientifically known as Stapelia hirsuta, gets its name from its starfish-like flowers.

This succulent plant has fleshy stems that can reach up to 6 to 8 inches in length.

The flowers appear during the late summer and early autumn. These are flat, large, hairy, and maroon in color. They look like starfish.

This specimen is very easy to grow because of its fewer growing demands. It enjoys a warm and dry environment.

A waterlogged condition can be a real pain because it can damage the roots. You should prepare a well-draining potting mix.

Also, you can create a few holes beneath the container to facilitate the drainage system.

Water these plants when the top 2 inches of the surface soil becomes dry.

Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia)

Cylindropuntia Cholla Cactus

The Cholla cactus belongs to the genus Cylindropuntia, which contains many cacti (around 20 different species).

These plants are native to southwest America and Mexico. You can easily recognize them by their large cylindrical stems.

However, the growers should be careful about the sharp spines.

Cylindropuntia cacti produce beautiful deep pink to purple flowers from April to July. This hardy cactus grows happily when it is kept in the full sun.

The growing environment should be warm. Remember that too much moisture and high humidity can spread fungal infections.

Club Cholla (Grusonia clavata)

Grusonia-Clavata

Grusonia clavata is one of the most popular cacti that is known as the Club Cholla Cactus.

This specimen looks like Cylindropuntia, but you can identify it with its large club-like spines that aren’t covered with a papery sheath.

The stems are generally short, and these types of cactus form colonies.

Club cholla cactus needs a sunny location. If you’re growing this plant indoors, then we suggest you keep it near the south-facing window because, in this spot, the plant will receive more sunlight.

The temperatures should range between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. High humidity and excess moisture can be harmful to this specimen.

Arizona Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni)

Ferocactus-Wislizeni

The Arizona barrel cactus has many names, including Candy barrel cactus, fishhook barrel cactus, and Southwestern barrel cactus.

These barrel cacti are native to the southern region of the U.S. and the northern area of Mexico.

It is a huge, cylindrical-shaped cactus and may grow up to 6 feet tall when grown outdoors.

During the summer months, this cactus produces orange-colored flowers. The stems bear around 15–28 ribs.

It grows best in a sunny location. It would be best if you grew them outdoors.

The desert climate and well-drained soil are ideal for Arizona barrel cactus. During the spring months, you can feed them by applying organic fertilizer.

Queen of the Night Cactus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)

Epiphyllum-Oxypetalum

Epiphyllum oxypetalum is commonly known as Princess of the Night, Queen of the Night, or Dutchman’s pipe cactus. The large, white flowers are the main attraction of this cactus.

Unfortunately, this plant rarely blooms and only blooms at night, wilting at dawn. These plants are epiphytic.

The stems of these plants are erect and branched. They can grow up to 6 meters long if there is sufficient space.

The stems are usually waxy, which indicates the probability of cutin being present in the leaves.

Remember that cold temperatures and waterlogged conditions can easily kill these plants.

Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)

Cephalocereus-Senilis

Old man cactus plants are native to central Mexico. It is a tall specimen that has a columnar stem.

This specimen is called the “old man cactus” because of its shaggy coat of white and long hair.

During the younger stage, these white hairs have a silvery appearance. However, as the plant ages, the stem loses this cover.

The old man cactus produces flowers after 10–20 years. The nocturnal and funnel-shaped flowers have beautiful yellow to red colors.

Three or four weeks after flowering, you will notice rose-colored fruits. You can use the seeds to propagate these plants.

FAQ

Is a succulent a cactus?

No, not all succulents are cactus plants, but all cactus plants are succulents. A succulent plant has the ability to store water in its leaves. There are thousands of types of succulent plants, and cacti are just another type of succulent. So, all cactus plants are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus plants.

How long does a cactus plant live?

Depending on the species, the average lifespan of a cactus might range anywhere from ten to two hundred years. Cacti that are allowed to flourish in their natural environment tend to live significantly longer than those that are brought indoors and kept as houseplants. However, with the proper attention, many houseplant cacti have the potential to thrive for many decades.

How do I know what cactus I have?

Examining the leaf structure will tell you what cactus you have. The color and contour of the leaves on your cactus plant might provide you with more information about the plant. For example, the spines on a leaf will have a needle-like appearance and be quite sharp, whereas the margins of non-spiny kinds will be smooth.

What is a Single cactus called?

For a single cactus, the correct term is “cactus.” If there are two or more cactus plants, the correct term to use is “cacti”. However, you may hear the term “cactuses” used in conversational American English, but it should really be “cacti.”

Is aloe vera a cactus?

Aloe vera is not a cactus plant. Although the aloe vera plant is sometimes mistaken for a cactus due to its appearance, it is actually a member of the Asphodelaceae family and not the family of cacti.

Can cactus grow without sunlight?

No, cacti can not grow without sunlight. Cacti, like all other plants, are unable to survive without some sunshine. These desert-based plants are able to make it through brief periods without sunlight, but they require significant amounts of sunlight in order to flourish and blossom.

Should I water my cactus plants regularly?

As a general rule of thumb, water cactus plants once every one to two weeks during their growing season (spring through summer), and once every three to four weeks when they are dormant (in the fall and winter).

Conclusion

These are the most popular and beautiful cactus varieties that one can easily grow indoors. However, there are a few cactus plants on this list that grow best outdoors.

Apart from the above-mentioned cactus plants, there are other types of cacti, including the brain cactus and jumping cacti.

Growing these plants is extremely easy because cactus plants don’t need special attention.

If a grower can provide them with sufficient light, a warm temperature, dry air, well-draining soil, and irregular watering, they will be happy. Remember that the flowers are the main attraction of cactus plants.

Therefore, if you can take care of these plants properly, they will reward you with large, beautiful, and colorful flowers.

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