The Mammillaria elongata, used a lot in those cactus dish gardens commonly sold at garden centers, is often the first cactus purchased by a beginning collector. It makes a good windowsill plant because it has harmless, soft spines. Its common name is Golden Stars, or Lady Finger Cactus. The spines are situated so that they are shaped like a star, hence the name. Another reason it is popular is that its many offsets can be removed at any time and potted to start a new specimen.
The appearance of this specimen is typical, with the one long stem and numerous shorter stems surrounding it. At a recent cactus show, I couldn't believe the number of nearly identical M. elongata entered. The cactus can have so many variations, actually more than most Mammillaria species, so the sameness of all those entries surprised me.
The M. elongata comes from Central Mexico and needs light shade in Arizona. It needs a little more summer water than other Mammillaria species. The cactus can have spines that range from pale yellow to a coppery red. The flowers can range from a pale yellow to a pinkish shade. The flowers on my specimen are very pale yellow, almost off-white. The flowers are small, and look like little stars.
There is certain snobbishness among some cactus collectors in that they only want rare and exotic cacti in their collections, as if an "ordinary" cactus will somehow diminish their collection's value. Ordinary is fine with me. If I like the way a cactus looks, then I'll add it to my collection, common or not. That's why I have this little Golden Stars.