Cereus peruvianus, which is more commonly referred to as Cereus repandus these days, makes a unique addition to your ornamental or edible landscape with its tall, thorny, columnar appearance and low care requirements.
Also known as the Peruvian apple cactus, you might be surprised to find that the Cereus fruits, called Peruvian apples, are actually edible! In fact, they make a wonderful source of food for both the people where this plant originated, as well as the local bird population.
Let’s learn how to grow, care for, and harvest from this gorgeous and under-utilized cactus…hopefully we can increase its profile amongst gardeners everywhere!
My Favorite Products for Peruvian Apple Cactus Care:
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|Common Name(s)||Apple cactus, Peruvian torch, column cactus, hedge cactus, screw cactus plant|
|Scientific Name||Cereus peruvianus or Cereus repandus|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade with bright light|
|Water:||Water thoroughly during the active growth phase, allow the soil to dry between watering, minimal watering during winter|
|Soil||Well-drained cactus soil having an abundance of sand|
|Fertilizer||Slow-release fertilizer throughout the growing season|
|Pests & Diseases||Scale, mealybugs|
Native to South America (as the name might suggest), this species of cacti is know for its truly epic height. Its grayish-green to bluish stems have rached over 30′ (10m) in height without any help from us gardeners. However, in intensive cultivation and through using plant supports growers have achieved over 110′ (34m)! No cacti in the wild has ever exceeded 82′ (25m), which makes the screw cactus one of the tallest-growing cacti on the planet.
This tree-like appearance of the apple cactus comes along with a cylindrical stem that will reach 4-8″ (10-20cm) in diameter.
Also known as “night-blooming cereus cactus”, it produces large, cream-colored flowers that only open for one night—so don’t miss your chance to see your apple cactus flowers!
It produces thornless fruits called Peruvian apples or pitaya. The color of fruits can vary from violet-red to yellow. The edible interior of the fruit is small and white, having crunchy seeds. Quite delicious, if you ask me.
Cereus Peruvianus Varieties
Cereus peruvianus var. ‘Monstrosus’ Also known as the curiosity plant or Monstrose Apple Cactus, this variety is a “mutant” variety of the classic that grows a bit shorter, but produces quite thick stems and huge, juicy, delicious fruits. A great choice for Hardiness Zones 9-11 for an ornamental, water-wise cacti that produces edible fruit.
Being a cactus, Peruvian apple cactus has relatively simple care requirements. You can even grow it as an indoor houseplant if you want to! It’ll just grow much slower, but don’t let that stop you from beautifying your home with this plant.
Outdoors, it requires the same things many cacti want to thrive, so let’s get into it.
Light and Temperature
When it comes to light and night-blooming cereus cacti, give it as much sun as you can afford. If growing indoors, that means a south-facing window if possible. Otherwise, you’ll notice it start to “lean” towards the light, which is a sure sign you aren’t giving it enough!
If you don’t have a high light area of your home, you can rotate the container a few times a year to even out the leaning effect.
If growing outdoors, give it full sun, 8+ hours per day. Remember, it’s a desert cactus – it loves the sun!
As you might imagine, you don’t have to go crazy watering your hedge cactus. During active growth of spring and summer, increase your watering a bit as fruits form and the plant requires more water to support all of the new growth on the plant. As the fall and winter come, taper your watering down.
No matter how much you’re watering, make sure to let the soil dry out almost completely before watering again, which is a classic tip for growing all sorts of cacti.
Cactus apple or screw cactus plant wants well-draining soil, which means a good cactus mix will do. You can even add a bit more sand to the mix to loosen it up and improve drainage even further if you’re finding your cactus mix is holding on to too much water.
During the growing season, you can use a slow-release granular organic fertilizer to supplement your soil and boost the growth a bit. Keep in mind, you might have to repot your cacti sooner if growing in a pot, because the growth will speed up! When you repot, make sure to add a bit of fertilizer as well to refresh your older cactus mix.
Pruning and Training
Autumn is the best time for pruning your apple cactus. Prune it when the plant stops producing new branches or when it starts to become overgrown and becomes hard to pick up the fruits.
If you are growing new Peruvian cacti, seeds can be the best way to start the plants. They germinate quickly but the seed propagation is a slow process. You can also use sections of stem and root them in the standard potting mixture, similar to how you would root many species of cacti.
Because the flowers bloom at night, you may need to go out and hand-pollinate your peruvian apple cactus to ensure good pollination. Otherwise, fruits may not form. In my experience this isn’t a problem with this type of cacti though, as there are usually plenty of night pollinators out and about! Moth and bats are common pollinators of this plant.
You’ll see fruit start to form in late fall to early winter, as the plant begins to go dormant for the year. They’re absolutely delicious, so be sure to pick some and enjoy an insanely delicious (and nutritious) treat. They’re high in beta-carotene, Vitamin C, fiber, and much more.
Overwatering is a common problem you’ll run into, which is completely fixable by you as the gardener! It’s either you watering too much, or watering normally into soil that holds on to too much water.
If it’s a soil issue, you could add some perlite to your mix to loosen it up or add more cactus mix. Whatever adds more drainage will work, so even a bit of sand will help water leave the soil more readily.
Snails, slugs, and mealybugs are common pest problems for Cereus peruvianus. You can use organic insecticides to address mealybugs, or deftly swab them off of your plants with rubbing alcohol-soaked cotton swabs.
Q. Can I grow apple cactus in a container?
A. Yes, you can grow apple cactus in a container or flower pot. Make sure to use the right potting mixture that has good drainage and lots of sand, and give it as much light as you can.
Q. My apple cactus is leaning towards the left. What should I do?
A. Turn your plant pot and make sure to provide a good amount of light to its each side. Once your plant is balanced, keep moving your pot frequently so that all sides get a good and equal amount of sunlight over the course of its lifespan.