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!
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Quick Care Guide
|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, root rot|
All About Cereus Peruvianus
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 of South America 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 cactus comes along with a cylindrical stem with pronounced stem ribs that will reach 4-8″ (10-20cm) in diameter. It’s sometimes grown as an ornamental plant, but its fruit are delicious, and edible.
Also known as “night-blooming cereus cactus”, this member of the cactus family produces large, cream-colored to white 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.
Cereus Peruvianus Care
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 or bright light as you can afford. If you’re 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 you’re growing outdoors, give it full sun, 8+ hours per day. Remember, it’s a desert cactus – it loves the sun!
Heat is no issue for this cactus, and it’s fairly cold-hardy down to 18°F. In snap subfreezing temperatures below this threshold, cover your cactus with a frost blanket of some kind. Mulch in areas where winters are cold to protect the shallow roots of the cactus.
Water and Humidity
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. This particular cactus does best in 30 to 50% humidity. You can offset a lack of humidity with a higher frequency of watering in the growing seasons.
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. Nutrients aren’t necessary as cacti store water and nutrients in their plant tissue.
Give your Peruvian cacti acidic soil that ranges from 5 to 7 pH.
Fertilizing Peruvian Cacti
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.
A fertilizer that is specifically formulated for cacti is best appiled at a rate of once per month. Remember to avoid fertilizing outside the growing seasons of spring and summer.
Pruning and Training Cereus Peruvianus
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 it becomes knobby and hard to pick up the fruits. Do not use pruning shears to shape and remove parts of the cactus. Instead use a pruning saw to cut through stem ribs, like the FELCO 600 Folding Pruning Saw. Wear gloves, too! This cactus is fairly spiny.
Propagating Peruvian Cactus
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. Stem cuttings are a much easier way to grow plants from this cactus.
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. Before planting the section, allow the base of your cutting to scar over and callus. This process takes a week or two. Then plant the section in a small pot or in the bed next to the parent plant.
You can also grow plants from small pups that form at the base of the cactus. In this case, treat the pups like you would stem cuttings. Do not plant them until they’ve calloused.
Harvesting and Storing Cereus Peruvianus
Now that you’ve done the hard work of caring for this cactus, it’s time to reap those sweet rewards! Let’s talk about how to harvest and store Peruvian apples.
Harvesting Peruvian Apples
Because the white 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. You should wear gloves, and pull the fruit from the cactus.
Storing Peruvian Cactus
Your Peruvian apples will keep at room temperature for a week or two. You can refrigerate them, but they will last much longer at room temperature. If you want to peel and chop the fruit, you can put them in freezer safe bags for up to 12 months.
While there aren’t a lot of problems with the Peruvian cactus, here are a few things to look out for.
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.
Root rot is a condition that arises in cacti when they are overwatered, or when they are planted in poorly draining soil. If you see the base of your cactus is brown and mushy, remove it from the bed, and cut above the mushy area. Allow the remaining cactus to callous for a couple of weeks, and replant it in an area with plenty of sun and well-draining soil.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Q: Is cereus Peruvianus edible?
A: It sure is! The flavor of the apple is somewhat like a fruit from an Optunia cactus, but sweeter.
Q: Is cereus Peruvianus poisonous?
A: It is not. Any curious pets or children are generally deterred by spines.
Q: How long does Peruvian cactus flower last?
A: Like dragon fruit, these last for one night only!
Q: How often does the cereus cactus bloom?
A: Just one night per year. You’ll have a pretty good indication this is going to happen before the blooming actually occurs.
Q: What happens if you get poked by a cactus?
A: Remove the spine, and disinfect the puncture wound. Most of the time, the wound will heal quickly and easily. If it doesn’t seek assistance from a medical professional.
Q: How often should I water my cereus?
A: Water every 2 to 3 weeks, or as often as the soil dries completely. In winter and fall, reduce this frequency.