Cephalocereus senilis: Care and Propagation Guide

The Cephalocereus senilis is commonly referred to by the name “old man cactus”. This species of cactus is primarily found in several parts of Mexico, although its natural growing variety is now endangered. Cultivation, however, continues to take place.

The old man cactus has tall cylindrical stems that are often ribbed and have white woolly hair throughout its surface. Flowering usually only takes place once the plant is mature and this can often take over 10 years.

cephalocereus senilis

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How to Care For Cephalocereus senilis

Cephalocereus senilis plants belong to the Cactaceae family and are one of the most popular kinds of cacti. They have white, silky long hair on the surface which protects them from extreme heat and cold and also helps retain moisture. This is also why these plants live a long life.

The name Cephalocereus comes from Greek and Latin words. ‘Kephale’ is the Greek word for ‘head’ and the cereus is the Latin word that means ‘wax taper’ or ‘candle’. These plants are native to Mexico which is why they are sometimes also called the ‘old man of Mexico’ along with ‘white Persian cat’. These plants also have strong central spines which are sharp and can be dangerous.

Light

These plants need at least six hours of solid sunlight so that more of that white hair is produced. The more direct and bright the sun, the better it is for this protective hair to grow healthily and keep the old man cactus secure from its environmental conditions.

Watering

Although Cephalocereus senilis plants are cacti, they need a little more water than a regular cactus. You must use the soak and dry method wherein the old man cactus is watered when the soil is dry. You can also check the top centimeter of the soil to see if it is dry and water the old man cactus. You can do this by sticking a finger into the ground or pot. That’s the deal in the summer.

Come winter, you don’t want to water it as much because the soil will naturally remain moister.

old man cactus

Soil

The Cephalocereus senilis plants need a combination of pumice, perlite and topsoil when they are grown indoors. Make sure the combination is well-draining soil. You can also add lime chips to make sure any excess moisture in the soil gets sucked out.

If you’re planting it in a pot, you must get a 3-inch container till the old man cactus is about 4 inches tall. In the spring, you must check the height to estimate the growth of the roots and move the plant to the next pot (unglazed so that air circulation is better for the roots) size as needed.

Fertilizing

You can add slow-release fertilizer to the soil in spring, which is the old man cactus’ growing season. Make sure you steer clear of the hair of the plant.

Climate

Since the Cephalocereus senilis plant is native to Mexico, it is only natural that it is good with hot and dry climate to grow well. If the climate in your region isn’t as hot, plant them in pots.

cephalocereus senilis

How to Propagate Cephalocereus senilis

Cephalocereus senilis can be grown through seeds or cuttings, but the former is the best option. It takes a long time for the old man cactus to grow because the germination period alone is about three months. So, you need to be patient.

If you’re propagating Cephalocereus senilis using seeds, get an unglazed pot, add the soil mix and plant the seeds on the soil evenly. Using a spray bottle mist the soil and cover it with a plastic wrap so that it retains moisture. Keep it in a place where it gets a lot of indirect sunlight and mist the soil often.

If you’re propagating Cephalocereus senilis using cuttings, cut the stems while the mother plant is still young. Dry them out till you see callouses developing. Then add soil to the pot and plant the stems with callouses in the soil mix. Place it in a location which gets moderate sunlight and the temperature is close to the ideal figure, which is 70 degrees Fahrenheit.