13 Types of Cephalocereus Cacti [With Pictures]
When you want to take care of a plant, no matter what kind, you must look into a few basics like the kind of soil it needs, the amount of light and watering it requires, whether or not it requires fertilizer and if yes, what kind and then some.
And if you have a columnar cactus like the Cephalocereus, which has a fleshy and thick body, here’s what you need to know.
How to Grow and Care For Cephalocereus
Also called the “old man cactus,” these 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.
The plant itself grows up to 50 feet in height and 18 inches in width when it is outdoors and up to 20 feet tall in the wild. But if you grow it in a pot, it gets up to 12 inches tall.
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 plant secure from its environmental conditions.
Although these plants are cacti, they need a little more water than a regular cactus. You must use the soak and dry method wherein the plant 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 plant. 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.
These 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 plant 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.
You can add slow-release fertilizer to the soil in spring, which is the plant’s growing season. Make sure you steer clear of the hair of the plant.
Since the 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.
How to Propagate Cephalocereus
These plants can be grown through seeds or cuttings, but the former is the best option. It takes a long time for the plant to grow because the germination period alone is about three months. So, you need to be patient.
If you’re propagating 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 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.
Types of Cephalocereus
Cephalocereus columna-trajani is a tall grey, columnar cactus, said sometimes to reach 10 meters in height, but in cultivation much lower, often bent or clambering, the apex tapering, the whole plant hidden under the numerous spines. In habitat, it forms large stands that look like a forest of telegraph poles. This plant is clearly a close relative of Cephalocereus senilis and is likewise attractive even as a seedling.
Cephalocereus palmeri is a cactus native to Mexico that goes on to grow nearly as tall as a tree. It is also called the Pilosocereus palmeri and has a tall blue-silver stem or trunk that has multiple ribs, brown spines and white hair. This white hair, in fact, is quite abundant and woolly across the plant.
Cephalocereus senilis (Old Man Cactus)
Cephalophorus senilis is a columnar and erect cactus 6 to 10 or even 15 meters high, simple or branching only basally. The flowering areoles develop an abundance of wool which confluently forms a dense mass called a pseudocephalium at the top or on one side near the top.
The flowers are nocturnal red, yellow, or white, though the plant may not flower until 10–20 years old. The fruit usually is obovoid. The most striking feature is the shaggy coat of long, white silky hairs suggestive of unkempt hair on an old man and hence the name old man cactus, and similar names.
The coat is a particularly striking silvery-white on the young cactus; as the plant ages, the stem begins to lose its covering. The hairs are modified spines and they make many a plant appear almost snow-white; they serve to protect the plant from frost and sun. However, the hairs are only the radial spines of the cactus; they conceal formidable sharp yellow central spines that belie the inoffensive appearance of the hairy covering.
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Can You Touch an Old Man Cactus?
No, they don’t have spines on the surface, but there are yellow spines underneath the hair. Also, these plants are generally not meant to be touched. But they are still a good choice for a home nursery if you like drought-resistant plants.
How Long Does It Take for an Old Man Cactus to Grow?
This is a slow-growing plant and takes about 10 to 20 years to bloom. When it does, you will see red or yellow flowers that come to life at night.