Plant Common Name
Cereus, Night-blooming Cactus
This is among the oldest botanical names used for cactus, which first appeared in 1754. It was used to group all newly discovered upright branching types with distinctive ribs. Beginning as a catch-all genus, it was later split into other genera or its species moved there as more information was obtained about these unique New World succulents. As a result, older references to these cacti are almost always incorrect. Today there are about 25 species in the genus
Cereus produce very strong protruding ribs with areoles present at widely spaced intervals on the narrow edges. Areoles may be woolly or without any fine textured fuzz, from which clusters of needle like spines rise. But it is the flowers that make this group so distinctive for their size and beauty. Abnormally arge white funnel shaped blossoms on some species open on long stems the length of a middle finger. They bloom after dark for bat and moth pollination, but often remain open through the early morning hours when they are visited by bees. Once pollinated flowers wither and very large fruit forms the size of an egg shaped baseball. These take on a coral red coloring when fully ripe and are a valuable indigenous food crop both in their homelands. Inside the fruit, very sweet white flesh is speckled with tiny black seeds that crunch much like sugar crystals.
The most common species, Cereus hildmannianus, produces a large branching tree cultivated for its delicious fruit. Formerly known as Cereus peruvianus, the Peruvian apple cactus is now Cereus repandus, which is not from Peru at all but believed to originate in western Caribbean and Venezuela. To the untrained eye, minute differences in these species many species nearly identical, with variations most distinguishable through flower and fruit. All ask for well-drained soil and are not picky about too much moisture as many other cactus groups. Very old specimens in California can become monstrous in size. These branching cacti tend to develop very thick limbs where conditions are mild and soils are rich. In very hot, dry low desert conditions the limbs are much thinner and extreme heat may result in sweeter fruit.