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What is Pilosocereus?

B. Koch
B. Koch

Pilosocereus is a genus of columnar cacti native to arid areas of Mexico, the West Indies, and South America. They may be grown by gardeners outdoors in arid landscapes, or indoors if residing in a cold climate. Some species of Pilosocereus, such as the Pilosocereus fulvilanatus, are threatened by extinction in the wild.

The genus Pilosocereus includes about 50 different species of cacti. All Pilosocereus cacti are columnar shaped, meaning they grow into a tall, upright, cylinder shape resembling a column. Often times these plants will produce funnel shaped flowers that open at night and remain in bloom for less than 24 hours. The flowers are generally large, produce a strong scent, and may come in a variety of colors from blue, yellow and white.

The native range of Pilosocereus is wide. They originate in Mexico, the West Indies, and into South America, especially Brazil. Yet these plants have been cultivated elsewhere, especially in arid regions of the United States.

Pilosocereus is a genus of columnar cacti native to arid areas of Mexico, the West Indies, and South America.
Pilosocereus is a genus of columnar cacti native to arid areas of Mexico, the West Indies, and South America.

For these plants to survive, they must be kept in a warm, arid environment. They can only be cultivated outside if in a desert environment where frost rarely occurs. Pilosocereus cacti need to be protected from even the mildest frosts. Some gardeners recommend that if frost is expected, paper or plastic drinking cups can be placed on the tops of the stems of the cactus in hopes that the most fragile part of the plant may be protected. They can also be grown in pots that are either kept indoors all year round or left outside during the summer. It should be noted that if grown in pots, these plants may not reach their full height.

Since Pilosocereus cacti are desert plants they do not need a lot of water and overwatering may actually cause them harm. The area most Pilosocereus originate from experiences a dry season between November and May, and a wet season from May to October. Some gardeners suggest that because of this trend, these plants should be watered regularly in late spring and early fall, and watering should be much less during the rest of the year.

There are some species of Pilosocereus that are threatened. One example is the Pilosocereus fulvilanatus, which is native to arid areas of eastern Brazil. The native environment of this cactus has been largely destroyed through cultivation of farm land and also by conversion of land for charcoal production. The only Pilosocereus fulvilanatus still surviving in the wild reside in rocky areas inappropriate for use by humans. Although rare in the wild, this plant is often grown in nurseries, botanical gardens, and by private gardeners.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Pilosocereus and where can it be found?

Pilosocereus is a genus of cacti known for its striking blue-green columns and dense, woolly hair. These cacti are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, thriving in countries like Mexico, Brazil, and the Caribbean islands. They are often found in arid and semi-arid environments, where they contribute to the local ecosystem by providing shelter and food for wildlife.

How does Pilosocereus differ from other cacti?

Pilosocereus stands out from other cacti due to its distinctive blue hue and the presence of cephalium—a specialized area on mature plants where flowers and fruits emerge. Unlike many cacti that have widespread spines, Pilosocereus features tufts of bristles or wool, which can protect the plant from intense sunlight and help collect moisture from the air.

What are the growth habits and sizes of Pilosocereus cacti?

Pilosocereus cacti exhibit a columnar growth habit, often reaching impressive heights. Some species can grow up to 33 feet tall, although most are smaller in cultivation. They tend to grow slowly, which makes them suitable for container gardening. In the wild, these cacti can form dense stands, creating a unique and striking landscape feature.

Can Pilosocereus cacti flower, and if so, what do the flowers look like?

Yes, Pilosocereus cacti can produce flowers, typically blooming at night to take advantage of pollinators like bats and moths. The flowers are funnel-shaped, large, and often white or pink, exuding a strong, sweet fragrance. After pollination, they give way to edible fruits that are enjoyed by local wildlife and can be a food source for indigenous peoples.

What are the ideal growing conditions for Pilosocereus cacti?

Pilosocereus cacti prefer well-draining soil and plenty of sunlight. They are drought-tolerant and require minimal water, making them perfect for xeriscaping. These cacti can tolerate high temperatures but need protection from frost. In cultivation, they should be watered sparingly and provided with a cactus-specific fertilizer during the growing season for optimal health.

Are Pilosocereus cacti endangered, and what conservation efforts are in place?

Some species of Pilosocereus are considered endangered due to habitat loss and overcollection. Conservation efforts include habitat protection, regulated trade under CITES, and propagation in botanical gardens. By cultivating Pilosocereus responsibly and supporting conservation initiatives, enthusiasts can help ensure the survival of these unique and ecologically important plants.

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    • Pilosocereus is a genus of columnar cacti native to arid areas of Mexico, the West Indies, and South America.
      By: bogdanserban
      Pilosocereus is a genus of columnar cacti native to arid areas of Mexico, the West Indies, and South America.