Peruvian Apple Cactus: A Quick Primer

The Peruvian apple cactus is a popular ornamental plant that creates an all-natural architecture for gardens and greenhouses alike. With just a little bit of care and attention, this plant can grow to impressive heights and add a unique element to your floor plan or landscape design. Many gardeners also grow this variety of cactus for its exotic flowers and edible fruits. Versatile and visually appealing, the Peruvian apple cactus is a low-maintenance centerpiece for the both the home and the garden.

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Fun Facts about the Peruvian Apple Cactus

With a name like the Peruvian apple cactus, you would probably expect this plant to originate from the forests of Peru. Strangely, though, Cereus peruvianus is actually native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. It grows in tall, thorny columns that can reach heights of up to twenty feet when grown outdoors, earning itself nicknames such as the “giant club cactus” and the “hedge cactus.”

Peruvian Apple Cactus

Photo by the El Cajon Yacht Club licensed under CC BY 2.0

As long as it has plenty of access to sunlight and water, this plant can grow just as well in an indoor setting as it can outdoors. When grown indoors, the Peruvian apple cactus often requires pruning, as it can outgrow the constraints of a small room when left unchecked. This plant grows quickly, at between two to four feet per year under optimal conditions.

The Peruvian apple cactus flowers in the summertime, and though its flowers are beautiful, they’re also short-lived. One night a year, the plant blooms with exotic sunburst flowers in shades of pink, yellow and bright white before closing at sunrise. If fertilized during this short window of opportunity, flowers develop into fruits around wintertime.

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Caring for Your Peruvian Apple Cactus

Caring for a Peruvian apple cactus isn’t difficult, and it can be a rewarding experience for gardeners of any skill level. There are a few key concepts to keep in mind when raising a healthy and happy apple cactus.

Potting and Propagation

If you want to grow your Peruvian apple cactus indoors, you’re in luck. This plant is known for growing well in a pot. As long as you provide it with the light, water, and nutrients that it needs, the cactus can thrive anywhere in your home. You should pot the plant in a fast draining medium to discourage the development of fungus or root rot. Many nurseries sell specialized cactus potting mixtures that offer an ideal environment for the root system of the Peruvian apple cactus.

When your cactus is young, it will need repotting each year in the spring. As the plant matures, though, you can start repotting just when you see that it has outgrown its old home. As your plant starts to get taller, you should transfer it to a heavy based pot, as mature Peruvian apple cacti can become top-heavy and are prone to toppling.

To grow a new cactus you can plant seeds from a fruit harvest, but successfully germinating a Peruvian apple cactus from seed can be difficult for even the most experienced horticulturalists. Many gardeners instead grow new cacti by propagating cuttings from old plants. Simply remove the stem top of a mature plant, allow the cutting a week or two to dry, then plant in peat based compost. The experts at Greenies Garden can show you how to propagate a Peruvian apple cactus cutting in detail.

Lighting and Climate

The Peruvian apple cactus grows best in full sunlight. Greenhouses, conservatories, and rooms with plenty of windows are ideal for plants grown indoors.

In addition to full sunlight, this cactus also prefers a relatively warm climate. In the spring and summertime, the Peruvian apple cactus grows best at temperatures between 60 and 75℉. During winter months, the plant slows its growth as temperatures cool. If you keep your cactus indoors, you should follow a seasonal growth schedule and keep your plant at between 50 and 55℉ through the winter.

Irrigation

As a native to dry, desert habitats, the Peruvian apple cactus is adapted to live with limited access to water. It stores excess water in its meaty stems to cope with the droughts it would commonly face if growing in the wild. You should water your plant as needed, but the cactus only requires irrigation every week or two. Through the fall and winter, you should reduce the amount of water that you give your plant as it slows its growth cycle.

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Producing Edible Cereus Fruits

This variety of cactus is not only grown for decorative purposes, but also for its delicious fruits, known as pitaya. One night a year, flowering plants can be fertilized in the wild by nocturnal animals such as bats, or hand fertilized for more consistent results. Our friends at noiseparty show how you can easily hand pollinate your Peruvian apple cactus.

Once you have pollinated your flowering cactus, you can expect to see fruit in the late fall to early winter. The fruits produced by the Peruvian apple cactus require very little water to grow, and they are prized amongst gardeners and chefs alike for their refreshing taste and health benefits.

Appearance

The fruits produced by the Peruvian apple cactus are round, soft and smooth, turning from a dark purple color when young to an orange-red color when ripe. Many fruits also split open to reveal their fleshy interior when ripe and ready to eat. The inner flesh is a snowy white that is flecked with seeds, strongly resembling the inside of a dragon fruit.

Taste

The flesh of the cereus fruit is crunchy yet juicy at the same time, melting in your mouth as you eat it. Some have compared the texture to that of shaved ice, with a subtly sweet flavor and fruity undertones. Typically, the skin is discarded and only the flesh is eaten.

Nutritional Value

Like many edible cactus fruits, the fruit produced by the Peruvian apple cactus is rich in natural sugars, vitamins, and minerals. The tasty white flesh contains high levels of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, along with Vitamin C, dietary fiber, and more. Eating cereus fruits can help to enhance immune functioning and improve digestion.

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