Have questions about caring for your Peruvian apple cactus? Check out my guide, which includes information on how much light it needs, if it’s cold hardy, if you can eat the fruit, how to get it to flower, and more.
How to care for the Peruvian apple cactus
Hi everyone! Today I am writing about a TOTAL splurge of a purchase I decided to treat myself to. A large Peruvian apple cactus! Even if you haven’t heard of a Peruvian apple cactus, you might recognize it by its looks.
The Peruvian apple cactus, aka cereus repandus (synonym: cereus peruvianus), is a class erect and columnar cactus native to South America. It can grow very large, and for that reason you might also hear it referred to as a giant club cactus or a hedge cactus.
How big does a Peruvian apple cactus get?
So how big does this cactus really get? Well, its greenish-blue stems can reach over 30 feet tall when grown unsupported in its natural habitat. Once it gets taller than that, it can fall over and needs support.
With support (like a scaffold), the Peruvian apple cactus can grow over 100 feet—as one has in India. As a potted houseplant in ideal care conditions, it can also grow to be many feet tall.
Does a Peruvian apple cactus need full sun?
Yes. For ideal growth and flowering, the Peruvian apple cactus needs plenty of bright light. It can withstand direct sun all day. But remember, if you’re acclimating to direct sun, do so slowly.
This is not likely to be an issue indoors. However, if you are moving your plant outdoors for the spring and summer, make sure to do so early in the season so it builds up tolerance to the light as it increases in intensity throughout the season.
This plant will not withstand medium or low light levels. It will grow slowly and may get a bit floppy, which is much like other taller cactuses. Avoid shade outdoors as well.
Want more sun lovers? Check out my Echeveria Care & Growing Echeveria Succulents Indoors post, my Burro’s Tail Care guide, and my Prickly Pear Cactus Care guide!
Can Peruvian apple cactus grow indoors?
Absolutely it can. And it often is. I’m planning to keep my Peruvian apple cactus indoors, likely year-round. That’s because we live in an area with all four seasons. You just need to make sure it gets enough light.
Not all homes will have an area where this cactus will thrive. If you have it indoors, put it right next to your sunniest window. Consider rotating it so that it doesn’t lean toward the light and grow unevenly.
How often should I water my Peruvian apple cactus?
Treat this plant like you would all other traditional succulents and cactus types: let the soil dry out completely before watering the plant again. You can even wait a bit after the soil dries out completely before watering it.
That’s because the plant is highly drought tolerant. It is accustomed to growing in an arid climbing where it can go extended periods of time without water. So it stores water away in its stems to use as reserves.
If you do not wait until the plant’s soil dries out before watering the plant again, it will kill the plant. You’ll likely notice that the stems become mushy and not nearly as erect—this is the plant dying slowly at the roots from too much water and lack of oxygen.
What is the best soil?
In addition to waiting until the soil dries out before watering this plant again, using an appropriate soil is an essential tool in your Peruvian apple cactus care toolkit. Use any succulent or cactus soil that you’d pick up at a local nursery.
You can also make your own succulent/cactus soil by starting with an already-light houseplant soil and adding in more chunky perlite and sand. I also have a post on making my own succulent soil at home.
Outdoors, the plant tolerates poor sandy soils. Don’t plant it in anything that is too heavy or clay-based. This will not encourage good drainage.
Are Peruvian apple cactus cold hardy?
Peruvian apple cactus plants are surprisingly somewhat cold hardy. Outdoors, it probably shouldn’t be grown year-round outside of U.S. growing zones 9, 10, and 11. However, it is hardy down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s not to say that it will do well in 20 degrees Fahrenheit…just that it can survive a few cold snaps. It will likely go dormant in lower temperatures.
Grow zone 9, the lowest grow zone, can experience temperature drops down to 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit. However, most zone 9 temperatures are higher—including lows. Average high temps are in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, which are ideal.
I’m in zone 7, which experiences lows down into the single digits regularly over the course of the winter. It can also experience negative temperatures. So I wouldn’t have a Peruvian apple cactus outdoors here from late November through late March/early April.
How fast does Peruvian apple cactus grow?
Peruvian apple cactus is considered a fast-growing plant. However, I suppose that depends on what you consider a fast grower to be. In ideal care conditions, this plant can grow up to a few feet per year. I call that fast!
I’m looking forward to seeing how quickly mine grows when it is basking in bright sun all day next summer. They slow their growth in the winter with the lower temperatures, shorter days, and less light.
If you need to prune the plant to control its size, you can trim parts off with a knife. Look for the start/end of a growth section. You’ll notice a knob or an area where the stem kind of tapers inward.
The plant will throw out branches as it grows. If you want to keep the erect column look, you can cut these off and propagate them.
Cactus cuttings in general are pretty easy to propagate. I have propagated prickly pear cactus pads many times, and it’s a similar process for propagating Peruvian apple cactus. First you need to take a stem cutting.
The best way to take this cutting is to look for an area I described in the previous section: a spot where the growth starts or stops. It can look like a knob or an area in the stem where it tapers in.
When you take this cutting, give it a few days to callus over. If you don’t let the cutting develop a cutting where you cut it off of the plant, it will be at high risk for rot when transplanting. Here is what it looks like when you don’t properly transplant a cutting:
Once the cutting’s cut end has callused over, you can pop the cutting right in some fresh succulent or cactus soil. Water it thoroughly and then water the plant again when the soil dries out completely.
After several weeks, the plant will begin to root and grow. I find cactus cuttings to be some of the easiest plants to propagate. And since this is such a fast grower, I’m looking forward to propagating mine one day!
How do I get my Peruvian apple cactus to bloom?
The Peruvian apple cactus produces gorgeous large cream-colored flowers that bloom only at night. You’ll notice buds forming; the flowers will begin opening at sundown, peak overnight, and begin dying off the next day. So they only last about one day.
To encourage your cereus to flower, you must give it plenty of direct light and have patience. Plants may take several years to mature before flowering—or they could throw out flowers the year you get the plant. It totally depends.
This is a lot like the night-blooming cereus plant—also a cereus that is sometimes referred to as a night-blooming cactus or orchid cactus. The flowers look extremely similar, too. Here’s one from my night-bloomer:
Can you eat Peruvian apple cactus fruit?
Outdoors, the flowers attract bats and moths, which assist with the pollination process. You won’t produce fruit without pollination. The flesh of the fruit is edible and contains seeds. It is an essential source of food for birds in its native habitat.
If you’re lucky enough to have your plant in conditions that allow it to fruit, you’ll quickly see why it gets the name “Peruvian apple cactus.” The fruits, known as pitaya, olala, or Peruvian apple, are rounded, thornless, and red to yellow.
Other facts about this nifty cactus
I read that, while this plant is largely grown as an ornamental and its fruit is a source of food for wild birds, it also has some local culinary importance. The Wayuu from the La Guajira Peninsula of Colombia and Venezuela use the inner wood of the plant in building construction—specifically wattle and daub construction.