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Cereus Peruvianus -The Least and Best Known Cactus



As the owner/creator of a website dedicated to the identification of Cacti, I run into lots of people who ask for my help identifying a particular cactus plant. Often times the mystery plant is not a cactus at all, such as an Agave or Euphorbia, but that's a subject worthy of its own article. This article is written to address a particular cactus plant that is simultaneously one of best known and least known species in the entire cactus family. It is Cereus peruvianus. This plant or rather the identification of it is the cause for a great deal of confusion. The source of this confusion is multi-faceted and this article will examine those reasons.

To start with, whenever you run into the name "Cereus", there's a good chance you are dealing with a plant that has not received much attention by those who scientifically study and classify cacti. Most experts agree that cereus is one of the least understood genera of the entire Cactus Family. It is also one of the oldest names in the family, described by Philip Miller in 17541 it dates back to 1625. From the beginning up until the 1920's, nearly every columnar cactus was given the name cereus. Today there are 34 species that are officially accepted to belong to the genus Cereus, but there are over 500 species or synonyms that were once classified under Cereus that are now either no longer accepted or have been reclassified as a separate genus.

The name Cereus peruvianus has been applied to both C. hildmannianus and C. repandus which are both recognized as legitimate species today. The trouble is, neither of them resemble the many plants that we see labeled as Cereus peruvianus. Therefore the logical conclusion would be that these plants are simply not properly identified and through due diligence, we should be able to find their true name. Yet what we find is that the best choice of names turns out to be Cereus peruvianus! Sound absurd? That's because it is.

It is my belief that these cacti are almost certainly a product of cultivation and do not exist in the wild. Because there are so very many people who like to grow plants, but couldn't care less about proper names or origins, tracing back to parent plants is no longer an option. That is short of comparing the plants DNA. However, the guys with the laboratories and know-how at their disposal to study the DNA have been studying unusual and uncommon species such as Aztekium or Eulychnia.

The plants we see carelessly tossed into the classification of Cereus peruvianus are all very easy to grow. They tolerate a wide variety of conditions, they can be propagated easily by seed and even more easily by cuttings. They are resistant (indeed impervious) to rot, disease, and infestations; they grow fast and they produce nice large white flowers without any coaxing. You will find these plants in cultivation across the globe. They are in just about every garden center that sells cacti and they are inexpensive. In warmer areas they can be planted in the ground where they obtain massive size over 20 feet high with many branching arms. These qualities make the problem worse as their popularity keeps them spreading around the globe. They show up in the collections of the novice or slightly interested cacti growers, who sometimes are inspired to search for a name for their cactus. What do they find? Cereus peruvianus! This brings us full-circle. Perhaps someday the right biology student will decide to do a thesis on the "Origins of Cereus" and we'll all get lucky. In the mean time you can probably get away with using the name Cereus peruvianus as everyone will have a good idea of exactly what plant you have based on that name. And if that is the purpose of a name, then Cereus peruvianus fits the bill.

Author: Daiv Freeman

Note: 1. Edward F. Anderson The Cactus Family, Timber Press, page 142.
Index of Articles
Introductory and Naming
     Wherefore Art Thou Cactaceae?
     How to Write a Scientific Name Correctly
     Cacti & Succulent Identification
     Cereus Peruvianus -The Least and Best Known Cactus
     More About Cereus Peruvianus

Cultivation and How-To
     The Sun Burned Cacti
     Grafting on Pereskiopsis
     Making Your Own Cactus Soil
     Growing NON-Hardy Cacti in Cold Climates
     Tools of the Trade
     Growing Cactus with Artificial Light
     Making a Hypertufa Planter
     Cactus Flowers - Fake or Real?
     How-To-NOT Build a Cactus Terrarium
     Raising Cactus From Seed
     Growing Cacti in Terracotta

Conservation
     Is Cultivation Conservation?
     Interview: Cactus Conservation in Paraguay with Alex Arzberger
     The Fate of the Minnesota Ball Cactus

Variety
     A Cactus Odyssey in Arizona
     Mangrove Cactus
     Have a Cup of Cactus
     Opuntia as an Invasive Species in Australia
     The Creating of "Springtime Succulence"
     Making Botanical Illustrations
     Adapt or Perish
     Chasing the Wild Epis
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