Cleistocactus (2008)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (January 2008)

There is a dirt road in Bolivia. From the road, life seems as peaceful as the nearby grazing cattle. There is a calm stillness to the air, although an ominous quiet seems to encircle the pasture like the dark, thorny underbrush. Suddenly, with one fatal bite, a hungry jaguar makes a kill. In the twilight, in the murky shadows, a ghostly white cleistocactus stands. It is the only silent witness to the deadly ambush.

The spine colors of Cleistocactus species can be extremely striking. Some are pure white; others are yellow or gold. Their flowers are slender, tubelike projections with openings so small, only a hovering hummingbird could enjoy their hidden nectars.

On the edge of a rainforest or on a dry, rocky hill, there seems to be a Cleistocactus species for every possible habitat. Cleistocacti are very robust and adaptable cacti. They are found in many countries throughout South America. Many species grow quite tall; others are petite, prostrate cacti that creep along the ground like bristle-covered vines.

One species, Cleistocactus strausii, is well known and a favorite of many cactus growers. It comes from southern Bolivia in the district of Tarija. It is a tall, thin green cactus covered with bright white bristlelike spines. With its deep red flowers, it is a true beauty of the wild.

C. strausii grows best when kept in full sunlight and in warm and airy conditions. Water this cactus generously in the growing season and occasionally in the cold winter months.