The totem pole cactus (Pachycereus Schottii Monstrosus) is native to Mexico where it thrives in dry, sunny conditions. This unique cactus grows from a short trunk that branches into many columnar stems.
The upright stems appear medium to light green lack spines, but that’s their only interesting feature. Each stem is covered with areoles which causes the skin to form small lumps that give the illusion of many faces giving it its name of totem pole cactus.
It grows to heights of 12 feet when grown outside and is hardy to USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. It can be grown as a houseplant and summered outside in cooler regions.
Light and Temperature Requirements
The totem pole cactus needs full sun for at least 6 to 8 hours a day, but does best when it is planted in all-day sun. Although it may survive with less light its health and growth will be inhibited.When growing the totem pole cactus inside, it is important to place it in the sunniest location in the home, preferably a southern or western window.
Some locations, such as northern climates, receive a limited amount of sunlight in the winter due to the angle of the sun and the short hours of daylight. If you live in an area with limited natural light in the winter, consider growing your totem pole cactus under a quality grow light.
These sun-loving cactus are drought-tolerant and require little supplemental watering when grown outside. During the summer, an established totem pole cactus can survive on watering every 10 to 14 days. Water it deeply to saturate the soil and then allow it to dry out before watering it again. Increase the frequency of watering during extremely hot, dry spells and reduce watering when the temperatures cool. During the winter totem pole cactus grown outside do not need watering unless your location receives less than an inch of rain a month.
Totem Pole Cactus grown as houseplants need watering about every 2 weeks. Water them thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry before watering them again. During the winter your totem pole cactus needs less frequent watering and may do well with watering it once a month.
Soil & Fertilizing
Like other cactus and succulents, this cactus needs specialized soil designed for cacti in order to thrive. This soil is loose and drains quickly whisking away excess moisture from the roots of the plant. There are many brands of cactus soil mix to choose from at your local nursery or home improvement center, but you don’t need to buy special soil. You can make your own cactus soil mix by combining 3 parts all-purpose potting soil, 2 parts builder’s sand and 1 part perlite.
When growing totem pole cactus outside in the soil, choose a location with sandy soil that drains easily.
Fertilize your totem pole cactus once a month from spring until fall with cactus fertilizer following the application rate on the container. Your cactus does not require fertilizer during the winter.
The totem pole cactus rarely produces flowers and when it does the seeds are usually not viable. It must be propagated via vegetative cuttings. In the wild, stems that break or fall off the main plant will root and grow into new plants wherever they land. But you can make selective cuttings to start new totem pole cactus. Here’s what you need to do.
- Take a cutting from the growing tip of one of the young columns, making sure the section has one or more areoles as this is where new growth sprouts.
- Place the cuttings in a dry place out of direct sunlight to dry out and form a callus over the cut end for 7 to 10 days.
- Position the cut end into a pot of cactus soil mix.
- Place the plant in a location that receives bright, indirect light.
- Do not water the new cutting. Let the new plant rest for about a week and then water it to moisten the soil.
- Water the new cutting once a week or whenever the soil feels dry to the touch.
- Gradually move the newly-rooted cutting to brighter light once the roots have formed in 2 to 4 weeks.
- Resume routine care of the plant.
The totem pole cactus is sure to be a conversation starter as guests take a double-take at what appears to be hundreds of tiny faces covering the spineless skin. They aren’t of course, but they can definitely appear that way. Add this plant to your collection to add character and style to you home or office.