An Introduction To Pachycereus Pringlei

Family Cactaceae
GenusPachycereus
Other Names Mexican Giant Cactus, Elephant Cactus, Sahuaso, Cardón Gigante, Cardón, Senita
Sunlight Full sunlight
Temperature Hot
Growth SeasonSummer
Climate Hot climate. Not suitable for the cold wintry weather.
PropagationIt is propagated easily from cuttings and seeds.
AltitudeA maximum elevation of 700m in its natural environment
HeightMature plants can reach 10 to 20 meters
Width6 – 10 feet
Growth Rate Very slow
Water Minimum water use. 
OthersNon-Toxic. The fruit was used as food for the native Seri people. Able to grow on bare rock. The largest cactus ever recorded.

Pachycereus pringlei (Cardón Gigante) belongs to a group of eye-catching cacti, renowned & revered by cacti and succulent enthusiasts alike for their one-of-a-kind architecture and enormous size.

Other spectacular columnar cacti from this group include the Stenocereus thurberi (organ-pipe cactus), Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro cactus), and Lophocereus schottii (senita).

You can observe the exceptional characteristics of these particular cacti in the Pachyrereus pringlei – the tallest cactus (living) in the world!

Yes, you read that right; Pachyrereus pringlei is the tallest cactus known to man – capable of reaching an outstanding 20 meters in height, sporting a stout thick trunk with a diameter up to 1 meter.

Many succulent enthusiasts confuse the Pachycereus pringlei with the Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) cactus, which is understandable due to the similarities in its overall appearance. Look closer, however, and you will notice the elephant cactus (Pachyrereus pringlei) is heavier branched, more so towards the base of its stem, with fewer ribs on the branches and flower blossoms located lower along the stem.

DID YOU KNOW? 

The Pachycereus pringlei can grow (and quite frankly prosper) on bare rock – where no soil is available at all, thanks to a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that live on and within its root system.

Habitat And Origin

Native to northwestern regions of Mexico, The Pachycereus pringlei or elephant cactus prospers in its natural habitat of Baja California Sur, Mexico, Sonoran Desert of Sonora.

Pachyrereus pringlei thrives in the arid deserts of Baja California and can be found in abundance along the 55km wide coastal belt of Sonora. They are usually isolated even in their natural habitat – found on low hills or coarse slopes.

It has been noted that species of Pachyrereus Pringlei that grow along the coast and exposed areas, in general, tend to be smaller than some of their more imposing peers, which can be found hiding at the bottom of canyons. 

Certain Pachyrereus Pringlei are remarkably short and possess an almost trunkless form, which is a dramatic contrast to the usual tall peninsular forms that branch above ground.

Traditional Uses

Before, your Pachycereus Pringlei were harvested as a food source. They have a slight molasses flavor when eaten raw or are turned into a refreshing drink. The seeds can also be powdered and turned into flour. At the same time, the fruits can be candied.

As for the stems of your Pachycereus Pringlei, it was noted to have medicinal benefits. It contained alkaloids and was known to be a psychoactive plant in Mexico.

Features Of The Pachycereus Pringlei

Size, Height, and Weight

The average Pachyrereus pringlei reaches anywhere around 8 to 10 meters, but the Guinness Book of Records noted a particular Cardon Gigante in the Sonora Desert, clocking a staggering 19m in height.

Even the name sounds big – “Gigante”!

Other species of the Cardon Gigante have attained a spread of 5 meters and a 2-meter trunk diameter. Some branches may even grow so large as to rival the trunk in size.

As you can guess from its name, the elephant cactus is a heavy guy with fully grown species tipping the scale at 10 – 15 tons, or even more.

Pachyrereus pringlei likes to take its time; a slow grower, it can easily outlive both you and me with an average lifespan of 200+ years.

This is a one-of-a-kind succulent. Keep reading for more incredible features and learn how to grow your very own Cardon Gigante (Pachyrereus pringlei) at home. A cheerful addition to your succulent collection.

Flowers, Trunk, and Branches

The Pachycereus’ flowers begin as 1-inch-long yellow buds that pop out sporadically along the length of the ribbed branches. 

During spring (late March to early April), the yellow buds bloom, opening up into white, bell-shaped flowers from 5cm to 8cm. It’s interesting to note that each flower will bloom for a single night only, with a different bud blooming every day (or night) for the length of their blooming season.

After flowering, the Pachycereus pringlei produces a red fruit (edible fruit) at the apex of its branches.

The trunk is columnar in appearance and remains slender at the base for a couple of years until it grows its branches.

The Cardon may produce anywhere from 5 to 20 fluted branches as it matures. Each unit is vertically ribbed, giving it an accordion-like appearance. A mature branch can have 11 to 17 ribs. The branches take on a blue-green/dark green color, turning yellow-green with age.

Spines

Young or newly grown species of the Cardon will feature symmetrical clusters of spines.

These spines, however, are irreplaceable, and upon reaching maturity after a couple of decades, most branches will lack any remaining spines, having lost them over the years.

The Pachyrereus pringlei array of spines can be placed in two groups:

  • Radial spines
  • Central Spines

The central spines adopt a whitish-grey color that darkens significantly towards the tips, growing up to 3cm in length. Central spines are also more prevalent on the Pachycereus pringlei compared to their peers, radial spines.

At 2cm long, the radial spines are shorter than central spines, with a whitish to greyish-black color scheme.

Notes: The Cardon (Pachyrereus pringlei) and Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) cacti share quite a lot of similarities in their appearance, including being two of the largest cactus species in the Sonoran Desert. Because of their almost identical outward appearance, it’s common for beginners to confuse the two, but you can easily distinguish them with a bit of know-how.

The Pachyrereus pringlei’s branches are closer to the ground and are more prominent and stouter in general. Pachycereus’ branches protrude from the stem at highly sharp angles. Saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea) branches usually start from higher up, further from the ground, and each branch possesses more vertical ribs than its peer, the Cardon.

DID YOU KNOW?

Due to its large size, the Pachycereus pringlei often provides a home for various birds, including the hawk and the osprey. The birds, in turn, end up pollinating the cactus – a perfect example of the “circle of life” that is nature.

How To Grow And Care For Your Pachycereus Pringlei

Like many other plants with the rare ability to reach such immense proportions, Pachycereus cacti grow exceptionally slowly. We’re talking about hundreds of years slow.

This is good news for succulent enthusiasts as they require pretty much zero assistance on your end, as long as the environment suits them (arid, dry, and desert-like). The Cardon takes the term low-maintenance to a whole new level – able to grow untouched for literal decades.

If grown in containers, make sure you re-pot them as needed, ensuring their soil isn’t too moist and that they get enough sun. Other than that, the Pachyrereus pringlei is about as hands-off as it gets.

Light

Being a succulent/cactus that is native to sandy regions of Mexico, you can probably guess that Pachycereus pringlei loves sunlight. Grow it outdoors, and it will thrive in full sunlight.

If potted indoors, move it to a window sill or any similar location where it can get unfettered access to sunlight.

Temperature

The ideal temperature for your Pachycereus Pringlei is above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The minimum cold USDA hardiness zone is 9a 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Younger Pachycereus Pringlei is best grown under filtered sunlight. Once they start to mature, it is better to place them outdoors.

Water

If you’re a succulent enthusiast, you probably know by now that the one thing succulents do not like is excess water.

A common mistake with beginners is daily watering your succulent/cacti to the point of creating a mini-DIY-swamp.

Overwatering is a no-no, especially with the Cardon, native to arid, desert-like regions.

Water the younger plants occasionally in the early spring, winter, and fall. You can water regularly during the hotter summer season, but do not leave the plant soaking in stagnant water.

Soil

Now, this is where things get interesting.

Very few plants can survive and grow in the absence of soil. Yet the Pachycereus pringlei possesses the extraordinary ability to grow on nothing but rocks – bare, exposed rocks.

This rare ability occurs thanks to a particular bacteria that grows on the Pachycereus’ roots.

This bacterium dissolves the rock and, through a symbiotic relationship with the cactus root system, passes on the dissolved rock to the cactus in the form of nutrients. 

“We were working in the desert when we observed that many individual cacti grew in sheer rocks… They looked green and healthy in places where plants do not usually grow.”

Dr. Yoav Bashan – Northwestern Center for Biological Research in La Paz, Mexico.

However, just because the Cardon can grow on bare rock doesn’t mean you should plop your cactus on your driveway and call it quits.

 As succulent enthusiasts, we recommend a well-drained, pre-mixed batch of cactus or succulent soil, which you can get from your local gardening store.

If you’re a hands-on kind of individual, you can make your own DIY succulent soil mix from home, as detailed in this informative Succulent City article.

Learn how to DIY your planting soil at home: How To Make Your Succulent Soil At Home.

Fertilizer

Although feeding your plant is not required, you may feed your Pachycereus Pringlei once a month during its growing season only. Do not feed it during winter. Fertilizer helps to provide sufficient nutrients to your plant to ensure growth.

Repotting

If you decide to grow your Pachycereus Pringlei in containers, repotting might be beneficial as your plant matures. When your plant is getting more extensive than its original pot, repotting to a larger pot allows your plant to grow fully. You may re-pot your Pachycereus Pringlei by gently removing the plant from your original pot, cutting away dead leaves/ roots, and replanting using a well-draining soil mixture.

Pests And Diseases

Your plant may catch a fungal disease known as botrytis or even some pests like mealy bugs and mites.
To avoid these, check if your Pachycereus Pringlei is turning yellow or developing a distorted shape. To remove the tiny pests, you may flush them with water or use an insecticidal soap.

Propagation

The Pachycereus pringlei propagates quite easily via seeds or cuttings.

Snip off a branch and keep it upright in an empty container for a day or two -this will give the end time to callous and heal. It’s easier for the plant to form roots with dry ends.

Once the ends have healed, stick the cuttings in some moist soil and let nature do the rest. 😊

Final Words

All of these being said, we hope that you are now more familiar with this specific type of succulent, Pachycereus Pringlei. This unique and beautiful plant will surely catch the attention of many plant lovers. What’s also good about this plant is that with minimal plant care, it will indeed thrive. Through this article, we hope that you are now prepared to have your own Pachycereus Pringlei.

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