The botanical name (Cereus peruvianus) derives from the Latin word ‘cereus’, which means wax candle or wax torch, because of the layer of wax it has for protection.
Shapes and colours
The Peruvian apple cactus stands proudly upright with thick ribs and few branches. This cactus also has fabulous flowers but you hardly ever see them as they only open at night. It grows very quickly in the wild, sometimes as tall as 5m with a 25cm diameter! Indoors it won’t reach more than 1.5m. The blue, sea-green or white layer of wax ensures that the moisture in the cactus doesn’t evaporate, so it’s able to cope well without water for a while.
It doesn’t have any symbolism, but the Peruvian apple cactus does have a good story attached to it. Quite a lot of mystery surrounds the plant: because the flowers bloom at night, when the birds and bees are asleep, it was initially unclear how these flowers were pollinated. After spending many nights observing, biologists discovered that it’s bats that do the pollination.
The Peruvian apple cactus is also the only plant to produce fruit and flowers during the dry season, which means that it’s the only source of food at that time for iguanas, lizards and birds.
The Cerseus genus used to include column cacti, bushy forms and creeping and hanging species. This made it the largest genus of cacti. Following a reclassification of the plant species, 20 species of column cacti still come under this genus, but other species of column cacti have been moved to other genera. They still have ‘cereus’ after their name (for example Cadushi Cereus repandus Mill) and originate from northern Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay.