If any group of plants can be “all the rage” these days, it’s succulents. They are usually easy to take care of and add just the right touch of green to your home or office. But some cacti like the Peruvian apple cactus (Cereus repandus) are best left outside—or are they? Is this cactus best left in the desert, or can you grow it in your house or garden? Learn everything you need to know about taking care of a Peruvian apple cactus in this article—including if its “apples” are good for you!
Brief History of Peruvian Apple Cactus
The Peruvian apple cactus (C. repandus) is a large, tall cactus. Despite being called the “Peruvian apple cactus,” this species of cactus is not native to Peru. It is native to the drier areas of Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina—not Peru. Like many cacti, the Peruvian apple cactus has spines. The fruit is edible and sometimes sold as pitaya in supermarkets. You may have seen “dragon fruit” called “pitaya” while looking for information on your Peruvian apple cactus. The term “pitaya” covers many different cactus fruits, including the dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) and your Peruvian apples. It is related to the prickly pear and dragon fruit.
It has gained popularity in Israel as a water-efficient cash crop. The cacti and their fruits are then exported to Europe and elsewhere. They are also grown in Southeast Asia, which is why you may see pitaya (and dragon fruit) at Asian markets. But you want to grow a Peruvian apple cactus of your own, right?
Taking Care of this Plant
Here are the basics of caring for your plant, including light, soil, temperature, and water requirements. We will include tips for both indoor and outdoor care. If you are not in USDA planting zones 9a–11b, do not try to plant it outside. It is also not recommended to start a new cactus from seeds.
Your planet prefers full sunlight. When planting outside, do not place this plant in shade. If planting indoors, place it near a sunny window. It can handle partial shade.
The soil around your Peruvian apple cactus must drain well to prevent overwatering. Its pH should be between 5 and 7—slightly acidic. Some garden centers carry special soil mixes just for cacti; they may be worth the investment if you live in a wetter area or wish to plant indoors instead. Regular potting soil is not recommended.
Cacti are usually desert plants, and your plant is no exception. Whether indoors or outdoors, water your plant sparingly—once a week, if not once every other week. Wait for the soil to dry out before watering again. Water heavily in spring and summer. Reduce the amount of water in fall and winter to simulate a seasonal cycle and slow your plant’s growth.
If you live in the right zone for planting it outside, your plant may be fine with only rain. Check the soil for moistness if you are concerned. If the blades are spongy instead of firm, your cactus needs more water.
Peruvian apple cacti generally like it hot and dry—keep things at 60–70 degrees Fahrenheit in spring and summer. When planting indoors, you can drop the temperature to 50 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate the cooler times of the year. Peruvian apple cacti are hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but if you have colder winters, you may have to winter your plant indoors.
Potting/Repotting Peruvian Apple Cactus
If you take care of your Peruvian apple cactus well, it will grow into something out of a Western movie. The Peruvian apple cactus can get up to 110 feet high! Even if your cactus never reaches that monstrous height, it will probably outgrow your pot. Roots poking out of the drainage holes are a sure sign that you need to re-pot your Peruvian apple cactus. Although this cactus grows tall when well-tended, it can be pruned to reduce its size. Then you can use the cuttings to make more cacti!
If you wish to re-pot your Peruvian apple cactus, do so when it is young. After that, re-pot as needed. This should not be a problem if you plant your succulent outside! Bear in mind, however, that it may get larger outdoors than indoors.
Flowers and Fruit
The flower opens only for a single night. Its large, white flower allows the cactus to be pollinated by bats. (In captivity, if you get blossoms, you must hand-pollinate them.) Because of its showy nighttime appearance, this flower is sometimes called “Queen of the Night.”
If you can plant it outside, you may be lucky enough to get flowers and fruit. Unfortunately, these flowers are rarely seen on indoor plants. If you get one, you are doing something right!
And, yes, you can eat the fruit of your plant if you are lucky enough to grow it! The fruits are red-pink with white, seed-filled flesh. Eat only the cool flesh inside; discard the skin. The fruit has been described as juicy, crunchy, and having the texture of shaved ice. Enjoy!
Please look up recipes on how to prepare your pitaya in creative ways. It is a healthy, nutrient-filled food that has increased in popularity, perhaps due to its popularity in Israel and Asia. Again, even though the seeds are easy to get, they are very difficult to grow.
Taking care of your Peruvian apple cactus can be a rewarding experience. Succulents like cacti are popular indoor plants, spines or not, due to how easy they are to take care of. They need good sunlight, minimal watering, and very little attention. If you do it right, you may even get flowers and fruit! But whether you plant your Peruvian apple cactus indoors or outdoors, you will have an impressive succulent that’s not your average office plant.
Elyssa Goins is an experienced house plant hobbyist who maintains over a hundred plants. She is a gardener, beekeeper, and a proud mother of four. She is a member of the American Horticultural Society, has a published study in the National Social Science Association, and loves to talk about her love of plants. For the past twenty years, she’s been all about growing and caring for various fruits, veggies, herbs, livestock, kids, and houseplants. Managing a big garden to feed four growing kids and raising dairy goats has taught her so much about being an excellent plant parent and now is her time to share with you.