Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Golden Torch Cereus

That's me, with the Golden Torch!
Every garden, even if it is just a few containers on a patio, needs a few fabulous selections simply to delight the gardener.  Golden Torch Cereus fills that bill!  The flowers are simply stunning:  from the furry chocolate colored buds which, as they swell, resemble some kind of freakish sci-fi fantasy; and then as they open to dramatic flowers with a faint scent of almond extract and honey.  The large blooms open over an afternoon, remain open all night and for most of the next day, and by the following afternoon they fade.  But the spent flowers with their unusual furry fruit retain some visual interest.  

Some flowering cactus bloom just once a year; but this, as yet unnamed, selection of Golden Torch Cereus (Echinopsis spachiana) produces occasional flushes of flowers throughout the summer.  They need full sun to bloom the best; however, they are not fond of reflected heat from buildings, driveways, and roads—so be very careful with their placement.  (Reflected heat will scorch their columns which is unsightly, but they still seem to grow and flower just fine.)  They will grow and bloom in containers—so planting yours in a container until you fine tune its placement is a good idea.

Furry fluffy flower bud!
Even when not in bloom the spires are fabulous, with their golden spines on the crown, which gradually fade to a silvery sheen as the cactus grows.  While most selections of Golden Torch are not deemed frost resistant, this selection withstood temperatures down to 10F this past winter. This includes those planted in the ground and one that overwintered in a container outdoors.  I have several mature plants, here in zone 8, so I am certain they will survive outdoors in zone 8 and higher.  We receive an average of 29 inches of rain a year, all in the cool season, and have very good drainage.  In wetter and colder areas containers might be the preferred planting option so they can be moved to an appropriate spot over the winter.  

Buds are nearly ready to open!
Before considering adding Golden Torch Cereus to your collection, you must consider the thorns.  These thorns are treacherous, they are persistent, they don’t seem to decompose, and they will go right through Crocks and flip-fops and give you a good hard jab.  But if you have got to have them, you have got to have them.  

If the thorns haven’t scared you away, I occasionally have auctions for cuttings of this plant on Listia.com.  Listia is an on-line bartering platform.  It's  free, it works on points (called credits) and you can earn these credits a number of ways (by listing your own auctions, or by taking surveys--for instance).  If you have any question, please feel free to leave them in comments section below.  Here is a link to join that fixes you up with some free credits:  https://www.listia.com/signup/1729366.  Once you are a member you can check my auctions here: http://www.listia.com/profile/1729366.  If I do not currently have an auction listed, please feel free to contact me (on Listia or here in comments) about your interest and I would be happy to put an auction up for you, if I currently have extra pieces. (I can also list on E-bay, if that works better for you.) 

Fabulous flowers last about 24 hours.
Eventually, I am also going to experiment with germinating seeds from the mature fruit (which is said to be edible).  If I am successful and if you are patient this might be another way to obtain these beautiful plants. Unfortunately, seed grown plants are always genetically diverse, and they may not retain the cold hardiness of their parent. If I get the seeds to grow and prosper, I will add a comment to this post so you will know!

I  offer Golden Torch Cereus as column sections, with or without terminal buds; or as small offshoots with terminal buds. Be prepared for some very nasty thorns when opening the box. (They can draw blood!) Heavy leather gloves are recommended!  Gently press your gloved fingers against the side of the cactus—and if you find the spines are penetrating your gloves, try using some pieces of block Styrofoam packing material to move your cactus around.  Before planting, any recently cut ends will need to be allowed to callus.  Simply leave your cutting in a shady cool spot away from moisture and let it rest for a week or two.   The spines can pick up debris, much like giant Velcro, and that debris is hard to remove—so choose your spot carefully.  Additionally you do not want anyone to accidentally touch, step on, or fall on the cactus—the spines are mean!    

Bland and mushy.
Once the cut end(s) look and feel dry, carefully look your cutting over, for roots and growth buds.  If you find any roots growing along the middle of the column, you can ignore them if you like, or you can plant it flat with that end down—with any growth buds pointed up.  If you are going to plant your cactus vertically, any roots should go down into your potting soil, any growth points should be at the top.  When working with column pieces without growing points or roots, the most callused end is the best to plant in the soil.  (These pieces will eventually develop buds, most often two, which will each form a new column.) Offsets also need their cut ends to callus before planting.  Once they are callused they can be balanced or propped on the soil, with the cut end nestled down into the potting medium and the growth tip pointing up.  
Attractive even when not in bloom!

A few words on soil; my soil outside is nasty.  It is a mix of heavy adobe clay well sprinkled with lots of rock and gravel, as well as layers of grey volcanic ash and red volcanic dust and cinders.  My container planted specimen is growing in shredded paper!  Now, I don’t recommend you try to duplicate either of these settings.  For containers, any lean well drained potting mix ought to do just fine. You can add some garden soil and sand to what you have on hand, or purchase a ready-made cactus blend.  Outdoors, probably anything you have will be just fine, as long as it never gets soggy.  

Rooted  and established column section.

Water your Golden Torch Cereus very sparingly.  My mature plants receive no supplemental water at all.  The column pieces I planted in the ground this summer also received no supplemental water at all, and they bloomed and have been growing!  I started a piece of column, which was cut on both ends, in a container last winter.  It has two well established young columns now, and as it is in a very hot spot along a south facing wall—I do give it some additional water, when the soil is dry.  I haven’t noticed any signs of rot.  However, it is scorching and I do need to move it until the weather cools off.

If you have any questions, comments, or tips—please feel free to leave them in comments!


Joseph Morabito said...

I really enjoyed your blog on the Golden Torch Cactus. I happened to get some by chance many years ago and only discovered their blooms three or four years ago. Before I think I had them in the shade so they never did anything.

I wrote a blog about this year's flowering and in it is a time lapse video (22 seconds) I made of one opening.


Harvest said...

Thanks for stopping by! Nice time lapse!

Nancy Ely said...

I just brought back one from Tucson (I live in the Bay Area) and I'm wondering how tall will it become and how much space should I leave around it?

Harvest said...

Hi Nancy,

I have seen them grow over five feet tall with support, and they very slowly spread, probably indefinitely, if you let them. They are not very strong, so a good wind can topple them. They will root toppled over and start new columns along their length, and what's left of the original column will also bud new growth. The also develop pups at and near their base, which you can carefully remove and pot up to give to friends or sell if you like. That way you can control how much it spreads. And for that matter, a strong knife can remove the top portions of any you deem are getting too tall. I would suggest cutting them back about a third or more further than the limit you are after, because they will bug and grow.

I suspect you will need to provide them with good drainage, as their most important need, and place them in an area that gets good air circulation. They are desert adapted, and most desert adapted plants have no defenses against mildews, molds, and various sorts of root rot.

Best of luck, I hope yours lives long and blooms often!

Nancy Ely said...

Thank you, that's very helpful. It's so beautiful -- I hope I will be successful growing it!

Harvest said...

You are so welcome! Take a photo when it gets going and you are happy with it, and post a link in comments so we can see it too! Meanwhile, watch out for the thorns. They are treacherous. This plant, all on its own, could be named 'The Beauty and the Beast!'