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Peruvian Apple Cactus and Its Night Blooming Flowers

Having lived in Arizona for over 30 years, Chuck and his wife enjoy the great outdoors of the American Southwest.

Saguaro Cactus in Bloom

Sonoran Desert Saguaro Cactus in Bloom

Sonoran Desert Saguaro Cactus in Bloom

A Night Blooming Cactus

Arriving at work shortly after sunrise on a recent spring morning my wife noticed a beautiful white flower on one of the cacti in the gardens on the grounds where she works.

Unlike many other species of cacti, such as the majestic saguaro or the bush-like prickly pear, both of which produce flowers that bloom for days, this cactus only blooms just before dawn or just before sunset and the flower withers and dies within a few short hours.

The cactus is commonly referred to as a Peruvian Apple Cactus or simply Apple Cactus. It is also unofficially known as Cereus Peruvianus. However, Cereus Peruvianus does not appear to be a recognized separate species.

Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom

Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom

Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom

Instead, the Cereus Peruvianus name is frequently applied to the Cereus Hildmannianus and Cereus Repandus species of cacti.

The Cereus Hildmannianus and Cereus Repandus are both officially recognized species of cactus as well as being closely related to each other.

The fact that the Cereus Peruvianus name is unofficial has not stopped people from referring to a number of closely related cacti as Peruvian Apple Cactus.

Basically, Peruvian Apple Cactus is the name that has been commonly used to describea number of similar hybrid cacti that have resulted from cross breeding by gardeners as the cactus has made its way to gardens around the world from its origins in Brazil and Uruguay.

Cereus Peruvianus In Bloom

Peruvian Apple Cactus in Bloom in early morning

Peruvian Apple Cactus in Bloom in early morning

The Flowers of this Cactus are Spectacular

As you can see by the pictures, the flowers of the Peruvian Apple Cactus, despite their short life, are spectacular.

Flowering Peruvian Apple Cactus in a garden

Flowering Peruvian Apple Cactus in a garden

These beautiful flowers are one of the main reasons this type of cactus is prized by gardners world-wide.

While the Peruvian Apple Cactus in my wife’s pictures appears to be less than twelve inches high, the cactus itself can grow to heights of as much as ten meters (33 feet). This makes it a good plant for small gardens, in pots on a patio or large areas as a small tree or shrub.

The potentially large size when left to grow probably accounts for it being referred to as a Hedge Cactus and Giant Club Cactus in parts of northern South America and the Caribbean islands.

Reproduction Opportunities are Limited

Just as in the tale of the short lived Atlas Moth in a previous article on butterflies, one has to wonder how certain species can continue to survive and reproduce given their limited reproduction capabilities.

Peruvian Apple Cactus Blossem

Close-up view of Peruvian Apple Cactus blossem.

Close-up view of Peruvian Apple Cactus blossem.

In the case of the Atlas Moth his lifespan is a mere one to five days.

During daylight he rests leaving only the noctournal hours of his short life attempting to find a female to mate with before dying.

While the life of the Peruvian Apple Cactus lasts many years its reproduction opportunities are limited to the few short hours during early morning or early evening when it blooms.

The larger Peruvian Apple Cacti can produce multiple flowers with some blooming at different times.

However, for the single Peruvian Apple Cactus in the accompanying pictures the four hour life of that one flower was probably its only chance at reproduction this year.

Peruvian Apple is Similar to Dragon Fruit

Dragon Fruit on sale at South Kona Fruit Stand on Island of Hawaii

Dragon Fruit on sale at South Kona Fruit Stand on Island of Hawaii

Flesh and seeds of a Dragon Fruit

Flesh and seeds of a Dragon Fruit

Successful Pollination Produces a Tasty Fruit

When reproduction is successful, the cactus will produce an oval shaped fruit.

The fruit is about the size of a small apple with a skin color that varies from a violet red to orange or yellow.

The fruit can be safely picked from the cactus as there are no thornes or spines on the fruit to make harvesting painful.

The fruit is known by various names including pitaya in northern South America, Peruvian Apple or Cactus Apple in other areas and marketed in Europe as Koubo fruit by Israeli commercial growers.

Regardless of what it is called, the fruit and its small seeds are edible. Thehe longer the fruit is allowed to ripen the sweeter tasting it becomes.

When cut open the flesh is white with numerous tiny black seeds much like those found in dragon fruit which it is similar to and is often confused with the fruit of the Peruvian Apple Cactus.

Commercial Possibilities for Fruit of Peruvian Apple Cactus

Despite the short life of its flowers, there is no need to worry about the propagation of new Peruvian Apple Cactus plants as, not only are gardeners and commercial nurseries around the world cultivating it as a popular garden plant but its fruit is also being developed as a new cash crop for farmers.

Peruvian Apple Cactus Flower in Bloom

Early morning flower on Peruvian Apple Cactus

Early morning flower on Peruvian Apple Cactus

A 2002 article on the BBC News Site entitled Cactus Farmers Defy the Desert by online correspondent Alex Kirby describes how Israeli scientists, responding to increasing water shortages for irrigating desert land are turning to fruit bearing cacti as an alternative to traditional orchards that require large amounts of water.

Cactus plants like the Peruvian Apple Cactus not only thrive in the hot, dry desert conditions but also have potential as a commercial agricultural crop.

So far the Peruvian Apple Cactus has been a successful orchard crop in that the plant is capable of producing fruit all year round with hand pollination aiding honey bees in pollinating the short lived flowers.

Production has reached the point where the fruit of the Peruvian Apple Cactus has become an export crop being shipped to neighboring Europe where it is marketed as Koubo fruit.

Will Have to Wait to Taste the Fruit of the Peruvian Apple Cactus

When visiting Hawaii a couple of years ago we purchased some Dragon Fruit at a roadside fruit stand on the Island of Hawaii.

Dragon fruit is a close cousin to Peruvian Apple Cactus fruit or Pitaya as it is known in South America and looks and suposedly tastes similar to Dragon Fruit.

However, I haven't seen either Dragn Fruit or Peruvian Apple Cactus fruit on sale in any of the local grocery stores in Tucson where I live.

So, unless the cactus that sprouted the flower that my wife took pictures of produces a cactus apple that my wife is able to pick I will have to wait to taste a Peruvian Cactus Apple.

© 2012 Chuck Nugent


Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on October 07, 2020:

PaulC 1630 - I don't know what is causing this. The flowers may just be dying.

PaulC1630 on August 15, 2020:

The flowers on my Apple Cereus Cactus are limp and turning black. Just the flowers. The rest of the cactus looks fine. Is it ok? Should I cut the dead flowers off?

Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on February 05, 2013:

Pamela-anne - You're welcome!

While I have never heard of having a bat house in the back yard, it does sound like a good idea as bats consume a lot of insects. When I was researching my reply one of the things that I found was references to the large number of insects, especially mosquitoes which are plentiful at night, eaten by bats. One of the bats, I think it was the pallid bat, is supposed to be able to consume as many as 600 mosquitoes in a single evening.

Pamela-anne from Miller Lake on February 02, 2013:

Thanks so much Chuck for giving me the answer; I actually thought about building a bat house for my back yard. Which is basically an upside down birdhouse. I figured they could help keep the mosquitoes under control. Hope you are having a wonderful weekend take care!

Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on February 01, 2013:

Pamela-anne - That is an interesting question that hadn't occurred to me when I was researching and writing the Hub. I did a little research on this just now and discovered that, as you surmised, the flowers of this cactus are pollinated by bats and also a type of moth known as a sphinx moth.

The information that I found stated that three types of bats most commonly pollinated these flowers. They were Mexican long tongued bats, pallid bats and greater long nosed bats. The greater long nosed and Mexican long tongued bats hover over the flower and extend their long tongue to suck the nectar from the plant while the shorter tongued pallid bat lands on the flower to get the nectar.

Sphinx moths are almost as large as hummingbirds, hover like hummingbirds and make a humming sound like hummingbirds. They also have a long tongue that they extend to suck nectar from the flower while hovering over the plant.

Of course, in the process of drinking the nectar each of these night creatures also unintentionally transfers pollen from one flower to another.

Pamela-anne from Miller Lake on January 30, 2013:

Loved your hub on the apple cactus I was wondering if it blooms at night to attract some type of bat that would feed on the nectar and pollinate the cactus at the same time. Would love to hear if you know if this is what happens keep the informative hubs coming! p.s. I myself just tried Dragon fruit for the first time about two weeks ago. I'm trying to expand my taste in trying new foods.

Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on October 10, 2012:

frogyfish - glad you enjoyed this Hub. While I researched the flower and wrote the text for this Hub, my wife, Bella, is the one who both saw the Peruvian Apple Cactus flower and took the photos. I would like to see one of these flowers but, so far, all I have seen is the pictures my wife took.

frogyfish from Central United States of America on October 10, 2012:

Beautiful flower! It must be somewhat related to the Nightblooming cereus. I was given one of these and barely kept it alive for about five years, planted a Christmas cactus with it and forgot about it. When it started growing a giant leaf eventually produced a giant flower, maybe a bit related to your Peruvian Apple bloom but more delicate. It started opening about nine PM and I stayed up to watch and take pictures til just after midnight when it was in full bloom. It was faded at dawn, as is supposed to be. It was amazing...cactus flowers are so delicate and beautiful!

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on May 21, 2012:

What awesome pictures in your hub!

Johan Smulders from East London, South Africa on May 21, 2012:

Interresting article and makes one think about commercial possibilities.

sallieannluvslife from Eastern Shore on May 21, 2012:

What a beautiful and unique plant!