Cleistocactus is a genus of columnar cacti native to mountainous areas of Peru, Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina and can be found growing in large shrubby clumps mixed in with other vegetation or clamoring over boulders. The name comes from the Greek "kleistos", meaning "closed" because the flowers hardly open.
Some might say that Cliestocactus is a genus of quantity over quality. That is, many of the features of this genus are small, but profuse. The stems are typically only an inch (2.5 cm) or so in diameter, but branch readily at the base to form noticeable clumps. The spines in general are likewise small and flexible, but in most cases are very numerous even to the point of obscuring the stems. This trait is continued with the flowers. Many species have flowers that resemble little tubes of lipstick or firecrackers. Yet the stems may be full of these flowers with many buds in the making. In the right conditions a plant my have flowers open every day of the year.
Several species are extremely popular in cultivation and are among the most common of cactus in nurseries worldwide; the two most popular of all being Cleistocactus strausii and Cleistocactus winteri.
Growing Conditions and General Care
Choose a location that gets full sun and has well-draining soil. In hot climates, this plant will benefit from light shade during the afternoon. Water Cleistocactus during the spring and summer when the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil dries out. During the fall, reduce watering to every five weeks if the ground dries out. In winter, keep Cleistocactus dry or the moist ground combined with the cool temperatures and dormancy may cause the roots to rot. Fertilize Cleistocactus with a low-nitrogen fertilizer during the active growth period. A slow-release fertilizer applied in the spring will be sufficient for the whole year.
It is possible to propagate by cutting a small branch from a Cleistocactus and rooting it, but this inevitably leaves a disfiguring scar near the base of the main stem. If an offset is removed to be used in propagation, remember to let it dry for a week or so, letting the wound heal. Rooting usually occurs within 3-8 weeks. It is therefore best to raise Cleistocactus from seed. Be sure to get the seeds from a reputable source.
Watch for infestations mealy bugs and spider mite.
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