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How to Grow and Care for an Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)


Cephalocereus senilis, commonly known as Old Man Cactus, is one of the most popular and identifiable members of the Cactus family. It is native to Mexico in areas such as Guanajuato and Hidalgo located in the east. The fine white hairs cover the entire fleshy, columnar body and hide the sharp spines. Aside from its charm, the hair serves an important purpose. It protects against the harsh desert sun, which is common to this plant's native home.

Growing Conditions

This cactus can go outside in USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10. Native to Mexico, they need hot, dry climates and bright sunlight. The long hair is used by the plant to keep itself cool in its natural habitat. As an outdoor plant, they can get 45 feet tall but are generally slow growing as potted plants.

Old Man Cacti are mostly grown as houseplants and stay small and easily kept in a container for their entire lives. Indoor cactus growing requires a southern- or western-facing window and temperatures of at least 65˚F. (18˚C). For best growth, give it a winter hibernation period in an area where temperatures are below 65˚F (18˚C).


Old Man Cactus is easy to propagate from cuttings or seed. Seeds take a long time to grow into something recognizable as a cactus, but it is a cheap and fun project for children.

Cuttings need to lie out on the counter in a dry location for a couple of days to callus. Then insert the cut end with the dry, white callus into a soilless medium, such as sand or perlite. Keep the cutting in moderate, but not scalding, light where temperatures are at least 70˚F (21˚C) for best rooting. Don't water until the little cutting has rooted. Then treat your new Old Man Cactus houseplants as you would a mature specimen.

General Care

Use a cactus mix or blend of sand, perlite and topsoil for indoor cactus growing. Also, use an unglazed pot for growing Old Man Cactus. This will allow the pot to evaporate any excess moisture. Old Man Cactus houseplants like their soil on the dry side and overwatering is a common cause of rot and disease.

Allow the top couple of inches of soil dry out completely between waterings. In winter, reduce watering to once or twice during the season.

Fertilize with a cactus food in early spring and you might be rewarded with thick pink flowers. In the plant's natural habitat it grows a pinkish-red fruit, but this is rare in captive cultivation.

Old Man Cactus needs a sunny, warm location but has few other needs. You should watch it carefully for pests, however, which can hide in the hair. These include mealybugs, scale, and flying pests.



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