If you see a Rose Cactus (Pereskia) while it is dormant in the winter, you'll have no trouble believing it's in the cactus family. Leaves drop off in cold weather, revealing the bare green stem armed with the same kind of spines you'll see in Rose Cactus' succulent desert relatives. In summer, when bright green 8-inch-(20 cm)-long leaves and pink, white, yellow or coral flowers cover the stems, it looks like a broadleaf shrub. The genus Pereskia is native to South and Central America and has about 24 species.
Most Pereskias have woody, upright growth, but some scramble in a vine-like manner, using hooked spines to support themselves. Spines emerge from wooly hairs where the leaf joins the stem. Flowers are followed by fleshy yellow or orange fruits that attract birds. Species of Rose Cactus vary in how tall they are and how vigorously they grow. The Wax Rose Cactus (Pereskia grandifolia), native to Brazil, has pink flowers and grows 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 m) tall. Another commonly grown species with fragrant white, pink or yellow flowers is sometimes called Lemon Vine (Pereskia aculeata). It has a clambering growth habit. Rose Cacti grow outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, where you can trellis them or keep them pruned back as a shorter shrubby plant. In USDA zones below 10, grow Rose Cactus as a container plant that you can move indoors in winter.
Relationship to Other Cacti
Rose Cactus is regarded as a primitive cactus that gives some idea of what the ancestors of succulent leafless cacti might look like. The stems and leaves store water to some degree, and spine patterns are similar. They possess most of the water-use adaptations that allow succulent leafless cacti to succeed. Rose Cactus has shallow root systems to allow quick water uptake, they slow water loss by closing their breathing holes called stomata and are capable of using crassulacean acid metabolism during hot, dry conditions. These adaptations allow their use in drought-tolerant and xeriscape gardens, giving the lush appearance of large green leaves even under tough conditions.
Use a rich, well-drained soil for Rose Cactus. The University of Oklahoma recommends a mix of 2 parts peat moss, 1 part loam and 2 parts sand or perlite. During warm months when plants are actively growing, keep the soil moist. Plants tolerate drier conditions but won't be as leafy. During winter dormancy, give enough water to keep the stem from wrinkling. Rose Cactus seems to need winter dormancy for flowering the next season. Plants grow in full sun or filtered shade. For overwintering indoors, provide plants with bright light. Prune plants to keep them to the desired size.
Grow Rose Cactus from seeds or from cuttings. Sow seeds in spring in a mix of half peat, half perlite, and keep the growing medium moist. Seeds germinate in 21 to 30 days. Take cuttings from young stems that have begun to harden. Don't let the cuttings dry, but put them immediately into sand or the mix used for seeds. Put the cuttings in bright light rather than direct sunlight to root. Rose Cactus is often used as rootstock for grafting slower-growing succulent cactus because of its vigorous growth.
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