Cactus

15 fast growing cacti

Cactaceae plants are characterized, among other things, by having a rather slow growth rate. The conditions in which they live in habitat do not allow them to grow faster. And it is that when you can not have water throughout the year, in the end you have no choice but to replace the leaves with thorns, and try to save as much as possible of the precious liquid. Still, if you are looking for fast growing cacti, you will find them.

Rapid growth can refer to apical growth, growth in width and total growth (increase in biomass). In this list that we have prepared for you, we have included  the 15 cacti that have the fastest apical growth. In some we have also mentioned the increase in biomass, but it is more difficult to calculate.

Austrocylindropuntia

Its name literally means southern cylindrical opuntia, and within this genus is what is surely the fastest growing cactus, Austrocylindropuntia subulata. Its common name is Eva pins, and its stems can grow up to 1m in length in a single year. It does not get particularly high (it rarely exceeds 3m), but it gains width at an alarming speed. This means that it has to be planted far apart from other cacti if you want it to grow well and not cover them.

Pereskia aculeata

One of the fastest growing cacti, it can get as close to 1m/ yr on well established plants in a tropical climate. It is a climbing cactus with large leaves and very thin stems. More than a cactus it looks like a rose bush, which gives it its common name, cactus rose. If you are climbing a large tree, it can reach 10m in height.

Opuntia

Regardless of the climate, Opuntia are some of the fastest growing cacti, to the point that it is recommended to plant them in large pots, or directly in the ground. In addition, they also resist drought very well, even better than other cacti. Its speed is 2-80cm/ year. This great difference is due to the fact that their annual growth depends on the size of their cladodes (each of the segments that form the opuntias). The longest are made by Opuntia engelmanii var. linguiformis and some of the shorter Opuntia rufida var. minimum. It must also be borne in mind that their growth is not purely vertical, in fact, many years they do not even grow in height. Regarding biomass,Opuntia ficus-indica is probably the one that generates the most, since it is one of the ones that produces the most large cladodes each year.

There are many species of Opuntia, but without a doubt the ones that are easiest to find in nurseries and garden stores are:

  • Opuntia ficus-indica (Cladodios that can exceed 50cm)
  • Opuntia microdasys (Cladodios that rarely exceed 15cm)
  • Opuntia monacantha (Cladodios of about 20-30cm, but continuous juvenile growth, rarely exceeding 10cm per year)

Epiphyllum

Image – Wikimedia/ LEONARDO DASILVA

Epiphytic or climbing cacti, with long, flattened stems that appear to be leaves and huge flowers. Often called feathers of Santa Teresa or ladies of the night. They normally grow about 40cm/ year, but in optimal conditions they can grow stems up to 1m long. Now this growth appears from the base of the plant. The old stems do not grow that much, they do not usually put more than about 20cm per year. The maximum height depends on whether they have support or not, but it is around 2m, both climbing and hanging.

Hylocereus undatus

Image – Wikimedia/ Bùi Thụy Đào Nguyên

Another climbing cactus, whose fruit is the dragon fruit or pitahaya. In cultivation, when pruning for fruit production, it can shed branches that exceed 80cm in length in a single year. Under normal conditions, if it is climbing a tree or a wall, it will grow about 40cm/ year. Placed on a wall where it can grow freely, its maximum size will be around 4m in width and height. This growth is that of the adult plant. From seed it can take more than 7 years to reach one meter in height.

Cylindropuntia

These cylindrical opuntias, commonly known as chollas, are illegal in Spain. This is because they are considered an invasive species due to their rapid growth and their main method of reproduction. Their quills dig into the animals that touch them, taking the entire segment, which then falls elsewhere when they are removed. Regarding their growth, they usually have at least 40cm/ year, either in height or width. Some are made small trees and others are creeping plants, but the length of the segments is usually the same.

Trichocereus

Many times included within the genus Echinopsis, those with columnar growth are usually separated here. The most cultivated is Trichocereus pachanoi (San Pedro cactus), which can easily grow more than 30cm/ year. This species grows to about 6m tall, but since it has a large number of low branches, it takes up a lot of space. Because all its numerous branches grow that, it is surely one of the cacti that produces the most biomass per year.

Pachycereus pringlei

The giant Cardón is a columnar cactus that grows to 10-15m in height. Very similar to the saguaro but with a much faster growth rate. More or less, it grows at a rate of 20-30cm/ year, which is a lot for a cactus. If we add to that the enormous thickness of its stems, we obtain the cactus that produces the most biomass from a single branch. Older specimens produce many branches from the base, but their growth rate tends to slow.

Cereus peruvianus

The Cereus peruvianus (now called Cereus repandus ) is also a columnar cactus, but lower in height: it stays at 3-4 meters, 5 maximum. Due to its size it can be kept in a pot, but it is advisable to plant it in a wide so that in this way it can grow quickly, at about 10-15cm/ year. In soil its growth is much greater, between about 40 and 50cm per year. It is important to mention that it branches from the base, so in a few years it will take up a lot of space.

Schlumbergera truncata and Hatiora gaertneri

The Christmas and Easter cacti, respectively, named for the large blooms they make at those times. Like opuntias, they grow by segments, but in these cases they usually drop several segments, one after the other, each year. This means that although its segments are very short, about 3cm, they can grow about 10cm/ year. Of course, they do not grow upwards, but to the sides and eventually downwards.

Cleistocactus straussi

The Cleistocactus Straussi is a very unique plant: is covered with white hairs and spines long thin yellow-white color. It grows up to 2-3 meters in height, at a rate of 5-10cm/ year.

Echinopsis

The typical medium-sized cacti grown for their huge flowers. They do not tend to get very tall (they rarely exceed a meter in height). But they produce many suckers, forming a compact bush quite quickly. We can count on about 5-10cm/ year.

Rhypsalis

Rhipsalis messembryanthemoides

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