The arrival of spring sparks the transformation of cacti throughout the landscape as they burst forth in bloom. Cholla, prickly pear and even saguaro cacti show off their lovely flowers in mid to late spring. In addition to these somewhat common types of cactuses, there is another type with blooms that are nothing short of spectacular:
Trichocereus, as well as Echinopsis cacti, are prized for their large, brightly-colored flowers. Commonly referred to as “Torch Cactus,” many are somewhat unremarkable in appearance throughout most of the year until April, when flower buds begin to form.
Argentine giant (Echinopsis candicans) is the most popular type of torch cactus in low desert gardens of the metro Phoenix area, and its white blossoms are quite beautiful. There are, however, other types with red, orange, pink, and yellow flowers available.
Native to South America, most of these cactuses are somewhat small, averaging 1 to 2 feet tall, and often consist of a single stem. Over the years, they have been hybridized by cactus breeders, creating delightful color combinations from vibrant red to orange tinged with dark pink.
Torch cactuses do best in light filtered shade such as underneath a mesquite or palo verde tree. They can handle full, morning sun as long as they have some shade in the afternoon. While they can survive being watered monthly March through September, torch cactus may flower more often throughout the season in response to being irrigated lightly twice a month. Fertilize in March with a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote at one-half the recommended strength.
Like many types of cactus, torch cacti can be grown in containers, and do best when watered every 10 days spring through early fall. To keep javelina and rabbits from chewing on them, you can protect them with a “cage” made from chicken wire or by planting in an enclosed area such as a courtyard.
You can usually find these blooming beauties at nurseries that specialize in cactus.
For more information about torch cactus, check out this article from the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society.