Well-known and beloved both in its native habitat and by cactus enthusiasts worldwide, the Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus is a magnificent, often towering, shrub cactus from central Mexico.
Known for both the berries it produces and the ease by which it can be propagated or grafted, this plant is a welcome addition to any indoor collection or outdoor garden.
The Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus produces large, bell-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink, or red. These flowers appear in spring and summer and are followed by small, round berries that ripen to a deep blue color. The berries are edible and have a sweet, tart flavor that is reminiscent of blueberries.
A truly phenomenal species of cactus for the plant lover that adores succulent plants inside or out! If you live in the desert or dry territories you might already have some of these popping up. A nice choice for drought friendly gardens as well.
Overview on Myrtillocactus geometrizans
Myrtillocactus geometrizans is also called the balcony cactus, due to its popularity as an ornamental plant in Mexico City. In its native habitat, Myrtillocactus geometrizans can grow to be over 20 feet tall, but it is usually much smaller when grown in pots or other containers. In the wild this cactus is easily recognizable by its long, arms coated in thick, rough spines.
It is also called the blueberry cactus, Blue Myrtle Cactus and our father cactus, as it is native central Mexico where it is a widespread and generally common cactus species.
Found at elevations of 1,000-2,000 meters above sea level, this cactus prefers the heat of tropical deciduous forests or the dry conditions of xerophilous scrub, but may sometimes grow in the arid grasslands of the Chihuahuan desert or other similar desert environments.
Readily harvested and utilized in local cuisine, mainly for its seasonal berries, this plant is well-known among horticulturalists for its striking size and the beautiful, candelabra-like formations of its branched arms.
This plant’s genus name is formed by the combination of the Greek word “myrtillus,” which means “small myrtle” and cactus, thus creating a name which generally means small myrtle cactus, a nod to the branching, shrub-like growth of this plant.
Additionally, the plant’s species name, “Geometrizans,” is a reference to the geometric markings on the plant; these markings are formed by the formal pattern of the ribs and spiny areolas, which grow at regular intervals on each limb of the plant.
While this species is extant in the wild, horticulturalists have produced a number of subspecies and cultivars of this plant that differ from the original.
These cultivated varieties include Myrtillocactus geometrizans f. cristatus variegatus, which sports yellow ribs that contrast with the blue-grey of the stem and which form fan-like architectural crests, as well as varieties christened f. cristatus, f. variegatus, and cv. Fukurokuryuzinboku.
Also known as the Dinosaur Back plant, the f. cristatus variety of this plant tends to fan out in clusters and features a waxy blue flesh, while the f. variegatus sports patches, stripes or sections that are distinctly yellow in color.
Easily the most famous of the variations, the cv. Fukurokuryuzinboku variety of this plant is often called the breast cactus or titty cactus due to the bulbous shape of the tubercled ribs, which generally resemble women’s breasts.
Myrtillocactus geometrizans Characteristics
This imposing species can grow up to 16 feet in height and may spread its fleshy arms 8-12 feet wide in its natives habitat; however, specimens grown indoors rarely reach more than 5 feet in height and may never develop the characteristic branches of this species.
This cactus tree begins life as a thick, sturdy trunk that expands into highly branched arms that are reminiscent of a candelabra in shape, hence the name blue flame or blue candle cactus.
Each stem of this plant’s densely-packed, close-growing arms can reach a thickness of 2-4 inches and sport 5-8 ribs on each stem that are approximately an inch in depth.
On each rib are found areoles which sport anywhere from 3-9 sharp spines that are approximately a quarter of an inch long. The blue-grey coloration of these plants, a coloration that may also be referred to as glaucous, is off-set in the spring by small, greenish-white flowers that emerge in March.
The Blue Myrtle Cactus flowers then progress to become edible berries that are dark red and oblong, and which resemble a blueberry or bilberry in tastes.
Myrtillocactus Geometrizans Care
The Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus is native to central Mexico where it grows in the wild in the state of Hidalgo. It is also found in the neighboring states of México, Tlaxcala, and Puebla. This region is known for its hot, arid climate and complex terrain, with the majestic Popocatepetl volcano looming in the distance.
As a terrestrial plant that grows naturally in a hot, arid environment, the Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus has evolved to be both resilient and adaptable. It is a hard to kill fast-growing plant that can tolerate extended periods of drought and can even survive being grazed by livestock.
This resilience makes the Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus an excellent choice for those who are new to cactus cultivation or live in an area with harsh conditions. It is also a popular plant for use in propagation and grafting due to its fast growth rate, and for these reasons it is commonly available both in hobbyist nurseries and online catalogs.
Despite its reputation as an easy-to-grow plant, the Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus does have a few potential pitfalls that should be avoided. For example, if it is exposed to excessive moisture or receives insufficient sunlight, it may develop fungal infections that can ultimately lead to its death.
In order to get the most out of your Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus, it is important to provide it with proper growing conditions and care at all times. This includes providing it with the right amount of sunlight and water, removing any dead branches or stems as soon as they appear, and following a regular fertilization schedule.
More susceptible to scorching when young, seedlings or small specimens of this plant should be grown in partial shade when grown outdoors. Once the plant has matured and grown larger, it can be replanted in areas with more direct sunlight if desired.
For indoor specimens, this plant should be placed in direct light during the months of growth, specifically spring and summer months, but moved to a slightly cooler area out of direct sun during dormant months of fall and winter.
Typical of the arid region that such species call home, this plant requires sparse watering, making it an ideal plant for people with limited time or those who simply want beauty that requires little care or maintenance.
During the spring, summer, and fall, the Blue Myrtle Cactus should be watered thoroughly and the soil should be allowed to dry completely before the next watering; during the colder winter months, limit watering to avoid cold, damp earth that can lead to root rot.
As a general rule of thumb, these plants should only be given enough water during their dormant period to keep their stems and branches from shriveling.
And as with other cacti, avoid pouring water directly on to the plant from overhead, watering instead at the root to avoid disrupting soil or allowing water to accumulate in the crevices of the plant.
As with most succulent and cactus species, this cactus requires well-drained soil to avoid fungal or other infections that can lead to root rot and plant death. If planting outdoors, avoid clay-heavy soils that retain water; instead, plant your cactus in sandy or loamy soil in a location that easily sheds water after heavy rains.
If no such area exists in your yard, consider adding gravel or sand to the bottom of your planting area before planting the cactus to promote drainage and keep the roots dry.
When potting this cactus for growing indoors, be sure to utilize a planter with adequate drainage holes and plant in soil specifically designed for cacti or succulents.
If such soil is unavailable in your area, consider lining the bottom of the planter or pot with gravel or rocks, and then covering with a mixture of potting soil, sand and small pebbles; such a mixture retains less water and aids in proper drainage. Most importantly, never allow your potted cactus to sit in standing water.
Location and Temperature Needs
Considered a semi-hardy plant, this cactus does best when planted outdoors in U.S. growing zones 9a to 11b. Because these plants can grown up to 16 feet high and may branch out to a width of 8-12 feet, they should be planted in areas where their growth will not be impeded or restricted by neighboring plants and their large roots have space to spread to prevent these top-heavy cacti from tipping or uprooting.
Not a cold-tolerant species, this plant cannot withstand temperatures of below 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but many experts suggest planting this cactus in areas where the nighttime temperature never drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal plant health.
Ideally, young specimens should be planted in areas of partial shade, as young plants can be damaged by direct sunlight; after some growth, larger plants can be replanted into direct sunlight.
Special Requirements for Myrtillocactus geometrizans
Easy to care for once established, this cactus needs very little special attention. However, it is very sensitive to root rot, so properly-draining soil and limited watering are essential to the overall health and happiness of this plant.
Additionally, this cactus is quite cold-sensitive, and should not be exposed to daytime or overnight temperatures less than 25 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in an area where cold temperatures are typical, consider growing the cactus in a planter indoors rather than in an outdoor yard or garden. Finally, this
Generally low-maintenance, this cactus should be fertilized monthly during spring and summer with a cactus- or succulent-specific fertilizer.
Do not fertilize during periods of low growth, including fall and winter, and be sure to follow all directions per the fertilizer packaging to prevent damage to plants from excessive use.
Additional Tips For Success with Myrtillocactus Geometrizans:
If you’re planting this cactus in the yard or garden, be sure to plant in an area of the yard that has adequate drainage to ensure that the roots of the plant are not consistently wet, a condition that can lead to root rot.
If no such area exists in your yard, be sure to line the hole you have dug with gravel or sand before filling in with dirt and planting your cactus. This should allow for proper drainage during wet periods.
If you’re planting this cactus in an indoor planter, be sure that the planter has adequate drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. Additionally, use only cactus- or succulent-specific soil to further promote proper drainage and combat fungal infections or root rot.
It is also essential to house your boobie cactus in a correctly sized planter; while this species may grow up to 16 feet tall in ideal conditions, when grown indoors, these cacti rarely exceed 5 foot in height.
If the container in which it is grown is too small, it may become root bound or be unable to absorb all the necessary nutrients from the small amount of dirt in which it is planted.
If the container in which it is grown is too large, the soil may be too loosely packed, allowing the top-heavy plant to tip over and uproot.
While little to no general pruning is required for this plant, some pruning may be required if one or more of the arms or offshoots that form the candelabra portion of the cactus become damaged.
To remove a damaged arm, simply sever it at the junction where the arm attaches to the main body or trunk of the cactus. A similar technique can be employed when propagating this species as well.
– Propagating the Myrtillocactus geometrizans
Often utilized as the rootstock for grafting various cacti varieties together, this plant is considered simple to propagate, even for many beginners. Specifically, the sturdy, fleshy stalk of this species is prized for its tendency to be fast-growing and relatively hardy when compared to other species.
To propagate this cactus, cut either an arm from the central stalk of an established plant or cut a section of the stalk itself and allow it to dry for a week or more to give the cutting time for a scab to form over the cut surface; this will prevent unwanted moisture from entering the plant.
Once dry, bury the scabbed end of the cutting in cactus soil. Most importantly, propagation of this plant should only occur during the summer months, as the cutting only root with heat.
Because this species is relatively fast-growing for a cactus, this plant may need to be repotted yearly or every other year. Plants should be repotted when their crowns have become so dense that they become top-heavy or prone to tipping, or when they appear to have otherwise outgrown their current pots.
Ideally, this plant should be repotted in the spring or summer, the growing season, rather than in the fall or winter, during its more dormant period; replanting during growing season can help insulate the plant from the shock of being replanted and prevent the root rot that can occur if replanted during the colder months.
Reasonably hardy and pest resistant, this species is most susceptible to fungal infection and root rot caused by poor drainage or overwatering. To keep these plants in the best health possible, ensure that they are planted in well-drained soil and water sparingly.
As with many other cacti, the flesh of this species is not toxic but can cause upset stomach or other gastrointestinal distress in animals that might consume it, so keep out of reach of curious pets.
The berries of this species are edible, and are often considered a delicious treat by people living in the plant’s native range. The most harmful attribute of this plant is its long, sharp spines; be sure to wear protective gloves when potting, propagating, or handling.
Q: Is this cactus the same plant as the Apple Cactus?
A: No. While both this species of cactus and the Peruvian apple cactus (Cereus Peruvianus) share many similarities, including thick, ribbed trunks, tall growth, and small, white flowers that bloom during spring and summer months, they are not the same species of cactus.
However, apple cacti are native to South America and are slightly more hardy, but more susceptible to diseases and pest species like scale and mealy bugs. Most importantly, the apple cactus lacks the bluish-grey hue and edible berries of this distinctive variety.
Q: Are the berries produced by this cactus safe to eat?
A: Yes! In this plant’s native range in Mexico, the berries produced by this cactus are considered a delicacy. They are eaten fresh and included in a variety of local recipes.
However, berries are only produced by plants that flower, and this species does not flower until after it reaches a height of 2 feet or more.
Q: Can this myrtle cactus be easily propagated?
A: Generally speaking, yes. This cactus is easily propagated and is utilized both commercially and by seasoned horticulturalists as rootstock to which other, less hardy or slower growing varieties of cactus are grafted.
To propagate this cactus, either obtain a cutting or pup, or cut your own by selecting the limb of an established cactus of this species and severing it from the parent plant where it attaches to the trunk. The
Q: Can this cactus be grown outdoors?
A: Sometimes, although it depends on the region in which you live. Specifically, this cactus is semi-hardy and can be grown outdoors in US growing zones 9a to 11b.
However, it cannot withstand temperatures of less than 25 degrees Fahrenheit and prefers areas where nighttime temperatures do not drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
If weather conditions in your area are not suited for growing this plant outdoors, it responds well to indoor environments, although it does not reach such an impressive size when grown indoors.
Q: Does this cactus produce flowers?
A: Yes! These cacti produce small, greenish-white flowers in March that then become the plant’s famous dark red, oblong berries.
However, these plants only flower once they reach a mature size, which is generally 2 feet or taller. Indoor plants may flower, but it is uncommon.
As with most cacti, this plant is an arid, warm-weather plant that thrives in temperatures over 50 degrees Fahrenheit and cannot tolerate cold. Easy to care for and widely used for various grafting applications, this plant requires little water or pruning and is generally disease and pest resistant, making it ideal for beginners and a favorite among gardeners.
The Myrtillocactus geometrizans cactus is a wonderful addition to any indoor or outdoor garden. With its beautiful green leaves and striking flowers, it is sure to be both admired and cherished for many years to come.