Totem Pole

(Pachycereus schotti var. ‘monstrosus’)

A Totem Pole Cactus in the specimen beds at Sunnylands Center and Gardens.

Totem Pole is in the specimen beds between the café and the solar field. This columnar cactus is hard to miss with its protruding branches that resemble large bumps along its column. It is a slow growing, small cactus, with smooth spineless skin. It will grow branching stems low to the ground. Most visitors to Sunnylands are familiar with columnar and barrel cactus highlighted in old western movies, but have less exposure to the more unusual varieties. This unique specimen is a delightful departure from standard garden cactus and often is a point of conversation on garden walks.

Totem Pole is a night bloomer. The genus Pachycereus is Greek and Latin for “thick,” “candle,” “wax,” and “torch,” likely referencing their night-blooming nature. Many white-flowering desert plants provide nectar to migrating bats or moths, and so they bloom open at night and then close by the following midday. The flowers will be followed by the formation of sweet red fruit, with seeds called pitaya.

Its origins are in South America, including Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.

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