Family: Cactaceae
Habitat: South America, especially Brazil
Cultivation: Coleocephalocereus are not so easy to grow. Put them in a bright spot, preferably under direct light, choose a well-draining substrate and keep the temperature above 8-12ºC
Curiosity: Its name derives from Greek and literally means “sheathed head”, referring to the cephalium that develops at the apex as the plant grows up, or a downy spherical “head” from which large nocturnal flowers bloom. Another reference in the name is the term “cereus”, which indicates its typically columnar habit.


Coleocephalocereus are columnar cacti native to Brazil. The genus includes nine accepted species, many of which are endangered or widespread in rather restricted areas.

Coleocephalocereus show, in fact, a very peculiar habitat, being part of the so-called Caatinga, an ecoregion found only in Brazil. These odd name, “Caatinga”, comes from an ancient indigenous language called Tupi, and literally means “white wood”. During the dry season, in fact, the landscape look whitish due to the transformation of its vegetation: the majority of the plants loose their foliage and their trunks become whitish and dry. It is a xeric shrubland and thorn forest, in which the majority of the plants are small, thorny trees and cacti. The raining season lasts three months: this is the only period in which the vegetative growth occurs. Let’s go back to Coleocephalocereus: their preferred substrate to grow among this extremely severe habitat are crystalline rocky outcrops. The expansion of the agricultural activities is subtracting more and more habitat to Coleocephalocereus and many species are endangered.

Coleocephalocereus are mainly columnar cacti, up to 2-3 meters tall in their natural habitat and to 60-80 centimeters when grown in pot. They are slow-growing plants, like many other cacti, and, when still young, they take on usually a globose shape. When they grow old, instead, their shape turn become rather more cylindric.

Their stem is dark green and divided into 5 to 15 ribs, on which numerous spiny areoles develop. “Areole” is the botanical term to define the buds of cacti: they are like white buttons form which the spines sprout. Mature plants develop, at their top, a cephalium. The cephalium is an organ typical of some cacti. It looks like an other stem, often spherical but, in some species, more or less wrinckled and irregularly-shaped, sprouting at the top of the main one. In Coleocephalocereus, the cephalium is filled with hairs and spines, brown or black in colour. A peculiarity of Coleocephalocereus is that, unlike other cacti, they continue to grow in height even after having developed the cephalium. The latter, thus, as the plant ages, tends to become lateral.

Numerous flowers,7-10 centimeters long, white, red or pink, sprout from the cephalium during the Summer.

From the flowers, oval fruits, filled with numerous seeds, develop.


Here below are the 9 accepted species of Coleocephalocereus.

  • C. aureus
  • C. braunii
  • C. buxbaumianus
  • C. diersianus
  • C. estevesii
  • C. fluminensis
  • C. goebelianus
  • C. pluricostatus
  • C. purpureus

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Coleocephalocereus come from a very peculiar and unusual habitat, thus they aren’t the easiest cacti to grow. However, if you follow a few tips, you should manage to maintain them healthy and make them thrive.

  • Put them in a bright spot, if possible under direct light. Strong light make it bronzen and facilitates blooming.
  • Their dormancy period goes from October to April. During these period, they shouldn’t face cold temperatures: the minimum tolerated temperature is 8-12ºC.
  • They need a fair amount of water, so watering should be regular during the vegetative season and more rare and scarce during the dormancy period.
  • The best soil is a well draining one, for example formed by a mix of peat and pumice so that water does not stagnate.
  • They do not need frequent fertilization, it is sufficient to dilute the fertilizer with watering once a year.
  • Coleocephalocereus rarely needs to be repotted, as it has a slow growth rate.

The propagation is usually carried out by seeds. They should be sown in February-March in a sandy, porous soil, and be kept moist and at temperatures between 18 and 22ºC. It’s advisable to cover the seeds with some glass or plastic to help the substrate maintaining moist.

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