What Is The White Hair On Some Cacti Plants? Introducing The “Old Man” Cactus

Cephalocereus Senilis is commonly known as the Old Man cactus due to its long white hairs. Old Man cactus can be propagated from seeds or cuttings that should be rooted in fast-draining soil. The plant can grow both outdoors and indoors but it requires special care compared to other cactus species

Cacti plants have different appearances depending on their species and where they grow. For instance, a jungle cactus such as the holiday cactus plant has a different appearance from the Saguaro plant that thrives in arid areas.  However, one cacti species that stands out from the rest is the Cephalocereus senilis that is covered in white hair.

What is the white hair on some cacti plants?  The white-haired cactus plant is known as the “old man” cactus or Cephalocereus senilis. The most striking feature of this cactus is the shaggy coat of relatively long white hairs suggestive of unkempt hair on an old man. The coat is particularly noticeable in young plants. As the plant grows old, its stem begins to lose its covering, and some of the hairs start to fade away. Therefore, if your cactus plant is covered with white hairs, you could be cultivating the old man cactus plant.

In this post, we discuss everything you need to know about the old man cactus plant. Read on to find out where this beautiful grows, its optimum growing conditions, and how to take good care of it.

Why Cephalocereus Senilis Called The Old Man Cactus?

A matured old man cactus.
Due to white hairs all along the stems, Cephalocereus Senilis is commonly known as an Old Man Cactus.

Before we dive deep into other aspects of this plant, it is good to know why many people out there choose to call it the Old Man cactus.

One of the reasons why this plant is known as the Old Man cactus is obvious; the existence of long white hairs on the surface. After all, most of us associate white hair with old people. However, this is not the only reason why this plant attracted such a unique name.

Apart from the white hair, the plant is also incredibly long-lived. Typically, when grown in the wild, the Old Man cactus can live for as long as 200 years and grow to about 20 feet tall.

Cacti experts say that the primary reason why this plant can survive for such a long time is that its long, soft, and white hair protects it from both excessive heat and cold, which helps it to retain moisture for a relatively long period.

Although the relatively long hairs are quite soft, the plant still needs to be handled with a lot of care. The shaggy white hair covers sharp spines that can cause severe injuries when they penetrate your skin.

The species name of this plant (Senilis) is derived from Latin and loosely translates to “Old Man” in English.  The Old Man cactus is typically tall, thin, and its head and stem are covered with white hairs just like an old man.

Cephalocereus Senilis: A Brief Background

The Old Man cactus is a native of Mexico. It is one of the many species of cacti that grow in this country. The plant is also known as the Hoary Old Man cactus, and it thrives in semi-desert regions and rocky slopes at elevations of up to 5,900 feet above sea level.

The plant is a member of the family Cactaceae and the genus Cephalocereus. The Old Man cactus is closely related to other cacti species such as the Peruvian old man, Hedgehog cactus, and old man of Mexico. It blooms between April and May. The flowers are nocturnal and white or pale pink.

The Old Man cactus is one of the slowest-growing cacti. However, if you provide it with optimum growing conditions, it can grow up to 1 inch per year.

The plant can grow to a height of about 20 feet and a diameter of 2 feet. It typically takes between 50 and 60 years for the plant to reach its full potential size.

Growing an Old Man Cactus at Home

If you are looking for a beautiful houseplant with unique properties, then you should consider growing the Old Man cactus. Its unique appearance is quite reminiscent of an old man lightly cushioned by beautiful long wavy hair.

In this section, we cover some of the essential things you need to know about growing the Old Man cactus at home.

Cultivation

A pot with drainage hole.
Along with using suitable soil mix, you should select a pot with drainage holes for the soil to drain properly.

The Old Man cactus does well in fast-draining soil and full sun. If you prefer potting your plant, make sure you use a good potting mix, and the container should also have plenty of drainage holes to let out water pretty quickly.

You can purchase commercial soil or prepare your own potting mix by adding equal parts of pumice, perlite, or coarse sand to regular soil. If you are growing your plant outdoors, be sure to mix grit or sand with equal parts of native soil or compost to improve drainage.

The plant does well in slightly alkaline soil, so adding a handful of calcium to the soil at the planting time is an excellent way of keeping it happy.

When it comes to watering, make sure you water your Old Man cactus only when the potting mix is completely dry. During watering, soak the pot thoroughly and allow excess water to drain out as quickly as possible.

This plant requires very little fertilizer to thrive. Therefore, there is no need for overfeeding it because the results can be catastrophic. Always use a well-balanced water-soluble fertilizer once or twice a year to feed the plant.

Feeding should happen between April and October and make sure you dilute the fertilizer top its half strength.

Propagation

A top view of a soil, container and other gardening materials.
To propagate Old Man cactus, you should either use seeds or obtain fresh cuttings and root them in soil.

There are several ways of propagating Old Man cactus, but propagating from seed is the most effective way. In fact, some experts believe that it is the only way of propagating the plant. However, when kept indoors, these plants rarely produce any flowers or fruits, which make propagating from seed quite difficult.

Another way of propagating the plant is by removing and potting the small offsets that usually form at the base of the plant.

Be patient until the offsets are about two inches tall, and then break them off from the main plant. The good news is that pieces of any part of the Old Man cactus can easily grow into a new plant.

Once you take a cutting, let it cure for at least two days before rooting. This helps to prevent rotting.

Once the cutting form callus, carefully insert it into a mixture of half sand and half moist peat moss.  Position your container in a brightly light space, but make sure you are keeping your plant out of direct sunlight.

Keep in mind that it might sometime before you start noticing any significant growth. Just be patient and give your cuttings the best care possible.

Watering and Feeding

Water your Old Man cactus only when the potting mix is completely dry. During watering, soak the pot thoroughly and allow excess water to drain out as quickly as possible.

This plant requires very little fertilizer to thrive. Therefore, there is no need to overfeed it because the results can be catastrophic. Always use a well-balanced water-soluble fertilizer once or twice a year to feed the plant.

Feeding should happen between April and October, and make sure you dilute the fertilizer to its half strength.

Pests and Diseases

One of the good things about the Old Man cactus is that it is not susceptible to any serious pests or diseases. However, mealybugs and scale can be a problem, especially when the plant is not getting enough light.

If you notice any pests on your plant, the best course of action is to remove them by hand. You can also use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove them.

Make sure you check for any signs of rotting, such as yellowing or wilting of the plant. This usually happens when the plant is getting too much water. If you notice any of these signs, cut back on watering and ensure the pot has good drainage.

Old Man cactus requires extra care

Old man cactus on hand.
The Old Man cactus requires special care to grow healthy and stay alive for years.

Unlike other cacti plants, the Old Man plant requires a bit of special care if you want to keep it alive for many years.  But it doesn’t mean that the Cephalocereus Senilis is hard to grow at home. It only requires special attention to thrive.

Everything starts with the potting mix- therefore; make sure you follow our advice on a well-draining potting mix. In fact, the plant is an endangered species, and having one in your home can be a massive privilege.

During summertime, when the sun is so bright, don’t be afraid to take your plant out and let it enjoy the bright light. The Old Man cactus loves the bright light and heat. If you don’t want to move it out, position it in a window that receives plenty of sunlight and let it rest there throughout the summertime.

During winter, keep your plant indoors but strive to provide as much light as possible in a cool and dry setting.  Typically, the plant grows well in temperatures of between 50oF and 60oF. Also, make sure you reduce the watering frequency during winter.

Bonus care tip: Consider planting your Old Man cactus in terracotta or unglazed pots because they are good at absorbing moisture and keeping the potting mix relatively dry.

Once you have potted your plant, do not disturb it at all. Avoid changing spots now and then and only consider repotting once every three to five years.

Does the Old Man Cactus Grow Better Outdoors or Indoors?

This plant is native to Guanajuato and Hidalgo in Eastern Mexico. These areas are relatively dry most parts of the year.  Coming from such conditions means that the plant is a little bit picky and requires specific conditions to survive and thrive at home.

If you can provide the right conditions outdoors, your plant will grow massively large and flower impressively.  You will have every reason to smile because the Old Man cactus can be a stunning addition to your outdoor cactus garden.

Old Man cactus expose to sunlight.
Don’t be afraid to take it outdoors during summer because it loves bright light and heat.

However, if you feel like you cannot provide the plant with the right growing conditions outdoors, feel free to keep it indoors where you can easily control the environment.  But don’t be afraid to take it outdoors during summer because it loves bright light and heat.

After How Long Does the Old Man Cactus Flower?

Just like other cacti plants, the Old Man cactus will flower under the right conditions. But one thing you must keep in mind is that this is a slow-growing plant, and you might have to wait for a relatively long time before you start to see it bloom.

When everything is done right, it can take between 10 and 20 years for this cactus to start blooming. If you feel like you have waited for too long, be sure to consult a cactus expert in your area to help you out.

Sometimes, you might not be providing your plant with the right conditions to aid in its flowering.

How Many Years Does the Old Man Cactus Live?

The lifespan of this plant is relatively long. If you can provide it with the right growing conditions, your plant will live for decades and might even outlive you. That’s why we advise that you take good care of it and ensure it stays healthy all year round.

On average, an Old Man cactus growing outdoors can live up to 100 years. However, those kept indoors have a shorter lifespan of between 50 and 60 years.

But this is still a long time, and you can be sure your plant will provide you with plenty of enjoyment during its lifetime.

The Old Man Cactus Is an Incredible Cactus!

The Old Man cactus is a unique plant that can add joy and personality to your home. The plant is popular because of its long, white hair that makes it look like an old man or a fairy tale troll.

Over the past few years, a few people have shifted to calling it “The Bunny cactus or the White Persian Cat cactus.”

No matter how you call it, we can’t deny the fact that this is a personable cactus that you should consider adding to your collection!

Last update on 2022-10-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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