Planting A Totem Pole Cactus: Tips On The Care Of Totem Pole Cacti

totem pole cactus
Image by Frank Vincentz

By Bonnie L. Grant

The totem pole cactus is one of those marvels of nature you just have to see to believe. Some might say it has a façade only a mother could love, while others find the warts and bumps that festoon the plant a uniquely beautiful attribute. This slow-growing cactus is easy to grow as a houseplant or outdoors in United States Department of Agriculture zones 9 to 11. Some tips on how to grow totem pole cactus follow, including care of totem pole cacti and propagation.

Totem Pole Cactus Information

Gardeners lucky enough to live in USDA zones 9-11 can grow totem pole cacti to their impressive 10- to 12-foot-tall potential. This would take years, but the plants are not prey to any insect pests and the only real disease issue is root rot. Northern and temperate region gardeners will have to place the plant indoors or in a greenhouse for successful results.


This plant grows in an upright habit with long branches. The whole plant is covered in lumps and bumps, which resemble the wax of a melted taper candle. The folds and curves of the skin help the plant preserve moisture in its native region of Baja to Mexico. One of the more interesting bits of totem pole cactus information is that is does not have spines.

The plant comes from the species Pachycereus schottii, which has small wooly 4-inch spines. Totem pole cactus is a mutant of this form and is known as Pachycereus schottii monstrosus. It is smooth skinned except for the carbuncles and wrinkles.

How to Grow Totem Pole Cactus

The monstrous form of Pachycereus doesn’t flower or seed, so it must propagate vegetatively. This is a bonus for growers, since cuttings root and grow quickly, while cactus seed is slow to produce specimens of any note.

Take softwood or new cuttings with a good clean, sharp blade at an angle. Make sure you include at least one good areole, or the apical meristem, where new growth begins. Allow the cut end to callus or dry out for at least a week.

Plant the cut end into good cactus soil and do not water for several weeks when planting totem pole cactus cuttings. After a month follow general care of totem pole cacti.

Totem Pole Cactus Care

Use these tips when caring for your totem pole cactus:

  • Use a good cactus mix for planting totem pole cactus. It should have a high presence of grit, such as sand or small crushed rock.
  • Unglazed containers are best for houseplants, as they allow evaporation of excess water.
  • Place the plant in a brightly lit window but avoid one where searing noon sun can shine in and burn the plant.
  • Water deeply, but infrequently, and allow the soil to completely dry out before adding moisture.
  • Fertilize monthly with a good cacti food.
  • The plant can be brought outdoors in summer but must come back in before any cold temperatures threaten.

Care of totem pole cacti is trouble free as long as you don’t over water and protect the plant from cold.

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