Stenocereus stellatus

Stenocereus stellatus dragon fruit tree

Stenocereus stellatus (also called Cereus stellatus, Lemaireocereus stellatus, Neolemaireocereus stellatus, Rathbunia stellata, pitaya, pitahaya, oconostle cactus, Baja organ pipe cactus) is a flowering plant in Oaxaca, Mexico, that belongs to the family Cactaceae. It can reach 2 to 4 m in height with stems of 7 to 10 cm in diameter of green plum color and gives pink or red flowers. The red fruit is edible.


Rathbunia stellata is a species of phanerogamous plant of the Cactaceae family. It is endemic to Mexico where it is found in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla and Morelos, common at altitudes from 500 to 2,000 meters. It was first described as Cereus stellatus in 1836 by Ludwig Georg Karl Pfeiffer. Vincenzo Riccobono placed the species in the genus Stenocereus in 1909.

Tribus: Echinocereeae
USDA hardiness:9-11
Growth:Slow growing
Range:Central America to southern N. America - southern Mexico
Habitats:The species inhabits tropical deciduous forest and xerophyllous scrub
Edible parts:Flowers, fruit, seeds, stem
Cultivation status: Cultivated, wild
Edibility rating:3 out of 5
Other uses:2 out of 5
Weed potential:No

This cacti grows arboreal or shrubby with shoots branching from the base and reaches growth heights of 2 to 4 meters. A short trunk is formed. The dark green to bluish green, upright shoots have diameters of 7 to 10 centimeters.

There are eight to twelve blunt, rounded ribs divided into humps, up to 2 centimeters high. The usually three gray central spines are 2 to 6 centimeters long. One of them is directed downward, the others upward. The seven to nine radial spines are gray and have a darker tip, they are shorter than the central spines.

The tubular to narrowly bell-shaped, light pink flowers appear near the shoot tip and open at night. They are 4.5 to 9 inches long. This plant is cultivated for its edible fruits. The spherical, green or red fruits reach 5 to 6 centimeters in diameter. The flesh is white or red.

Michael Gorelov
Michael Gorelov
The species lives in tropical forests. The average annual temperature is 17 to 24°C, and the amount of rain falls between 300 and 800 mm. The soil is made up of limestone, sandstone, volcanic rocks, or alluvial deposits.

In the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the species is listed as Least Concern (LC), i.e., not endangered.


Night-blooming, tubular to narrowly campanulate, at or near the top of the plant, white or pale rose, with reddish sepals, 4.5–6 cm long and 3–4 cm wide, tube barely flared, ovary with small scales covering bristly spines. Anthesis started around 8 at night, and flowers are fully open by 11 at night.

Pollen starts to come out an hour later, around midnight, but the stigmatic lobes won’t be fully open until between 2 and 3 a.m. Between 7 and 9 in the morning, flowers close up. At night, there is a lot of pollen and nectar, which attracts pollinators like bats, hawkmoths, and beetles.

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From June to September, flowers bloom, and in October, fruits show up.


Neolemaireocereus stellatus is grown for its sour fruit, called xoconochtli or Joconostle, which is very popular and liked by many people. The fruit is red, globular, and spiny. It is about 3 cm in diameter, and the spines fall off quickly.

The most important things about mature fruits are the color and flavor of the pulp, the amount of edible matter, the thickness of the skin, and whether or not it has spines.

Archaeological evidence found in caves in Tehuacan Valley shows that people have been using S. stellatus for more than 5,000 years. So, it looks like humans are using artificial selection to change this plant species.

Most growing takes place in home gardens, where desirable phenotypes are spread from plant to plant and new variations are added. Fruit from the genus Stenocereus sells well and has a lot of potential on the market for fresh fruit. But they can only be grown in certain areas because they go bad quickly.

Stenocereus stellatus dragon fruits

Interesting facts

  1. The plants can only handle a little bit of frost;
  2. Needs a sunny spot with soil that drains well;
  3. Prefer a pH between 6 and 7.5;
  4. Plants that are already grown are very resistant to drought;
  5. Fruit can be eaten raw or cooked;
  6. A taste that’s a little bit sour;
  7. People say that the jam made from the dragon fruit is the best of all the jams made from cactus in Mexico;
  8. It’s also used as a filling in pastries;
  9. The fruit can be dried, so it can be used later;
  10. The fruits are about 3 centimeters in diameter;
  11. The dragonfruit juice is used to make a drink called “colonche” that has alcohol in it;
  12. This cacti grows flowers as long as the daytime temperature is at least 21°C;
  13. Seeds and stems are sometimes eaten. The flower buds are cooked with onions and vinegar after being parboiled.


Stenocereus stellatus is a shrubby, evergreen, succulent cactus with branches that usually grow from the base. The stems can be as long as 4 meters and as wide as 9 cm. In Mexico, the plant is used to make living fences.

Fruits that can be eaten are picked from wild and cultivated hedges and sold in local markets.


How tall will a cactus typically grow?
A Stenocereus stellatus typically grows to be about 6-10 feet tall.
How can I grow Cereus stellatus?
To grow this tree, you will need a well-draining cactus mix and a bright, sunny spot. Water the plant deeply, but allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. In the winter, reduce watering even further.
What does this cactus look like?
It has long, thin stems with small spines and white flowers. The flowers only bloom at night.
Anna Gorelova
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