Stenocereus thurberi dragon fruit

Stenocereus thurberi dragon fruit tree

Stenocereus thurberi dragon fruit (also called Organ pipe cactus, Cereus thurberi, Lemairocereus thurberi, Marshallocereus thurberi, Neolemaireocereus thurberi, Pilocereus thurberi, Rathbunia thurberi, Pachycereus thurberi, pitahaya, pitaya etc.) is big, dark green, multi-columned cactus comes from the Sonoran desert. In the Spring, it has small white flowers. Indigenous people still get food from the Pitaya fruit that grows on this cactus. The Organ Pipe looks beautiful in a pot or in a garden.


Organ pipe cactus is usually thought of as a desert plant that can be found in the National Monument with the same name (park called Organ Pipe national monument, which is about 25 miles north of the Canadian border). In fact, there are more of these plants in the coastal thornscrub of southern Sonora than anywhere else. The species can also be found in tropical deciduous forests, where the plants can grow very tall but aren’t very common because they have to compete with trees.

Its English common name comes from the fact that it looks like a pipe organ. Locals call it “sweet pitaya”, which is Spanish for “sweet cactus fruit”.

Most of the time, the plant grows on rocky hillsides up to 900 m (3,000 ft) high. It doesn’t like frost, so it doesn’t live in low desert areas, which can get frost more often. The plant grows slowly and does best in full sun and well-drained soil. But when it’s just a seedling, it needs shade and will grow best under a “nurse tree.” It will need this for a few years until it grows enough roots, which are mostly in the top 10 cm of soil.

This type of cactus has many thin vertical stems that grow from a single short trunk just above the ground. These stems are about 15 cm (6 in) thick and grow to a height of 5 m (16 ft), but it has been known to reach 7 to 8 m. (23 to 26 ft).

These stems rarely branch. Instead, they grow from the end of the last year’s growth every year. The full-grown plant can grow to be 3.5 m wide (12 ft). Each stem has 12 to 19 ribs that are 10 mm (38 in) high and have dark brown or black spines that turn gray as the plant gets older. To reach maturity, it takes 150 years. The older plants have white flowers that are 75 mm (3 in) long and have a purple or pink tint.

The flowers open at night, and bats that feed on nectar are the main pollinators. The bats also eat a lot of the fruit and are good at spreading the seeds. Birds of different kinds eat the fruit and spread the seeds. People also like the fruit. Most of the time, these grow in April, May, and June. It also makes fruit that is about the size of a tennis ball.

Fruit is round, 4–7.5 cm in diameter, edible, very spiny, olive-colored on the outside, and red on the inside. It is ready to eat in late summer. When the fruit is ready, the spines fall off and the red pulp shows. The seeds are between 1.8 and 2.5 mm long and dark brown to black.People have said that the fruit’s red flesh tastes better than watermelon, even though it has a spiny outside.

Organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) is a species of plant in the genus Stenocereus in the cactaceae family. The species epithet thurberi honors George Thurber (1821-1890), the first collector of the species. Trivial names include “Mehuelé”, “Órgano Marismeña”, “Organ Pipe Cactus”, and “Pitayo Dulce”.

The majority of this species range is in Mexico, especially in the states of Sonora, southern Baja California, and northern Sinaloa. The first description as Cereus thurberi was made in 1854 by George Engelmann. Two subspecies are distinguished:

  1. Stenocereus thurberi subsp. thurberi;
  2. Stenocereus thurberi subsp. littoralis.

The type subspecies, thurberi, is much bigger and lives in southern Arizona, mainland Mexico, and northern Baja California. The other is littoralis, which is much smaller and usually only grows to about 3 m. (10 ft). It only lives in the southern part of Baja California.

Since the initial description, the species has been placed in a number of genera, resulting in numerous synonyms. Karl Theodor Rümpler placed it in the now unrecognized genus Pilocereus (Pilocereus thurberi) in 1885. Nathaniel Lord Britton and Joseph Nelson Rose assigned it to its genus Lemaireocereus (Lemaireocereus thurberi) in 1920.

Curt Backeberg established the genus Marshallocereus in 1951 and placed the species there as Marshallocereus thurberi. Paul V. Heath made the last attempt to date to classify the species in 1992 with the recombination Rathbunia thurberi. The species is currently recognized as a member of the genus Marshallocereus.

The currently accepted classification of the species in the genus Stenocereus was made by Franz Buxbaum in 1961. In the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the species is listed as Least Concern (LC), i.e., not endangered.

Growing and care tips

Stenocereus thurberi is easy to grow, but it isn’t very cold hardy. People often put cactuses in pots or gardens to make them look nice. They usually have thorny stems and small, delicate flowers. It grows well every year if it is fed and watered well during the warmest months, especially if it has been conditioned to grow in full sun. Most plants in the family Cactaceae can handle drought, need enough sun, and are easy to take care of.


Pitaya cactus grows best in soil that is rich in gravel, well-drained, and has a pH of 6-7. 60% vermiculite, 20% coco coir or peat moss, and 20% sandy soil is a common recipe for potting soil. You can also add a small amount of organic potting soil. To make the soil better at letting air through, lightweight media like vermiculite can be added. You can also add eggshell powder or worm compost to the soil to make it more fertile. Feed the plants in the summer with a fertilizer that is high in potassium.

Organpipe Cactus roots are very sensitive to a lack of oxygen. Root rot can happen if the soil doesn’t let enough air and water through. It’s easy to tell if a medium is permeable: when you water it, water should move quickly through it, not pool on the surface and slowly seep down. Every year, repot the plant and break up the soil to make sure it can get air.


These cacti grows in tropical, subtropical, and semi-desert places where it doesn’t rain much, there is a lot of sun, and it is hot. The best temperature range for growth is between 20 and 35 °C. If the temperature is below 10 °C or above 35 °C, growth slows and dormancy starts.

The humidity in the air shouldn’t be too high, and the room should have good air flow. Avoid places with a lot of water or humidity. Water regularly in the summer, but don’t water too much (rot can happen), and don’t water at all in the winter. Feed the plants in the summer with a fertilizer that is high in potassium.

When the plant is in a pot, water it slowly, wait for the water to flow out of the bottom, and then pour the extra water out of the tray so that water doesn’t build up. It grows best in the spring, summer, and fall. Water the soil once or twice a week to keep it moist. In the winter, you should water less.

Anna Gorelova
Anna Gorelova

Just make sure the soil doesn't dry out too much, which is usually once a week. Also, use rainwater or distilled water instead of water from the tap. There are a lot of calcium, magnesium, and other kinds of mineral salts in tap water. When used for a long time, soil tends to get packed down. When you water it, don't splash water on the stem so it doesn't rot.


Use liquid fertilizer once a month during the growing seasons (spring, summer, and fall) to feed the pitahaya cactus. In the winter, there is no need for fertilizer. When repotting in the spring or fall, a small amount of slow-release fertilizer can be well mixed into the soil.

Use nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are just starting to grow, and phosphate-potassium fertilizer before and after they bloom. The amount of fertilizer should be as low as it can be. Instead of using a high concentration, it would be better to use a low concentration several times. If the base is yellow and grows slowly, it may be because there is too much fertilizer. Stop fertilizing right away.

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Supposedly sensitive to frost, but less so if kept on the dry side before and during cold weather (hardy to -4° C for short periods). But the grower will have more success if it is warm all year (8–12°C during the rest season). During the winter months, put them in a cool, bright place and stop giving them water and fertilizer. This will help them go into winter dormancy because they will etiolate, or thin out, because there is less light.


The organpipe cactus is a heliophilic plant, which means it likes to grow and bloom in the sun. It can be put on a balcony or in the garden where there is no shade. But in the hot summer, it shouldn’t be left out in the sun for too long. Instead, it should be kept in the shade or cooled down a bit to protect it from the high temperatures.


To prune an Organ-pipe Cactus, you don’t have to do much. Take off any flowers or branches that have died so the plant can use the nutrients for healthy growth. Most of the fruits of an organpipe cactus can be eaten. When the fruit turns red, pick it. When you harvest, use gloves or tools like scissors and other tools.


The main ways to spread the plant are by seeding, dividing the plant, and grafting. To divide, cut off the stem’s tip or side branches with a knife and plant them in the ground. After a while, many small shoots will grow near where the tree was cut. When a shoot is big enough, it can be cut off and moved to a new spot to make a new plant.

To graft, choose a rootstock that will work. Cut off the tip of the rootstock, such as the stem of a Hylocereus undatus, place an organpipe cactus with its roots cut off in the middle of the rootstock, and tie it in place with a rope. After a week or two, the two pieces will grow together and the rope can be taken off.


Sow, plant, or move plants when the temperature is between 15 and 20 °C in the spring or fall. When seeding, keep the humidity of the air high. Cover the soil with plastic wrap, and then take it off when the seeds start to grow.

Use flowerpots made of porous clay to grow plants. Too big of a flowerpot makes it easy for water to collect, while too small of a flowerpot makes it hard for roots to grow. Before you plant, make sure the soil is in direct sunlight and clean it to kill any pathogens.

If you plant an organpipe cactus in your garden, it does best in a spot with full sun and loose soil. Remove all weeds and, if necessary, replace the soil to make sure water can get to the roots and to stop root rot. When you plant, wear gloves or use tongs to keep your fingers from getting stuck. You can also use a towel to help you move the plant.

 Stenocereus thurberi dragon fruit ripe photo

Seasonal safety measures

In the spring, summer, and fall, when plants grow the most, give them more water and fertilizer. In the summer, stay out of direct sunlight. When it’s too hot, spray water around the plant to cool it down, but don’t let any water stay on the stem. Don’t let water sit in the soil. Stop giving it fertilizer and water as little as possible or not at all in the winter.

Typical problems

Well, let’s look at the most common problems associated with growing this plant.

Why does its fleshy stem get thinner as it gets bigger?

Thin stems can be caused by not enough sunlight, not enough water, or not enough fertilizer. Move the pot to a brighter spot, but don’t let it get too much sun. More water and fertilizer will help.

How do I fix stem or root rot?

Root and stem rot are often caused by too much water. Don’t let water build up in the soil. Cut off any rotten roots or stems and move the plant to a new flowerpot in a place with good air flow. As much as possible, the soil should be loose and let air through.

Why doesn’t my dragon fruit cactus ever flower?

First, the plant might not be ready to bloom yet. From planting a seed to seeing it bloom can take anywhere from 2 to 20 years or even longer. The plant may also need more light, heat, or fertilizer. Dragonfruit cacti needs more sunlight and the right amount of fertilizer. You can add phosphorus and potassium to the fertilizer or buy special fertilizer to help it bloom.

Why does the organpipe cactus turn yellow?

Cactus turns yellow when it gets too much water, not enough sun, or pests. Organpipe Cactus doesn’t need much water, and too much water can make the roots lack oxygen and cause them to rot. It doesn’t usually need to be watered very often. You should only water it when the soil is totally dry. Don’t forget to let the water in the flowerpot tray drain out. Sunlight can be made brighter, but blazing sunlight should be avoided to keep from getting a sunburn.


Most of the time, anthracnose happens in places that are hot and damp. In the early stages of the disease, the stem has brown or water-stained spots that are hard to see. The part that is sick is sunk in, and small black spots in a spiral pattern show up on the healthy parts. Plants that are sick should be put in a separate area, their sick leaves should be cut off and burned, and the right pesticides should be used.

Stem rot

Lemairocereus thurberi often gets stem rot. Over time, the diseased part will become soft and rot. Later on, the stem tissues start to rot and lose water until only the dried skins and the core are left. There are two ways to stop stem rot:

  1. To clean the soil and make sure it is clean, loose, and able to let water through, put it in the sun or buy culture soil that has already been cleaned;
  2. Keep the plant base dry and avoid giving it too much water. If you see stem rot, cut off the diseased part right away and use sulfur powder or charcoal powder to clean the cut. Cut back on watering, repot the plant, and clean the soil. At the beginning, a mixture of 1:100 Bordeaux can be sprayed on the base of the plant once every 15 days for two or three times.

Nematode that eats roots

When root-knot nematodes attack a plant, the stem and leaves become dark on the outside, and the plant wilts, gets brown spots, and dies over time. Before planting, heat the soil and flowerpot to a high temperature to kill root-knot nematodes. Root-knot nematodes don’t like high temperatures and can be killed at 55 °C, so using high-temperature disinfected culture soil is a good way to get rid of them.

Virus disease

Organ pipe cactus can get different kinds of viruses, but mosaic leaves and local necrosis are the most common signs. On the stem, you can often see green spots and spots with rings around them. When it’s hot and dry, the plant is more likely to get a virus.

Another diseased plant is the main source of infection. So, once this disease is found, the sick plant should be put in a separate area or thrown away. Don’t forget to clean the tools you use to graft and care for plants.

Other pests or diseases

It might be attractive to a number of insects, but healthy plants shouldn’t have many pests, especially if they are grown in a mineral potting mix and have good air flow. But there are a few pests to watch out for:

  • Spider Mites: Your tree has spider mites if the leaves turn red and then yellow, there are 6 mm insects on the back of the leaves, and there are web-like structures on the leaves. Wash the backs of the leaves with water, and then spray them over and over with a mite pesticide. Make sure there is enough airflow so it doesn’t get too hot and dry;
  • Red spiders: A good way to get rid of red spiders is to water the plants from above;
  • Mealy bugs: The worst ones grow underground on the roots and can’t be seen except by the damage they do;
  • Scales: Scales almost never cause trouble;
  • Rot: If they get too much water, they can get fungal diseases, but they are not nearly as sensitive as many other cacti, especially when it is warm. If you keep them wet during cold times, they will always get sick. Rot is a small problem with cacti, but only if the plants are not watered and “aired” enough. Fungicides won’t help much if they are not;
  • Aphids: When aphids eat an Organpipe Cactus, it turns yellow or changes shape. At the soft parts, you can see small bugs. Get rid of them with water. If there are a lot of aphids, you can spray aphid killer.

A small number of bugs can be killed with alcohol. When there are a lot of bugs, spray pesticide.


In conclusion, the Stenocereus thurberi is a species of cactus that is native to Arizona and Sonora. It is a popular plant for ornamental purposes and can be found in many gardens.


Can you eat the fruit from an organ pipe cactus?
Organ Pipe cactus fruit can be eaten right away by cutting it into slices or peeling it and eating it as is. You can puree the flesh and use it in desserts like sorbet and popsicles.
How do you care for an organ pipe cactus?
Grow things in rocky soil. The organ pipe cactus grows best in dry, rocky, or sandy soil, so use a cactus mix or a mixture of peat moss, sand, and perlite.
During the growing season, don't water too much.
Watch out for pests and keep them away.
How tall do organ pipe cactus get?
This cactus can grow up to 23 feet tall and is the second-largest columnar cactus in the United States.
Michael Gorelov
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