Cereus (plant)

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Cereus peruvianus
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Cereeae
Genus: Cereus
Type species
Cereus hexagonus

Piptanthocereus (A.Berger) Riccob.
Subpilocereus Backeb.

Cereus (/ˈsɪəriəs/ "serious")[1] is a genus of cacti (family Cactaceae) including around 33 species of large columnar cacti from South America. The name is derived from Greek (κηρός) and Latin words meaning "wax", "torch" or "candle". Cereus was one of the first cactus genera to be described; the circumscription varies depending on the authority. The term "cereus" is also sometimes used for a ceroid cactus, any cactus with a very elongated body, including columnar growth cacti and epiphytic cacti.[2][3][4]


Cereus are shrubby or treelike, often attaining great heights (C. hexagonus, C. lamprospermus, C. trigonodendron up to 15 metres or 49 feet). Most stems are angled or distinctly ribbed, ribs 3–14 centimetres (1+145+12 inches) long, usually well developed and have large areoles, usually bearing spines. Cephalium is not present; C. mortensenii develops pseudocephalium. The flowers are large, funnelform, 9–30 cm (3+1211+34 in) long, usually white, sometimes pink, purple, rarely cream, yellow, greenish, and open at night. The fruits are globose to ovoid to oblong, 3–13 cm (1+14–5 in) long, fleshy, naked, usually red but sometimes yellow, pulp white, pink or red. The seeds are large, curved ovoid, glossy black.[5]


The name Cereus originates in a book by Tabernaemontanus published in 1625 and refers to the candle-like form of species C. hexagonus. It was described by Philip Miller in 1754, and included all known cacti with very elongated bodies.[6]

Flower of Cereus fernambucensis (syn. Cereus neotetragonus)

Ludwig Pfeiffer in 1838 distinguished Cephalocereus (type Cephalocereus senilis); the name is derived from the Greek κεφᾶλή (cephalē; 'head') thus headed cereus, referring to the hairy pseudocephalium.[7] Charles Lemaire described Pilocereus in 1839, now renamed as Pilosocereus. The name Pilocereus is derived from the Greek πῖλος (pilos), felted, hairy, thus hairy cereus, similar to the Latin pilosus, from which the name Pilosocereus was derived.[8] Echinocereus (type Echinocereus viridiflorus) was described in 1848 by George Engelmann; the name is derived from the Greek ἐχῖνος (echinos; 'hedgehog' or 'sea urchin').[9]

Nathaniel Lord Britton and Joseph Nelson Rose (1919–1923) as well as Alwin Berger (1929) continued to divide Cereus into many genera. The 33 or so species that remain in the Cereus group are largely plants that have not been moved out of the genus rather than plants that have been included because they fit the description of Cereus. This inclusion-by-lack-of-exclusion makes for a very messy and unsatisfactory grouping.[4]

The genus Mirabella has been included within Cereus as a subgenus, C. subg. Mirabella.[10]


As of December 2021, Plants of the World Online accepts the following species (with the exception of C. ayisyen):[11]

Image Scientific name Distribution
Cereus aethiops 1.jpg Cereus aethiops Haw. Argentina to Uruguay
Cereus ayisyen[12] syn. C. haitiensis, C. serrulifloris Haiti
Cereus bicolor Rizzini & A.Mattos W. Central Brazil
Cereus fernambucensis subsp. sericifer.jpg Cereus fernambucensis Lem. Brazil
Cereus comarapanus.jpg Cereus forbesii C.F.Först. Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay
Catatumbo-472.jpg Cereus fricii Backeb. Colombia, Venezuela
Cereus hexagonus en floración.jpg Cereus hexagonus (L.) Mill. Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela
Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus - Peruvian Torch Flowers.jpg Cereus hildmannianus K.Schum. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay
Cereus horrispinus Backeb. Colombia, Venezuela
Cereus insularis Hemsley.jpg Cereus insularis Hemsl. Brazil (Pernambuco)
Blüte der Cereus jamacaru.jpg Cereus jamacaru DC. Brazil
Cereus lamprospermus K.Schum. Bolivia, Paraguay
Cereus lanosus (F.Ritter) P.J.Braun in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brasil.jpg Cereus lanosus (F.Ritter) P.J.Braun Brazil, Paraguay
Cereus lepidotus Salm-Dyck Colombia, Trinidad-Tobago, Venezuela
Cereus mortensenii (Croizat) D.R.Hunt & N.P.Taylor Venezuela
Cereus pachyrrhizus K.Schum. Paraguay
Cereus kroenleinii.jpg Cereus phatnospermus K.Schum. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay
Cereus pierre-braunianus Esteves at type habitat NE Goias, Brasil.jpg Cereus pierre-braunianus Esteves Brazil (NE Goiás)
Cereus repandus en Paraguana.jpg Cereus repandus (L.) Mill. Aruba, Colombia, Venezuela, Venezuela
Cereus saddianus (Rizzini & A.Mattos) P.J.Braun Brazil
Cereus haageanus flower.jpg Cereus spegazzinii F.A.C.Weber Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay
Cereus Argentinensis.JPG Cereus stenogonus K.Schum. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay
Cereus trigonodendron K.Schum. ex Vaupel Bolivia, Brazil, Peru
Cereus vargasianus.jpg Cereus vargasianus Cárdenas Peru
Cereus yungasensis A.Fuentes & Quispe Bolivia


Species that have formerly been accepted include:

  • Cereus adelmarii, syn. of Cereus phatnospermus
  • Cereus albicaulis, syn. of Mirabella albicaulis
  • Cereus argentinensis, syn. of Cereus stenogonus
  • Cereus braunii, syn. of Cereus trigonodendron
  • Cereus cochabambensis, syn. of Cereus forbesii
  • Cereus comarapanus, syn. of Cereus forbesii
  • Cereus estevesii, syn. of Mirabella estevesii
  • Cereus hankeanus, syn. of Cereus forbesii
  • Cereus huilunchu, syn. of Cereus forbesii
  • Cereus kroenleinii, syn. of Cereus phatnospermus
  • Cereus mirabella, syn. of Mirabella minensis
  • Cereus roseiflorus, syn. of Cereus stenogonus
  • Cereus tacuaralensis, syn. of Cereus stenogonus


The range includes Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia; more rarely it can be found in Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela.[5]


The fruits and stems of C. repandus are edible,[13] as is the fruit of many species in the genus; some perhaps have a laxative effect.[14] The wood has been used in making furniture and for firewood, and sliced stems have been used as a soap substitute.[13] The stems can be broken open for its pulp, a source of water.[14] The plant is also cultivated as a living fence.[13]



  1. ^ "Cereus". The Chambers Dictionary (9th ed.). Chambers. 2003. ISBN 0-550-10105-5.
  2. ^ "cereus" – via The Free Dictionary.
  3. ^ "Definition of CEREUS". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  4. ^ a b "Cereus peruvianus On-line Guide to the positive identification of Members of the Cactus Family". cactiguide.com.
  5. ^ a b Anderson 2001, pp. 142–150
  6. ^ Anderson 2001, p. 142
  7. ^ Anderson 2001, p. 139
  8. ^ Anderson 2001, pp. 574–575
  9. ^ Anderson 2001, p. 230
  10. ^ "Mirabella F. Ritter". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2021-12-15.
  11. ^ "Cereus Mill". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2021-12-14.
  12. ^ Eggli, U. (2019). Repertorium Plantarum Succulentarum LXVIII (2017)
  13. ^ a b c Anderson 2001, pp. 59, 69–70
  14. ^ a b The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants. United States Department of the Army. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2009. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-60239-692-0. OCLC 277203364.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)


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