Photo: Flower of Selenicereus spinulosus, a climbing cactus from Texas.
Back in 1997 while we still lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico Susie (my wife) and I visited Goliad, Texas to see my mother and grandparents. On the return trip we took a leisurely route toward Del Rio, Texas before heading home. On the way we passed through Three Rivers, Texas where I’d spent most of my junior year in high school to see one of the houses I’d lived in. Across the street from that house was a large mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa) and growing over that tree was a climbing cactus I’d never seen before. We stopped and asked the owner if we could have a cutting. Having permission, we took a foot long piece of stem. Once back at home I placed the cutting in a pot in the greenhouse where it remained until 2000 when we started our move to Goliad, Texas.
Goliad has a climate similar to that of Three Rivers so I planted the cactus, which had several stems four to five feet long by that time, at the base of a tallow tree (Triadica sebifera) in our new yard. The cactus obviously liked its new environment and that first year grew 20 plus feet into the tree’s canopy. The cactus didn’t climb with tendrils or by twining. It climbed by wedging the growing tip and its spines into the furrows in the bark. Whenever a stem failed to catch it drooped and continued to grow in a dangling fashion as the photo below shows.
Once the stem began dangling new stems would start growing where the droop started, leading to a cascade of stems from that point. Some of these new stems would find purchase and climb further into the tree’s canopy while others dangled. It was on these dangling stems that flower buds grew, opening into spectacular pink blooms that lasted only a day.
Over the years I broke off pieces and placed them at the base of other trees so that today many of our trees are festooned with climbing cactus.
I always wondered what species this cactus was and looked through books and searched online. I’ve never taken botany so I am not proficient at plant identification and time after time failed to identify the cactus. I wasn’t even sure of the genus much less the species. Then a few days ago I stumbled up on http://cactiguide.com/. It seems to be a very comprehensive cactus information source so I decided to post on its Cacti Talk forum for help. The forum actually had an entire section named Cacti Identification. After registering and waiting for approval, which required a short essay on why I liked cacti, I finally posted photos of stems, flower, and fruit. After a few days, the consensus seems to be that it’s Selenicereus spinulosus. The identification is aided by the fact this species naturally occurs in Texas. So now I have a name after all these years of growing this cactus.
I plan to send some to our kids in Austin and friends in the Fort Worth area to see if it will survive winters harsher than ours. If it does I’ll try even colder climates such as Santa Fe where I failed to try it outside while living there. A son and nephew have houses and yards there so they’ll be good test sites.
See, I can grow more than fish…
Wowं it was a good write up. Loved every word. Climbing cactus are a wonderful niche of the plant hobby and very intriguing. I think of them as possible coverings for walls that grow too hot in summers and push up electricity bills, they benefit from cover. Thanks for sharing that fascinating experience.
Charles Clapsaddle says
Thank you. Those are all good ideas for using them.
Joyce Phillips says
Charles, I believe I have a climbing cactus. Friend brought from Corpus Christi to San Antonio Tx. Lookin for best place to plant it. Since the last part of the name is “cereus” it is probably kin to a “night blooming cereus” which is cacti like. I have a night blooming cereus (Many kinds) which the flowers look a lot like this flower. Night blooming cereus only bloom one time and only at night time. Lot of people have a late night party to watch them bloom. Thanks for article because I did not know what kind of cacti it was. Now I know. 😄
Charles Clapsaddle says
I plant mine at the base of a tree I want it to climb. Good luck with yours.
Jordan Clark says
We just moved into our home in Victoria, TX a week ago. I came across this article while researching what the strange plant is overtaking our huge oak tree in the front yard. Your pictures look exactly like what we have except we haven’t seen any flowers yet. The neighbors said it started in the tree about a year and a half ago. While we think it looks really cool, we are worried about it killing the tree. Will it harm our tree?
Charles Clapsaddle says
Jordan, Interesting. Can you send photos of it to me at email@example.com? If it is the same as our cactus, it is harmless unless it gets too heavy for your trees branches to hold its weight. What kind of tree is it growing on?