Peruvian Old Lady
Espostoa melanostele subsp. nana
es-POS-toh-uh ? NAN-uh
Synonyms of Espostoa melanostele: Binghamia melanostele (Vaupel) Britton & Rose, Cephalocereus melanostele Vaupel, Cereus melanostele (Vaupel) A.Berger, Echinopsis melanostele (Vaupel) Molinari, Espostoa haagei (Poselg. ex C.F.Först. & Rümpler) Borg, Espostoa melanostele f. inermis (Backeb.) Krainz, Pilocereus haagei Poselg. ex C.F.Först. & Rümpler, Pseudoespostoa melanostele (Vaupel) Backeb., Pseudoespostoa melanostele var. inermis Backeb.
Espostoa melanostele subsp. nana (F.Ritter) G.J.Charles is an accepted infraspecific name for this species. It was described as such by Graham Charles in Cactaceae Systematics Initiatives in 2002. It was first named and described as a separate species, Espostoa nana F.Ritter by Friedrich Ritter in Taxon in 1964.
The species, Espostoa melanostele (Vaupel) Borg, was named and described by John Borg in Cacti in 1937. It was first named Cephalocereus melanostele Vaupel and described by Friedrich Karl Johann Vaupel in Botanische Jahrbuecher fuer Systematik in 1913.
The species has yellow-brown wool while the subspecies is white to pale yellow.
I bought my Espostoa melanostele from Wal-Mart on February 1, 2016. I had gone there a few days before I bought this cactus and many others. They were soaking wet from being watered and STILL in the plastic sleeves from shipping AND the area was very cool! I mentioned this “situation” to an employee and he looked at me like, “huh?” He absolutely paid no attention and they were STILL in their sleeves, standing in water when I went back and bought several plants.
The Espostoa melanostele I brought home was in a 2 1/4” tall x 2 1/2” diameter pot (4 oz.). The plant measured approximately 2 3/4” tall x 1 3/4” wide. The label says:
“Espostoa melanostele is a columnar cactus with dense white hair and golden spines. In time, it will form a branched tree-like column to 7 feet in height. Native to mountainous Peru at elevations to 4,000 to 7,000 feet. Protect from frost and extreme heat.”
Zones: USDA Zones 9b-11 (25-40° F)
Size: 24-72” tall
Light: Full sun to part shade.
*Soil: Fast-draining cactus mix.
Water: Regular water during the growing period, sparse in winter.
*I recommend using a good potting soil amended 50/50 with pumice. Another simple recipe I used for many years is 2 parts potting soil with 1 part perlite and 1 part chicken grit.
When I brought my potted plants inside for the winter on October 17, 2017, and put them in the basement before moving them upstairs. I took their photos and measured them to check their progress. Some cactus grow so slow you have to measure them from time to time to see that they are growing. When I brought this cactus home on February 1 (2016) it was 2 3/4″ tall and this time it measured 5 3/8″ tall… It grew more than any of the others.
LLIFLE and other websites have a lot of useful information but here are the highlights:
Espostoa melanostele have white spines covered with white hair that gets thicker with age. The spines are supposed to also turn black with age.
They produce white flowers in late spring through early summer and edible fruit about the size of a grape.
Wikipedia says, “Horticultural collection and the fact that the plant is slow growing contribute to the fact that the plant is endangered.” Other sources say it is widespread in Peru and can grow up to 7” per year if properly fed and watered during the growing period. Ummm, that’s pretty darn good for a cactus! The IUCN Red List does not list them as a threatened species let alone endangered.
They grow their best when acclimated to full sun. If you grow your Espostoa melanostele inside over the winter, you will need to gradually introduce it to more sun.
Espostoa melanostele offsets readily and needs a lot of space to grow… Hmmm. Wonder when this happens? They can branch out from the base when about 30-36” tall. Let me see… At 7” per year that means it will take at least 4 years before it “may” branch out. GEEZ! Mine only grew approximately 2 3/4″ in about 2 years.
It needs very porous soil that drains quickly. I had been using 2 parts potting soil with 1 part chicken grit and 1 part perlite for 10years. I read that pumice is better than perlite and grit, so I switched in late 2018. I mix 50/50 Miracle Grow or Schultz Potting soil with pumice and it works great. You can buy pumice from General Pumice online or purchase smaller quantities on Ebay.
Llifle says this cactus does better with a little more water than most cactus. Water thoroughly but allow the soil to dry between waterings.
They need bright light in the winter or they could etiolate. They should be in a cooler room over the winter so the plant will go dormant. Water very seldom, if at all, and do not fertilizer over the winter. I kind of screwed up on that one. I have it in bright light from a south window but usually, the room isn’t that cool most of the time… Well, at least it isn’t stretching for light.
The cactus are all doing well inside for the winter when the above photo was taken on January 18.
We made it through the winter now all the potted plants are back outside for the summer.
The Espostoa melanostele subs. nana is doing well this summer and has grown another 3/8″ to 6″ tall. I moved the cactus and succulents (and most of the potted plants) to the back and front porch) on July 4 (2018) because of a Japanese Beetle invasion.
I had to prepare to move the potted plants inside for the winter on October 10 because there was an “F” in the forecast. As usual, when I bring the plants inside, I measured the cactus and some of the succulents. The Espostoa melanostele subsp. nana was 6 1/4″ tall x 2 5/8″ wide. That is 7/8″ taller and 5/8″ wider than last year when it was measured on 10-17-17. When I bought this plant on February 1, 2016, it only measured 2 3/4″ tall x 1 3/4″ wide. So, it has grown quite a bit.
November 29 was a nice spring-like day, so I took the cactus to the back porch for a photo shoot. I was working on a post to show the difference between the cactus in my collection. Later on that evening when I was labeling the photos, I noticed I had forgotten to take a photo of the Espostoa melanostele so I had to do it in the dining room.
Under all that hair is a columnar cactus with numerous areoles with around 30 short radial spines each! While it may look soft to the touch, there are also many very thin central spines so you still need to handle with care. If you noticed in the first photo, the upper of this cactus was like a little tuft of hair when I first brought it home
When I read the areoles of the Espostoa melanostele subsp. nana had that many spines I had to go get it and see for myself. I looked at the lower part of the cactus where there wasn’t as much hair. WOW!
The cactus are back outside on the back porch for the summer.
The Espostoa melanostele subsp. nana made it through the summer just fine. On October 11 I had to move the plants inside because an “F” was in the forecast. As always, I took photos and measured the cactus before bringing them inside. The Espostoa melanostele subsp. nana measured 7 1/4″ tall x 2 3/8″ wide. That is an inch taller than last October and 1/4″ wider. That is very good considering it was 2 3/4” tall x 1 3/4” wide when I brought it home in February 2016.
I had to move the plants inside for the winter in 2020 on October 15 because an “F” was in the forecast. As always I photograph and measure the cactus and succulents as I bring them inside. The Espostoa melanostele subsp. nana measured 9″ tall x 2 1/2″ wide at the time. It’s amazing how much this cactus has grown since I brought it home in January 2016.
The Peruvian Old Lady’s hair makes this cactus a very interesting companion.
I will continue adding more photos and information as time goes by.
I hope you found this age useful. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Please click on “Like” below if you have read this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can click on the links below for further information. Links will take you directly to the information about this plant. Some photographs show plants that have more hair than others…