This distinctive night-blooming cactus grows in a columnar, tree-like form to twenty feet tall or more, producing multiple stems that form clumps. Mature plants will reach twelve to fifteen feet wide with many branches. It produces erect, olive green stems with distinctive ribs. This cactus has closely spaced spines that are long and black, turning gray with age. It blooms only at night, producing three-inch, funnel-shaped flowers that are pinkish-red with a whitish edge. The flowers open after sunset and close during the day. After flowering, the plant develops large, round, edible fruit that eventually loses its spines as it ripens. The seeds are dark brown and covered in a sweet, bright red pulp. Historically, the fruits have been harvested for food and the stems of this plant have been used for various medicinal purposes. The ribs were also used for construction materials by local inhabitants. Use it as an accent in containers, a foundation plant, or with other cactus for its structural beauty. The species is protected under Arizona’s Native Plant Law, and grows in abundance in Organ Pipe National Monument near the Mexican border. It is also native to Baja California, Sonora, and Sinaloa, Mexico, growing in rocky soil, on hillsides and along desert plains at 3,000 feet in elevation.
The plant is hardy to twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit, and the tips of this cactus should be protected on cold nights. Covering them during periods of frost with a Styrofoam cup will help. Plant it in full sun with reflected heat and rich, well-draining soil. Give the plant plenty of room to grow. It needs minimal water to survive. Irrigate it once or twice during the hot, dry weather.