The silver torch.

The “silver torch” cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) is a great choice for your desert landscape or patio, because it is an eye-catching accent plant and can easily be grown in pots.

The silver-white colored spines offer a contrasting color in most landscapes. Its slender, vertical columns can reach a height of 10 feet, even in pots, and are only about 2.5 inches across, which keeps the plant neat and tidy. The plant is also easy to grow and care for.

Don’t confuse this cactus with the “old man” cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) which has an unshorn coat. I have nothing against old men, but I prefer the neat comb of the silver torch rather than the unruly shags of the old man, which turn brown and lose their appeal with age.

A great feature for hummingbird lovers: Once the cactus reaches 18 inches in height, it will begin to produce tubular, deep red flowers from February into May. (See the pic to the right.)

Tips for growing the silver torch in your potted desert garden:

  • Place this plant where it gets partial shade or morning direct sun.
  • Don’t worry about the cold. Hardy to at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the cactus will survive even lower temperatures when sheltered by a tree or other overhang.
  • Plant in a mixture of loamy/sandy soil to provide good drainage.
  • Water regularly during the summer, and sparingly during the winter months.
  • Stake the cactus if it begins to tip as it grows taller.
  • The silver torch will multiply by growing new “pups” at the base of the plant. (See below.) These will shoot up quickly as new columns. They will space themselves away from the mature main stem to create a colony of white pillars. Neat and tidy!

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at; follow the Potted Desert at