Pachycereus schottii

Accession Count: 5
Common Name: totem pole cactus
Family Name: Cactaceae
Botanical Name: Pachycereus schottii
Botanical Synonyms: Lophocereus schottii f. monstrosus
Sub Species:
Forma: monstrosus

P. schottii f. monstrosus is a slow growing cactus with a columnar stem, usually trunkless, which basally branches in a candelabra formation. The dark-green and waxy stems reach up to 15 feet in height, possessing 5-9 irregularly-shaped ribs, and unusual, knobby, tubercle-like swellings along the trunk. Rarely, the stems will spiral left or right, developing an unusual form that is highly prized by collectors. Unlike the straight species, areoles are few and insignificant, very rarely developing pink flowers in summer.

Compound: Pac sch mon
Geographic Origin: Baja California
Ecozone Origin: Nearctic
Biome Origin:
Natural History:
While the straight species is native to the deserts of mainland Mexico, Baja California, and the extreme south of Arizona, the monstrosus form is only found northeast of El Arco, the midpoint of Baja California. It inhabits alluvial plains and desert riparian environments, in gravelly soils.
The totem pole cactus is named for the species’ unusual protuberances, which resemble multiple faces carved along the trunk.
Cultivation Notes:
When grown in large aggregations, the totem pole cactus is extremely drought tolerant. However, solitary specimens require more frequent irrigation – up to once every 2-3 weeks in summer. Younger and smaller species must be watered more often. Additionally, this species should be planted in a porous, rich, sandy or gravelly soil with a pH between 6.1-7.8. To prevent root-rot, ensure that cactus-soil is well-draining, and add perlite or coarse sand if needed. Replenish with fresh substrate every few years, to encourage growth. Provide as much full sun and direct light as possible in order for species to thrive. It may be necessary to use a grow-light for indoor specimens, as the totem pole cactus will suffer under even partial shade.
No seeds are produced by P. schottii f. monstrosus, and it is unknown if the flowers also develop the edible red fruits of the straight species. Therefore, because P. schottii f. monstrosus only produces sterile flowers - if at all - the only method of propagation is through woody or softwood stem cuttings. Take cuttings in spring or summer, allow to fully callous before planting, and root at a minimum temperature of 68°F. However, for mature plants, temperatures down to 20°F - USDA hardiness zones 9a to 10a - are tolerated. This species is less frost tolerant than the straight species, and should be covered or taken indoors during the colder months.

Aside from its value in cultivation, no ethnobotanical qualities specific to P. schottii f. monstrosus are known. However, the bark of the straight species, P. schottii, has been used to treat cancer, diabetes, ulcers, sores, stomach disorders, and tuberculosis.

Height: 11 - 15 feet
Width: 6 - 10 feet
Growth Rate: Moderate Growing
Grow Season: Spring
Flower Season: Summer
Color: Pink
Function: Screen
Spread: Spreading
Allergen: Non-allergenic
Invasive: Benign
Toxicity: Benign
Hardy: Hardy
Water Use: Low water Use


1. Urban Landscape Committee. Desert Accent Plants. Arizona Native Plant Society, 1992.

2. Llifle Encyclopedia of Cacti, retrieved from

3. Gardenista

4. Plant Care Today

5. World of Succulents

6. U.S. National Library of Medicine

7. Succulent Plant Care

8. Dave’s Garden


Pachycereus schottii