Espostoa lanata [es-POS-toh-uh la-NA-tuh] is a columnar type cactus belonging to the genus Espostoa and the family Cactaceae.
The genus name honors Peruvian botanist Nicolas E. Esposto. The specific epithet, lanata, means woolly.
This cactus hails from Peru and Ecuador and is also known as:
- Peruvian Old Man Cactus
- Cotton Ball Cactus
- Snowball Old Man
- Woolish Espostoa
- Snowball Cactus
- Cleistocactus lanatus is a synonym
Espostoa Lanata Peruvian Old Man Cactus is quite similar to another columnar cactus known as Cephalocereus senilis – aka the Old Man Cactus care instructions for these two types of cactus are interchangeable.
The main difference between these two cacti is that Peruvian Old Man has sharp spines or thorns and the Old Man of Mexico does not.
Espostoa Lanata Care
Size & Growth
When young, this cactus grows very rapidly. When it reaches two years of age, growth slows quite a bit.
While it is still young, Woolish Espostoa grows as a strictly columnar plant. As it matures, it may begin to branch out.
Outdoors, Peruvian Old Man Cactus grows to be about 8” inches in diameter and as high as 23’ feet tall.
If kept indoors, growth will naturally be somewhat controlled.
Even so, if you get one of these cacti to keep as a houseplant you may want to have a backup plan in place in case it outgrows your setting.
Flowering & Fragrance
Mature plants (at least two years old) produce nocturnal flowers in shades of white, lavender and purple in the late spring and early summer.
The flowers are large and showy and can be a couple of inches across.
When the plant becomes very mature, it may stop producing flowers if kept indoors.
Outdoor plants will continue to grow vigorously and bloom even in maturity.
Peruvian old man cactus is covered by a thick, woolly coat of white hair. This outer covering is so soft that people in Peru have actually used it as a filling for pillows.
Underneath its soft, fluffy coat, this cactus has between 18 and 25 ribs, each bearing sharp thorns.
Light & Temperature
Lighting should be bright in the wintertime and quite sunny throughout the summer. As a desert dweller, this cactus does well in full sun exposure.
These cacti can tolerate temperatures as low as 10° degrees Fahrenheit. However, they will do better if protected from freezing.
Watering & Feeding
The plant should be watered well during the hot months of the summer, but leave plenty of time for the soil to dry out thoroughly between waterings. A cactus fertilizer used monthly is appreciated. During the wintertime, your cactus should be kept dry.
Soil & Transplanting
Cotton ball cactus does best when kept in well-draining, fertile soil. It can do well with a pH level ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.
If you’re keeping your Peruvian Old Man as a houseplant, use a combination of perlite and peat moss as your potting medium, here is another cactus soil recipe.
Alternately, you can use a packaged cactus soil mix.
Be sure to use an unglazed pot with ample drainage to prevent problems with root rot.
Grooming & Maintenance
Pruning is not necessary, but you may wish to carefully comb the Old Man’s furry coat from time-to-time.
How To Propagate Espostoa Lanata
This cactus may be grown from seed direct sown into the soil immediately following the last frost.
Alternately, it can easily be grown from cuttings.
As with all cacti, remember to allow the cut surface to dry for a few days before planting it in perlite or sand.
Avoid exposing the cutting to soil until it has begun to develop roots.
Keep your cutting in a warm, airy location with bright, indirect lighting until it has rooted.
Once you begin to see new growth, repot the plant into the cactus mix and treat it as a mature plant.
Peruvian Old Man Cactus Pests or Diseases
Because of its thick coat, the Snowball Old Man Cactus may tend to harbor pests such as scale and mealybugs.
The best way to avoid problems with this is to keep the cactus healthy by avoiding overwatering.
Examine the plant periodically to be sure there are no problems lurking under its luxuriant coat.
Is Snowball Cactus Considered Toxic or Poisonous to People, Kids, Pets?
Espostoa lanata is not toxic, but it can be rather dangerous due to its hidden thorns.
Is Espostoa Cactus Considered Invasive?
Espostoa lanata is not considered invasive.
Uses For Peruvian Snowball Old Man
This drought-tolerant cactus is an excellent choice for xeriscaping. With its unusual looks and impressive height, it makes a very fine specimen plant.
Be sure to give it a spot off the beaten path to avoid injuries caused by accidental contact.
Peruvian Old Man Cactus grows especially well outdoors in the southwestern United States.
It can also be kept as a houseplant and makes an especially good addition to a solarium or greenhouse.
Be sure to provide good air circulation indoors to prevent problems with fungal diseases.