When you think of the cactus family, you probably imagine plants with temporary or no foliage. But, the genus Pereskia (per-ESS-kee-uh) is the big exception.
The genus consists of 9 different evergreen species, which originate from Florida in the United States through the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, as far south as Brazil in South America.
A related genus, Leuenbergeria, was part of Pereskia until 2013 and its 8 species are still commonly referred to as Pereskia.
There are a few popular species and cultivars which are especially prized in gardens and as houseplants:
- Pereskia aculeata (ah-kew-lee-AY-tuh)
- Pereskia aculeata ‘Godseffiana’ (god-seff-ee-AY-nuh)
- Leuenbergeria bleo formerly Pereskia bleo
- Pereskia grandiflora (gran-dih-FLOR-uh)
- Pereskia grandifolia (gran-dih-FOH-lee-uh)
P. aculeata bears the common name Barbados gooseberry.
Other common names for Pereskia and its species include:
- Blade-apple cactus
- Leaf cactus
- Lemon vine
- Rose cactus
- Wax rose cactus
- Yellow rose cactus
Pereskia is a primitive, non-succulent cactus which has not evolved to lose its leaves.
The areoles each contain 2 to 3 spines, giving it the appearance of a succulent if the winter chill renders it leafless.
While some species have golden leaves with a green center, others have gold-yellow with peach accents.
The ornamental Pereskia ‘Godseffiana’ has yellow-green leaves variegated with purple or red on the underside and scarlet and copper on the top.
Size & Growth
Most species of Pereskia have a thin woody, vertical growth of 10 to 20’ feet, with some achieving up to 40’ feet.
Some are more vine-like, clinging to surfaces with hooked spines.
Leaves grow to 8” inches long and are evergreen, but may fall off in near-freezing temperatures.
Growth is slow for golden-leaf varieties, but moderate for other species.
Flowering and Fragrance
Depending on the species, Pereskia creates blooms either singularly or in groups of two or more which range from ¾ to 3” inches in diameter.
P. grandifolia, for example, has inflorescences of 10 to 30 large pink flowers.
The panicles of P. aculeata hold up to 70 flowers.
Some species have a strong fragrance, while others are quite pungent.
The pear-shaped fruit of many species are edible and may be brown, orange, red, or yellow-green, with a few species having glossy round black fruits.
Of the edible species,the fruits resemble gooseberries and are full of flavor.
Numerous kidney-shaped seeds fill the fruit.
Light & Temperature
Unlike many other plants in your garden, Pereskia requires full sun and won’t get sunburn even in intense direct sunlight.
Failure to provide adequate sunlight will make the leaves turn green, which is an unhealthy color for members of this genus.
These plants are frost tender, yet they can handle temperatures down to freezing if kept perfectly dry and the roots are kept warm.
Ideally, the plant should be grown in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11.
Watering and Feeding
During the growing season (March to September), these plants should be watered regularly.
Be sure the soil is well drained, as even brief periods of standing water can harm the roots.
In winter, try to keep the plant mostly dry, as frost can cause damage, and be wary of winter precipitation.
Indoors, a humidity of 40% percent or higher is recommended, and frequent mistung of the plants both indoors and outdoors is a great way to simulate its natural growth habit.
Use a balanced fertilizer to feed the plant monthly throughout the growing season.
Soil & Transplanting
Pereskia enjoys rich, organic, well-drained soil. A potting mix of:
- 2 parts coarse sand
- 2 parts peat moss
- 1 part loam
… adds extra benefit.
Grooming And Maintenance
Pereskia requires little to no maintenance and can be ignored for periods of time without harming the plant.
It may be pruned or shaped, if desired.
How To Propagate Rose Cactus
You may harvest the seeds from overripe fruit, clean, dry, and store them for planting in spring.
Use an equal mix of peat and perlite to sow seeds, keeping the surface moist until germination 21 to 30 days later.
Stem cuttings are another option, and the cuttings may further be used for grafting.
Choose young stems which have begun hardening for your cuttings.
Place them in and or the peat and perlite mix immediately and place in bright, indirect light.
It takes approximately 4 days for roots to begin growing.
Pereskia Main Pest or Disease Problems
As with most cacti, this plant is designed to be drought resistant, but may suffer some leaf drop.
It is fairly disease resistant, although scale and mealybugs on succulents are an issue.
Note that the spines are sharp, requiring care when pruning or harvesting.
Suggested Rose Cactus Uses
The leaves of both P. aculeata and P. grandifolia are edible and are high in protein and iron.
All edible leaves and fruits may be eaten raw or cooked.
The fruits also attract birds.
Pereskia works great on trellises or as container plants.
When grown as an ornamental or privacy hedge, it quickly fills out into a dense wall.
The smaller vining plants may be kept in hanging baskets.