Old Man hairy Cactus – a cactus with white hair

There are over 1,300 species of cacti with many forms and textures.  Today I am highlighting one of my favorites called The Old Man Cactus, Cephalocereus senilis.  This hairy column cactus gets its name from the white strands that grow long side the yellowish spikes.

Old Man Cactus with his white hair

With all this white hair The Old Man Cactus is fittingly named.  There is a purpose to the hair on this popular cactus.  First of all it conceals the sharp thorns and second it gives  shade from the Arizona desert sun.

cephalocereus senilis hairy cactus
Cephalocereus senilis, Old Man Cactus

This old man is sitting comfortably in the xeriscape area of our AZ yard.  Cacti are the best drought & heat tolerant plants.  Caring for this white haired cactus is easy as long as it receives plenty of sun and is not over watered.  I placed the Old Man Cactus in soil that is well drained.

If your Old Man Cactus is not growing hair it may need more sun.  The sunlight stimulates the hair growth on these desert plants.

Keep an eye out for mealy bugs.  If your cactus is infested you will see a white cottony area. There is a species of mealy bug that attacks the roots of cacti.  If your cactus is sick and not growing take it out of its container and check the roots.  Insecticides work fine to eliminate the mealy bugs and white patches they create.

white hairy cactus
Old Man of The Andes, hairy cactus

Another hairy cactus species we have is the Old Man of the Andes, Cleistocactus trollii above.  The Old Man of the Andes or Old Man of the Mountain is doing nicely in a pot with direct sunlight.

round cactus with pink flower
old lady cactus, Mammillaria hahniana – hairy cactus

The above photo is The Old Lady Cactus, Mammillaria haniana, that is gracing the area by our mailbox.

Old Man Cactus hairy
Old Man Cactus – hairy cactus

The Old Man Cactus is native to central Mexico and is a columnar species of the family Cactaceae.

It may take 10-18 years for the Old Man Cactus to bloom with white, red, or yellow flowers.  This white haired cactus has personality and is a very popular potted plant.  If you have your old man cactus indoors place it in a area of good sunlight.

Author: tjsgarden

We are a family that loves the Arizona Desert. A lot of research and team efforts go into our articles and photos. Come discover the beauty and mystery with us. Don't forget your sunscreen!

23 thoughts on “Old Man hairy Cactus – a cactus with white hair”

  1. Hello, my hairy cactus was fine for several months but now it has several bald spots along the sides. Completely bald 😦 like it was shaved or something. What could be the cause? Please help! Also, where can I email the pictures? If they help

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bri, no worries! You must have the species, Cephalocereus senilis, because as it matures it becomes hairless. When it is younger the hair is used to prevent sunburn. So how old is your Hairy Cactus? One other thought, is it getting plenty of sun? If you want to show the photos you can add them to our Facebook page 🙂


  2. I love my old man cactus, he’s only about 2 ft tall and potted. I worried once when my dad over-watered it and it took like 5 fays for the soil to dry, but then I placed it in the sun for weeks under 110 degree AZ weather and it is just fine. It LOVES the sun and heat and even a good soaking at least once a month.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aren’t the Old Man Cactus just the greatest! So glad he dried out with no problems. Boy they love the scorching temps here in AZ. Their hair is what protects them from getting sunburned. Thanks Abby for the awesome comment!


  3. Hi there…I have an old man hairy cactus that I have had for over 10 years….it’s having problems…it is one thick tall original cactus that over the last many years has developed another thick tall portion on top of the original…I’d like to forward pictures…hard to describe…anyway…this year the bottom portion is turning yellow and looks unhealthy….is there anyway to slice top portion off and get it to grow? I fear I’m going to loose the entire plant if I don’t do something….your advice is greatly appreciated…I’d be more than happy to send pictures if you tell me how…


    1. First Kathy, can you tell us if if your cactus is in a pot or in the ground. Next, does it have good water drainage and how much sun is it getting? Did it receive frost and cold weather this winter? Look forward to your answers.


    2. Yes,it’s in large pot……it has very good drainage and lives outside and is in full sun…fear it did not get brought inside in time and may be frost dammage on the bottom portion…..


      1. Kathy it does sound like it may be from the cold. If you decide to cut off the damage, use a large sharp knife. Your hairy man will recover by creating a callus over the cut. Keep it in the sun.
        Best Regards,


  4. I’m hoping you can help me. I bought a succulent from Walmart several years ago and planted it in a huge planter w0ith se eral other succulents I got at the same time. Now 3 of them have grown into these huge cacti and Im not sure what they are! One resembles the Old Man Cactus you are talking about, but mine is fat and has growths on it that resemble it, what are they? Are they limbs or new cacti? They have been growing on it for a few years and are pretty good sized now. What could they be?Heck is it even an Old Man Cactus? It has never flowered!


  5. I had three large specimens of old man of the Andes planted in June. Each one had multiple columns ranging from 1-1/2 feet to approximately 4 feet. I went away for a week and when I came back I noticed that several of the columns on two of the cactus are bending at almost a 90 degree angle.. Does anyone know why this is happening and what I can do to remedy the problem. They were expensive and I don’t want to lose them!


    1. Without much information to go on… Karen I would have to say your Old Man cacti are having a water or sun problem. Where do you live and what was the weather like while you were away? Thank you for the comment Karen!


      1. I live in Las Vegas and the weather was in the high 90’s the week I was gone. The temperature had cooled down from the highs of the summer. All summer they were pushing out buds that never blossomed. Planted in early June so could it be stressed from transplanting too.


      2. Do you think it could be too little or too much water? Or possibly stress from the transplanting don this past June? They are large specimen size and broke the budget, but I just had to have them. I will try to post some photos here. Thanks for any suggestions you can give me!


  6. So if you have them in a pot, what soil is best?? I used miracle grow for catcus, and i added perlite and sand but i am wondering if i should have used rocks and sand instead?? I am in indiana and its winter right now, so i have my two sitting on a window seal facing south, not sure if they are happy or not as i recently got them. I did notice once had to be handled ruff because it has a hole in it where a thorn used to be,but was ripped out before i got it. I plan on sitting it outside in the spring when it is warm enough, but any other advice you have on what to do for them in the winter in the colder months?? I am wondering if the window seal might be too cold for them, or if it will be okay. I also found a hairy white catcus tonight at walmart, its really small but covered in hair but it is labeled as a “rainbow catcus in tray” And i googled “rainbow catcus” and the pictures that showed up did not have the white hair like this one.


We love your comments and questions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s