Silver Torch and Queen of White Thread

Almost exactly a year ago I bought a bunch of cacti from the Large Cacti & Succulent Nursery at the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley. Among them were several Silver Torch cacti (Cleistocactus straussii). Native to Bolivia and Argentina, these beautiful hairy cacti have the potential to grow to 8 feet. Since they are hardy to 14°F, our mild winters are no problem for them.

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Cleistocactus straussii close-up

In early February 2011, I planted three Cleistocactus straussii in a glazed pot together with an Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi', a Japanese dwarf cultivar whose name means Queen of White Thread. From the get-go, this has been my favorite succulent arrangement, and I’ve enjoyed it all year long.

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February 5, 2011
The tallest Cleistocactus straussii was 9½ inches tall,
the Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi' was 4 inches across.

A few days ago, I was moving pots around on the front porch, and it struck me how much heavier this container was. When I compared the current size of the plants to last year (photo above), I realized why. Both the cacti and the agave have had quite a growth spurt. And instead of the three Cleistocactus straussii I originally planted, there are now seven!

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January 6, 2012
The tallest Cleistocactus straussii is now 17 inches tall,
the Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi' is now 6½  inches across.

Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi' has got to be one of the most beautiful agave cultivars out there. It’s also one of the smallest agaves in cultivation. The parent, Agave schidigera, is native to western Mexico, but this selection originated in Japan, hence the Japanese cultivar name. Plant Delights calls it “amazingly slow-growing,” and my specimen was—until I planted it in this much larger pot where its roots have room to run. It has grown 50% in the space of one year.

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Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi'

While Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi' is the star of the show, the torch cacti form the impressive backdrop against which it can shine. I also love the rock, which I collected near Susanville, CA a few years ago. I wish all my attempts at creating interesting potted arrangements were this successful!

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My goal now is to slow down the rate of growth so I can enjoy this arrangement as long as possible. This year I definitely won’t be as generous with water and fertilizer as I was last year!


  1. You are trying to get me hooked on cactus, aren't you? Dammit, it's working!

    Beautiful, and amazing growth for a single year, isn't it?

  2. A great combo! I too sometimes wish mixed planters would stay put, I love new growth, but sometimes they're perfect just as is. I've had my eye on some Cleistocactus straussii for some time now, there is a large specimen at the GC up the hill from my work. Wierd flowers, and fuzzy pillars.. Excellent! Cactis are the best!

  3. I will look for this cactus this year and try it myself. Yours looks so wonderful and healthy. Love the potting and it looks great with the agave!


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