Stars of the Gardens - Woolly Cactus


Did you know the woolly cactus got its name from its woolly head and they smell like rotting cabbage when the flowers are in bloom?

The woolly cactus (Vatricania guentheri) is a columnar cactus native to Bolivia. It has adapted to survive the merciless aridity of the desert with its golden spines on pale green erect stems, to help reduce water loss through transpiration. It can grow up to 2 m in height and 10 cm in diameter.

It got its name from its woolly head, a cephalium or soft hairs that develop on the sides of the stem, once the plant starts to flower. These reddish-brown hairs protect the flowers and seeds from the sun while conserving moisture.


When the funnel-shaped, pale yellowish-white flowers are in bloom, they are said to smell like rotting cabbage, which attracts bats! When the bats draw near, the soft hairs around the flowers protect their delicate wings from the spines. These flying mammals render assistance in pollinating the woolly cactus’ flowers, which in turn produces seeds for reproduction.

Look for the woolly cactus at the Succulent Garden in Flower Dome on your next visit here!

Written by: Agatha Koh, Manager (Education, Programming & Events)

Agatha has spent the last ten years in a green paradise of every kind – greenhouses, orchards, food forests, therapeutic gardens, nature parks. Her days at the Gardens continue to be happily plant-filled as she shares her love for plants with fellow green thumbs and floral fanatics!

This article is part of our Stars in the Gardens series.