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Comprehensive Description


Shrub or liane (in ours), not typically cactus-like in appearance. Spines neither sheathed nor barbed, in large clusters on the old wood, in curved pairs on younger branches; glochids 0. Stems leafy and branched. Leaves alternate, fleshy, broad and flat. Flowers stalked, showy (in ours) in corymbs or panicles. Fruit yellow. Seeds black.
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Genus native range

Genus Peruskia has a presence in South America, North America and the Caribbean Basin. North American occurrences are limited to southern Mexico clearly within the tropics; although there are vouchered specimens in southern Florida for Peruskia aculeata, some impute these occurrences to the result of introductions. Genus occurrences are widespread in the tropics of Mesoamerica and South America, as well as throughout the Caribbean Islands. Some sources cite a restriction of the genus to the tropics; however, some species native ranges in Brazil and Argentina are clearly outside the Southern Hemisphere tropics.

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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description


Shrubs, trees or scandent shrubs. Stems cylindrical, without ribs, with axial areoles surrounded by spines; glochids absent. Leaves alternate, persistent, succulent, petiolate; blades simple. Flowers actinomorphic, unisexual, solitary or in racemes, panicles, or cymes; receptacle with areoles and bracteoles in 2 series; perianth of sepaloid and petaloid tepals; stamens numerous, the filaments usually unequal, shorter than the perianth; ovary inferior or half-inferior, the style thick, the stigmas numerous, digitiform, papillose. Fruit a berry with persistent bracts and areoles; seeds few, small. A neotropical genus of approximately 17 species.


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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:49
Specimens with Sequences:45
Specimens with Barcodes:41
Species With Barcodes:18
Public Records:43
Public Species:18
Public BINs:0
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Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)


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Barcode data

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Pereskia, as traditionally circumscribed, is a genus of 17 tropical species and varieties of cacti that do not look much like other types of cacti, having substantial leaves and thin stems. They originate from the region between Brazil and Mexico. Members of this genus are usually referred to as lemon vines, rose cacti or leaf cacti, though the latter also refers to the genus Epiphyllum. The genus is named after Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, a 16th-century French botanist.

Species of Pereskia generally resemble other types of plants, such as roses. Pereskia species have large, bright green, privet-like leaves and long spiny stems. Not always succulent plants, they can be classified as shrubs, climbing plants or slightly succulent trees. However, close examination shows spines developing from areoles, and the distinctive floral cup of the cactus family. Unlike Pereskiopsis, Maihuenia, Quiabentia and Austrocylindropuntia which have persistent succulent leaves, Pereskia is the only cactus genus that has persistent non-succulent leaves. It is believed that the ancestor of all cacti resembled Pereskia.

Molecular phylogenetic studies have shown that species traditionally assigned to Pereskia fall into two clades, so that the genus is paraphyletic (i.e. it does not comprise all the descendants of a common ancestor). In 2013, it was suggested that eight species be moved to the genus Leuenbergeria, with the other nine species remaining in Pereskia.


Plants leafy and spiny, treelike, shrubby, and often scrambling. Majority species may be treelike or shrubby, 2 – 7 m high, highest at 10 m. Pereskia aculeata forms clambering shrubs or climbing vines 3 – 10 m long. Roots sometimes thickened and tuberous. Leaves alternate, broad, flattened, deciduous, usually with petioles, 2 – 20 cm long. Areoles in the axils of the leaves, usually with wool, bearing spines and leaves. Spines 0 – 8 on young primary areolas on twigs, to numerous on trunk (15 - 40, max. 120), unequal in length 2 – 12 cm, straigh, usually black. Flowers solitary or in an inflorescences of 2 - 15 flowers (P. aceulata 70, P. grandiflora 10 – 30), 2 – 8 cm in diameter, usually pink, rose, purple, sometimes orange, yellow, white, cream. Fruits solitary or clustered, variable in shape, oblonge, pear shaped, usually green or yellowgreen in maturity, also orange, reddish, brownish, 2 - 7, max. 10 cm long. Three species have fruits very small, 0,5 – 1,5 cm globbose, glossy black. Seeds 2 – 7 mm large, obovate to kidney shaped, glossy black.


Detail of the flower of Pereskia grandifolia
Stem of a tree-shaped Pereskia grandifolia

Most likely Charles Plumier collected the first Pereskia specimens from the Caribbean between 1689 and 1695, but none of these have survived. Although Plumier described Pereskia in 1703, Linnaeus placed Plumier's two species in his Cactus, as C. pereskia and C. portacifolius. Philip Miller brought the original name back in 1754, and so by the rules of botanical nomenclature, he is credited as the author.

The genus Rhodocactus (A.Berger) F.M.Knuth has been brought into synonymy with this genus, as well as different orthographic variants: Peirescia Zucc. (orth. var.), Peireskia Steud. (orth. var.) and Perescia Lem. (orth. var.).

Phylogeny and evolution[edit]

A 2005 study suggested that the genus Pereskia was basal within the Cactaceae, and confirmed earlier suggestions that it was paraphyletic, i.e. did not include all the descendants of a common ancestor. The Bayesian consensus cladogram from this study is shown below.[1]


Pereskia Clade A


Pereskia Clade B

core cacti




The species studied divide into the two clades as shown below.

Clade AClade B

P. aureiflora
P. bleo
P. guamacho
P. lychnidiflora
P. marcanoi
P. portulacifolia
P. quisqueyana
P. zinniiflora

P. aculeata
P. bahiensis
P. diaz-romeroana
P. grandifolia
P. horrida
P. nemorosa
P. sacharosa
P. stenantha
P. weberiana

A more recent 2011 study using fewer genes also found that Pereskia was divided into these two clades.[2] In 2013, it was suggested that the two clades be recognized as distinct species, Pereskia Clade A becoming Leuenbergeria and Pereskia Clade B becoming a more tightly circumscribed Pereskia sensu stricto.[3]

The two clades of Pereskia sensu lato differ in their geographical distribution: with one exception, Leuenbergeria (Clade A) is found around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea whereas Pereskia s.s. (Clade B) occurs south of the Amazon Basin. Species of Leuenbergeria always lack two key features of the stem present in most of the remaining "caulocacti": like most non-cacti, their stems begin to form bark early in the plant's life and also lack stomata – structures which control the admission of air into a plant and hence control photosynthesis. By contrast, species of Pereskia s.s. typically delay forming bark and have stomata on their stems, thus giving the stem the potential to become a major organ for photosynthesis.[1]

The two genera have been placed in separate subfamilies of the Cactaceae: Leuenbergeria being the sole genus in the subfamily Leuenbergerioideae, and Pereskia s.s. the sole genus in the subfamily Pereskioideae.[4]


Species recognized by International Cactaceae Systematics Group. (Anderson E. F., 2001)

Clade A = Leuenbergia[edit]

Clade B = Pereskia s.s.[edit]


Pereskia colombiana = Leuenbergeria guamacho
Pereskia corrugata = Pereskia bleo
Pereskia cubensis = Leuenbergeria zinniiflora
Pereskia godseffiana = Pereskia aculeata
Pereskia humboldtii = Pereskia horrida
Pereskia philippi = Maihuenia poeppigii
Pereskia subulata = Austrocylindropuntia subulata
Pereskia vargasii = Pereskia horrida
Pereskia zehntneri = Quiabentia zehntneri
Pereskia zinniaefolia = Leuenbergeria ziniiflora


Most of the species are found in dry forests or thorny scrub, in tropical climates with a dry season of two to five months. The two clades of Pereskia s.l. differ in their geographical distribution, with one exception.

Leuenbergia (Clade A)[edit]

Species placed in Leuenbergia (Clade A) are found on Pacific coastal area, around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Pereskia lychnidiflora Pacific coastal area from southern Mexico to Costa Rica in lowland dry forest from sea level to 1000 m (3300 ft).

Pereskia bleo Panama and Colombia along rivers and in secondary forests, from sea level to 500 m (1600 ft).

Pereskia guamacho Drier regions of Colombia and Venezuela, from sea level to 800 m (2600 ft); possibly also the Dutch Antilles.

Caribbean islands species. These plants are functionally dioecious, flowers imperfectly unisexual.

Pereskia marcanoi Semideciduous forests on Hispaniola at elevations of about 500 m (1600 ft).
Pereskia portulacifolia Hispaniola.
Pereskia quisqueyana Hispaniola. Endemic species. Only type locality in the southeastern part of the Dominican Republic at sea level.
Pereskia zinniiflora Lowlands of southern and southwestern Cuba.

Pereskia aureiflora One exception, occurs in clade B species area. Caatinga formation, Brazil, northeastern Minas Gerais and southern Bahia, at elevations of 300–700 m (980–2300 ft).

Pereskia s.s. (Clade B)[edit]

Species remaining in Pereskia s.s. (Clade B) occur south of the Amazon Basin, in eastern part of Brazil, south to northern Uruguay and Argentina, Gran Chaco region, and lowlands and dry walleys on the Andes in Peru and Bolivia, though not on the Pacific side.

Brazil lowlands, caatinga formation:

Pereskia bahiensis Caatinga vegetation in Bahia, Brazil, at elevations of 400-900 m (1300-2950 ft).
Pereskia stenantha Caatinga vegetation of southern central Bahia, Brazil, at elevations of 400-600 m (1300-2000 ft).
Pereskia grandifolia Eastern Brazil but has escaped cultivation in many places. Subspecies violacea Transition zone between forest and savanna at elevations of 600-1400 m (2000-4600 ft).

Pereskia nemorosa Drier forests and woodlands in lowlands in southern Brazil, Paraguay, northeastern Argentina, and northwestern Uruguay region.

Pereskia sacharosa The Gran Chaco including Mato Grosso region (Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay), and lowlands of the Andes in northwestern Argentina at elevations of 1000–2500 m.(3300–8200 ft).

Pereskia diaz-romeroana Dry mountain valleys of central Bolivia at elevations of 1300–2000 m (4300–6600 ft).

Pereskia weberiana Dry forests in the Bolivian Andean valleys of the Rio Beni, at elevations of 1100–1900 m (3600–6200 ft)

Pereskia horrida Dry forest and brushland in the Peruan mountain valleys of the Maranon at elevations of 500-2100 (1600–6900 ft).

Pereskia aculeata Northern, eastern, and southeastern South America, and Caribbean. From sea level to 1000 m (3300 ft). Introduced in United States, Mexico, South Africa and Australia.

According Anderson, Edward F. (2001) and Edwards, Erika J.; Nyffeler, Reto & Donoghue, Michael J. (2005).[1]


The genus is not of great economic importance.

Pereskia aculeata The fruit are edible, widely cultivated. Fruits containing numerous small seeds. It somewhat resembles the gooseberry in appearance and is of excellent flavor. This plant is a declared weed in South Africa.

Pereskia guamacho The fruit are edible, collected from wild plants.

Pereskia bleo The crushed leaves have been used to clarify drinking water.

Pereskia lychnidiflora The spines are 12 cm long and have been used as needles in Guatemala.

Pereskia grandifolia Cultivated for flowers.

The most common usage being as hedges; they are easily transplanted and quickly grow into an impenetrable thicket, as well as flowering prolifically.

Pereskia aculeata In horticulture being more tolerant of moisture than more succulent cacti, they can be used as rootstock for grafting of Zygocactus to create miniature trees.

According Anderson, Edward F. (2001).


  1. ^ a b c Edwards, Erika J.; Nyffeler, Reto & Donoghue, Michael J. (2005), "Basal cactus phylogeny: implications of Pereskia (Cactaceae) paraphyly for the transition to the cactus life form", American Journal of Botany 92 (7): 1177–1188, doi:10.3732/ajb.92.7.1177 
  2. ^ Bárcenas, Rolando T.; Yesson, Chris & Hawkins, Julie A. (2011), "Molecular systematics of the Cactaceae", Cladistics 27 (5): 470–489, doi:10.1111/j.1096-0031.2011.00350.x 
  3. ^ Lodé, J. (2013), "Leuenbergeria, un nouveau genre de cactées", Cactus-Aventures International (in French) 97: 26–27 , cited in Mayta & Molinari-Novoa (2015)
  4. ^ Mayta, Luis & Molinari-Novoa, E.A. (2015), "L'intégration du genre Leuenbergeria Lodé dans sa propre sous-famille, Leuenbergerioideae Mayta & Mol. Nov., subfam. nov.", Succulentopi@ (in French) 15: 6–7, retrieved 2015-01-20 


  • Anderson, Edward F. (2001), The Cactus Family, Timber Press, pp. 566–572 
  • Butterworth, Charles A. & Wallace, Robert S. (2005), "Molecular Phylogenetics of the Leafy Cactus Genus Pereskia (Cactaceae)", Systematic Botany 30 (4): 800–808, doi:10.1600/036364405775097806 
  • Leuenberger, Beat Ernst (1986), "Pereskia (Cactaceae)", Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden 14 
  • Leuenberger, Beat Ernst (2008), "Pereskia, Maihuenia, and Blossfeldia — Taxonomic History, Updates, and Notes", Haseltonia 14: 54–93, doi:10.2985/1070-0048-14.1.54 
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