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Typical of the dry scrub savannas of the Northeast of Brazil , it became a symbol for droughts, and can be easily seen in the landscapes of those dry backlands.


Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 26/03/2020

By: Maria do Carmo Gomes de Andrade - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Mandacaru is a generic denomination in Portuguese for plants of the Cactaceae family, characterized by being large-sized, arboreal cactuses, with thick trunks ramified with a woody base, with flowers that open at night and fruit that is usually edible.

Typical of the dry scrub savannas of the Northeast of Brazil , it became a symbol for droughts, and can be easily seen in the landscapes of those dry backlands. This arborescent plant can be classified basically in two large species: Cereus Peruvianus, native from Peru and Brazil, and Cereus Jamacaru, found only in Brazil. Both species, that reach approximately five meters high, are also known by their names: jamacaru, cardeiro, cardeiro-rajado and mandacaru-de-boi.

Cereus Peruvianus has funneled flowers that are up to 20 cm high; they are white inside and reddish-brown outside. The Cereus Jamacaru has white flowers with green stripes, that measure approximately 12 cm.

Those flowers usually appear mid-spring, and each flowers lasts only a night period, that is, they bloom at night and in the morning they already start to wilt. They are scaly and have white petals that become pink when they wilt, after fertilization.

The fruit of mandacaru (both species) are edible, have an oval shape and can reach 20 cm length by 12 cm of diameter. They have a deep purple color and their pulp is white, sweet and has tiny black seeds, that feed several birds typical of the scrub savannas, such as white-napped jay and the caatinga parakeet. In scarce times, the fruit are eaten raw, after the peel is removed. From the stalk, cut into pieces, a very appreciated sweet is made. The stalk also provides starch.

The main trunk of the mandacaru can reach 50 cm diameter. A Brazilian popular saying goes “mandacaru não dá sombra nem encosto (“mandacaru won’t give you shade or something to lean on”), but it’s the mandacaru that the cowboys go to when the drought punishes the area and there are no other alternatives to feed the cattle, since the mandacaru is very resistant to the semi-arid climate; they are able to accumulate a lot of water in their branches, that at the same time feed and quench the thirst of the cattle. When it belongs to the thorny species, it is necessary not only to cut it into pieces, but also to cut or burn their thorns with a type of blowtorch coupled to a propane gas tank. This technique is relatively recent, and has been used for cowboys of all the dry backlands of Northeast.

The mandacaru is so representative of the Northeast region that when people see it, they soon associate it with the drought and the Northeast dry backlands. Curiously enough, the name and image of mandacaru are increasingly promoted in the media. Today, mandacaru is the name os projects, restaurants, newspapers, soap operas, awards, bands, and, of course, is still immortalized in the Luiz Gonzaga song:

O Xote Das Meninas
Luiz Gonzaga

Quando fulora na seca
É o sinal que a chuva chega
No sertão
Toda menina que enjôa
Da boneca
É sinal que o amor
Já chegou no coração...

When it blooms in the drought
Is a sign that rain is coming
To the backlands
When girls get sick
Of dolls
It means that love
Is already in their hearts...)

Recife, April 29, 2013.

sources consulted

GRANDE Enciclopédia Barsa. 3.ed. São Paulo: Barsa Planeta Internacional, 2005.

MASCARENHAS, Raimundo. Direito sempre: mandacaru vem sendo a última alternativa para alimentação do gado.Available at: <>. Accessed: 19 abr. 2013.

PEIXOTO, Aristeu Mendes. (Coord.). Enciclopédia agrícola brasileira. São Paulo: Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 2002. v.4.

SOUSA, Gabriel Soares de. Tratado descritivo do Brasil em 1587. 3. ed. São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1938. ( Brasiliana, v. 117).


how to quote this text

Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Mandacaru. Pesquisa Escolar Online,Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 August. 2009.