Get inspired by different types of cactus plants for a desert garden!
Discover Different Types of Cactus Plants
There is a mind boggling array of different cacti, from 40-foot tree-like monsters to tiny 2-inch pot plants. In this article, we’ve picked out different types of cactus plants to help you narrow down the diversity.
Some are small cacti that are perfect as houseplants. Others are larger and ideal for growing outdoors in a desert or rock garden.
What Cactus Plants Like
Most types of cactus plants naturally grow in super-dry desert conditions with lots of hot sunshine and low moisture. There are some types of cactus plants that grow in humid rainforests, though. It’s always worth checking what conditions your favourite cactus likes before you buy.
Looking After Cacti
Cacti are low-maintenance. They are adapted to survive on very little water in the harsh heat of a desert. They will be perfectly happy living indoors, as long as they get enough light. They grow slowly, so they won’t need re-potting every five minutes.
To help your cactus plants to thrive, you can buy cacti compost from garden centers. Or make your own, with a mixture of compost and grit or fine gravel (30% grit to 70% compost).
Different Types of Cactus Plants
We’ve picked out some different types of cactus plants we love, from tall, tree-like cacti for big gardens to tiny round cacti that thrive in the smallest of pots. Which ones do you like best?
21 Types of Cactus Plants
Common name: Glaucous barrel cactus, blue barrel cactus
The Ferocactus plants are the classic barrel-shaped cacti we all recognize. Most are cylindrical with small funnel-shaped flowers.
The blue barrel cactus from Mexico is a round plant with yellow spines and flowers about 2 inches across.
Common name: Strawberry hedgehog cactus, Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus
Striking magenta flowers make this cactus stand out in a container garden. The cutely-named strawberry hedgehog can reach 2 feet in height.
Common name: Orchid cactus
Excellent choices for houseplants, epiphyllum cacti produce sweet-smelling flowers. They are easy to grow. Some epiphyllums are nocturnal, only opening their flowers at night. They can reach 10 feet in ideal outdoor conditions.
Common name: Chin cactus
These Argentinian cacti are compact growers, perfect for a container display. Gymnocalyciums naturally grow in mountainous regions. These little cacti are hardy down to about -12 ֯C. Will grow happily on a sunny windowsill.
Common name: Bishop’s cap cactus
This aptly-named cactus has vibrant yellow flowers which sometimes have a red center. It comes from Mexico, where it will survive temperatures down to -10 ֯C. This plant doesn’t have spines – which makes potting it up a pain-free experience!
Common name: Old lady cactus
Globe-shaped stems and fine spines are hidden under a coat of white down, from which emerge bright pink flowers in the spring. A pretty cactus to have as a houseplant.
Common name: Mexican fire barrel, Mexican lime cactus
This cactus has thick red spines on a round barrel-shaped stem, which will eventually grow into a tall plant. In a desert garden, it could slowly grow to about 8 feet and make an impressive statement. The fire barrel is also happy in a container.
Common name: Mexican pincushion cactus
Found throughout its native Mexico, this small cactus grows to about 6 inches tall. The attractive pink flowers poke through a blanket of white fluff. Mammillaria is great houseplants because the temperature ranges in most homes suit them well.
Common name: Ladyfinger cactus
This cactus has long cylindrical ‘fingers’ covered in orange star-shaped spines. It’s easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for beginners. The stems get to about 8 inches.
Common name: Hedgehog cactus
A very spiny cactus with bright magenta-pink flowers that get to about 5 inches, the hedgehog cactus will grow with little attention. Great for brightening up containers and hanging baskets. It will form larger clumps.
Common name: Beavertail cactus
This prickly pear cactus grows low to the ground, forming clumps about 4 feet across and about a foot tall. The fleshy pads – shaped like a beaver’s tail, hence the name! – are blue-green, with bright pink flowers. Looks great in rock gardens.
Common name: Christmas cactus, holiday cactus, linkleaf
A favorite houseplant. Flowering can happen from November through to January, making this cactus a well-chosen Christmas gift. They do well in small pots and prefer to be in a snug rather than a spacious container.
Common name: Claret cup cactus, Mojave mound
Like all cacti the claret cup will slowly grow to its full potential over many years, reaching about 2 feet high and wide. This cactus is favored for its stunning red flowers which get to about 4 inches long. It may take 5-10 years for flowering to happen.
Common name: Bunny ears cactus
This is a cute cactus – you can see how it got its common name. The ear-shaped pads grow in pairs of ‘ears’. They produce pretty pale yellow flowers when grown in the ground, but flowers are less common on container-grown plants.
Common name: San Pedro cactus
A striking columnar cactus, San Pedro can grow to 20 feet tall. This plant makes an impressive statement in the landscape, perfect for a big desert or Mediterranean garden. The flowers open at night.
Common name: Ball cactus
There are more than 50 species of Parodia. Small and round, they are generally easy to grow and add a splash of color to a collection of indoors cacti. There are lots of different colors. Some are solitary, while others form clumps.
Common name: Old man of the mountain, old man cactus
This hairy-looking cactus will grow at more than 10,000 feet in its native South America, where the wooliness protects from UV rays. Don’t be deceived though – the old man’s soft woolly coat conceals sharp spines.
Common name: Organ pipe cactus
One for growing outdoors. This impressive columnar cactus has white flowers and grows to over 20 feet. Its distinctive many-limbed look gave rise to its common name. It’s not quite as tall as the Saguaro, below. The organ pipe cactus is pollinated by bats – cool eh?
Common name: Saguaro cactus
A perfect choice if you have a big desert or Mediterranean garden – but bear in mind the Saguaro is a very slow-growing cactus. It may only grow 1 inch in its first 10 years. After 70 years you may have a 6-foot cactus that starts to flower. These are incredible long-living plants that can reach 40 feet ultimately.
Common name: Carmine cob
Grown for its showy flowers in vibrant shades of red and violet. The carmine cob naturally occurs in the mountains of Bolivia and Peru. This cactus likes a cool dry climate. The plants are small and round but produce impressively large blooms.
Common name: Golden barrel cactus, golden ball cactus, mother-in-law’s seat
Aren’t these incredible? Slow-growing barrels that make any desert or rock garden stand out. They look spectacular planted in groups together with the pointy shapes of blue-green agaves.