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Some Beautiful American Cacti

Updated on August 8, 2015

Barrel cactus with Mexican golden poppies



" The desert is an enormous caldron of burning sand. rolling and rising and sinking here and there. But in spring these acrid lands present a striking parade of beautiful flowers-a veritable fashion show. It is early morning of a cloudless April day; the night dew is on most of the blossoms, and they are fresh from its bath. There is no dust and their colours are still bright as we inhale the fragrant scent"

J.J. Thornber !872 -1962

Barrel cactus flowers


Barrel Cactus--Ferocactus acanthodes [Ferocactus cylinraceus}

There are two genera containing barrel cacti Echinocactus and Ferocactus. The species under review is in the latter genus in former times but then placed in the former genus Echinocactus, which was rejected and are now given the name of Ferocactus cylindraceus, which is , confusingly, also known by several common names such as Miner's compass and Californian barrel cactus.

They belong to the Order Caryophyllidae and the Family cactaceae and is a perrenial.

The stems of the Californian barrel cactus {as we shall call it} generally grow singly , as high as nine feet with seven or more grouped radial bristles, which are very sharp and needle like, fringing the twenty seven to thirty ridges along the stems. These bristles are about two inches long and of a greyish yellow colour.

In the spine system there are four to six radials that are wide spreading and slightly hooked and cross ridged with beautiful rose pink and yellow shadings. The flowers are bell shaped and form a circle around the top of the stems. They are yellow and about two inches wide and in length. Thety open in the spring. The fruits follow in July. it grows best in gravelly, sandy or rocky soils.

For the gardener---Plant out early in spring in sandy or gravelly soil and give enough water to keep the soil slightly moist. Plants grow easily from seed in a sandy loam with partial shade and with enough water to keep the soil slightly moist. Sow the seed preferably in May or June. The plants are not injured by frost even up to fifteen or twenty degrees of frost, and grow indoors or outside. The species grows best in sunny situations.

Californian barrel cactus-

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Fruit of the prickly pear cactus

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The Eastern 'Prickly Pear' cacti--Opubtia humifusa

this species is in the genus Opuntia which is a well known group collectively known as ' prickly pears'. The flower colourings are exquisite and delicate, so vivid and attractive from both near and afar. the lovely tints and hues so well graduated from the bases of the petals to their tips, that ones attention is immediately drawn to them. There are around 260 species which are distributed throughout most of the Americas.

The eastern prickly pear, Opuntia humifusa ia an inhabitant of most of the eastern North America, with a range from Montana eastward to southern Ontario and then to Massachusetts, south to Florida and westward to New Mexico.

It is a low growing species with flattened stems which are formed in segments. Around the surface of the segments there are bristles and they are often accompanied by larger spines.The flowers are yellow, some times gold and are located on the margins of the more mature segments. the flowers are of a waxy texture and often have red centers. they are four to six centimeters wide { one and a half to two and a quarter inches}, and appear in late spring.

The fruit changes colour from green to red {see image above} and often persists on the parent plant for many months. they produce varying numbers of seed which are of a light colour. They thrive in full sun and well drained soil. they are not shade tolerant at all.

Prickly pear Opuntia humifusa

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Beavertail cactus Opuntia basilaris

This species is an inhabitant of southern California, Western Arizona, North Sonora, southern Nevada and south Utah, Mojave desert, Colorado deserts and it also ranges through the Grand canyon and Colorado River regions. There are two sub species and several varieties of these species.

In southern California it is possible to encounter this odd and interesting little prickly pear with its many spicules appearing like a small fuzzy tail, and hence the common name.Because of its habit of growth and its spineless joints of light blue or blue-grey and bright rose colored flowers, Opuntia basilaris is different from all other prickly pair cacti.

Beavertail blooms profusely, and when in blossom the clumps of plants on the mesas are bright rose purple, the flowers almost completely hiding the shrubs at times, and forming a brilliant splash of hues and tints, a solid unbroken patch of colour on the grey or brown stretches of mesa and foothills.

Opuntia basilaris prefers the most acrid and sterile sandy or gravelly soil at altitudes of of a thousand feet and less on the Bajadas of nevada, Utah, western Arizona and southern California. It does not grow very tall, seldom more than foot, and the spread of the rosette-like growth about 3 inches {7.8 cm} across. the large beautiful blooms appear in clusters on the margin of the joint, opening before noon and closing as the light fades.

There are no spines, and the closely set areolas crowded with spicules which are easily dislodged, from the chief protection for the shrub. spicules are very small and light and when dried fall off and are carried by the wind which are easily caught in ones clothing. They are effective protectors and neither rodent nor grazing animals eat the plants. Even man is wary of them more than cactus thorns because of the difficulty in extracting them and on account of the pain and sores which they cause.

For the gardener---These plants are frost hardy up to 25 degrees below freezing. they may be transplanted at any season. Mature cuttings planted in early spring will blossom the same season.

Plants may be set in gravelly or sandy soils with good drainage and watered lightly once a month during the growing season or spells of drought.

Beavertail cactus


Eagle's Claw cactus Echinocactus horizonthalonius

This species is also known by common names which include Devil's Head, Blue barrel cactus, Turk's head cactus and Horse Crippler. They are native to South west United States and Northern Mexico.

The Eagle's claw cactus has as many as eight radial spines, three to five grow directly upwards and two to four extend laterally. Many of them grow to one or one and a half inches long. The central spines are much stouter and longer, extending outwards, also, and downwards. They are abut two inches long. All thorns are quite stout, are strongly cross-ridged and curved, and in many instances are twisted.

Near the lower ends they are greyish and tone off to a dark brown at the tips. This plant is of the solitary stem variety and grown to about one foot high and are six inches or less in diameter.It is cylindrical and usually is found with eight spiral ridges less than an inch high and two inches apart, which are rounded and light grey or light blue green. The areolas are rather well crowded together.

The flowers are about two inches long and have a delicate pink to rose pink colouring, opening only in the bright sunshine and just one a day. They are composed of thirty eight spatulate petals and fourteen sepals. The style is bright pink. The fruit is oblong and gas a dense woolly growth of long cream-white hairs. When ripe the fruit is red. These plants grow well in the acrid , rocky or stony soils of the open desert and foothills, never in great abundance.

For the gardener---Plant this species in spring in stony soil in sunny locations with good drainage, and give enough irrigation to retain the moisture in the soil during the growing season.

Plants grow readily from seeds sown in trays or pots filled with sandy loam, in part shade, with enough water to keep the soil lightly moist. The plants grow outside and inside and are not injured by temperatures of 25 degrees F below freezing.

Eagle's claw cactus


Fish hook barrel cactus. Ferocactus wislizeni

Ferocactus wislizeni or Echinocactus wislizeni, is named after Dr. A. Wislinzenus who was in charge of the Botanical expedition to the south west of the United States in 1848. it is also known by the common name of the candy barrel cactus, and it is a very fine plant which may grow as high as seven feet. It has twenty to thirty ridges running length wise. The lower half of the areola is fringed with a dozen or so thread-like bristles about two inches long. Along the ridges are grouped the spines, and in each group it may be noticed that the lowest spine is the longest and has a good strong hook at the tip.

The four to eight radials are crossed ridged and stout, one to two inches long. The centrals are from three to five inches long. the upper spine is quite erect, and the central pair no more than two inches long. All the spines are of a light pink or grey pink with transparent tips.

The flowers are from two to three inches long and half as wide. They produce forty or more petals and twenty sepals. The colour of the flowers being yellow to orange red. They are formed in a circle at the top of the plant, blooming from July to September. The fruit is elliptical, yellowish and covered with fan shaped scales, These plants grow best in sandy or gravelly clay loam in the desert areas and the Bajadas and foothills.

For the gardener--- transplant at any season in sandy or gravelly clay loam. {nurseries and garden outlets sell specially prepared cactus compost } and give enough water to keep the soil moist during the growing season.

The seed grow readily in sandy loam in pots and trays, sown in May or June, in part shade with just enough water to keep the soil lightly moist. They grow well indoors or out doors and and will not be injured up to twenty five degrees F below freezing, however, in prolonged zero weather they may need some protection

flower of Ferocactus wislizeni

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A gallery of cacti

To conclude this article of some beautiful American cacti I will leave you with some images of the plants, flowers and memories. you do not need to recognize the species to admire their beauty.--Enjoy!!

I am indebted to the USFWS for the wonderful pictures below. { public domain}

Cactus flower


Button cactus with fruit


Claret cup cactus with flowers


Corn cob cactus


Cactus close up

Family with cacti



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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi DDE nice to hear from you once again! Glad I can help you via my hubs. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      The beauty of such plants amazes me and you just know how to update me with such information.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Cat:) Thank you for your informative comments. I was interested in the dye obtained by the Native Indians. The Huntington Botanical gardens in Pasadena sound awesome would love to visit some day. Thank you for taking the time to share the information and for leaving your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

      aviannovice, you are very welcome cacti can be stunning, it was a pleasure producing this hub. Best wishes to you.

      Bumpsysmum -Yes cacti are hard to grow here in the UK, with the exception of the commoner ones such as the Easter and Christmas sorts on general sale. I too, saw the programme you refer to , and like you I found it very interesting. Best wishes to you.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi --vibesites, I presume the dragon fruit you refer to is the vine-like epiphytic Pitahaya producing cactus of the genus Hylocereus which are native to Mexico, Central and South America. They are cultivated in many other countries such as Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. Thank you for visiting and leaving your appreciated comments. best wishes to you.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello DAL,

      I enjoyed this so much! Cactus are very interesting in design and breathtaking when in short-lived bloom. The pictues are stunning! Here in California, our native Americans refer to the Optunia humifusa as "las tunas" and the cochineal scale that lives on its flesh were the source of red dye. Have you ever tried the prickly pear fruit? I find the texture to be awful with its seeds! Thank you for the great information. If you ever get to Los Angeles, bring your camera and check out the Huntington Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. It has a fantastic cactus/succulent garden.

      My best,


    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are all so stunning. Many of them I had never seen until now.

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 5 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Interesting Hub. I live in East Anglia, UK and we can't grow these lovely plants except in a hothouse. I have 1 very small cactus on my kitchen window sill and it seems to be ok but grows very slowly because of the lack of heat. I love cacti and their diversity is amazing. We recently had a natural history program on TV by Sir David Attenborough in which he featured cacti and I found it fascinating. Great pics too.

    • vibesites profile image

      vibesites 5 years ago from United States

      Beautiful pictures of cacti and their blooms and fruits. I believe the delicious dragon fruit is also related to the cactus. Thanks for sharing. Up and awesome, etc. :)