House Grail is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

14 Types of Barrel Cactus (With Pictures)

notocactus schlosseri

The barrel cactus is native to Mexico and the US and is a family of rough, tough, and spiky plants with prominent spines and pretty flowers. If you’ve been to the Mojave Desert, you’ve probably seen these fascinating cacti growing on rocky terrain or along the road. Most are tubular or cylindrical and grow best in dry, sun-scorched desert landscapes, but they’re also excellent houseplants.

The California, Arizona, and Texas blue species are very popular. However, they are not the only barrel cacti on the planet. Overall, there are 30+ species in the Ferocactus and Echinocactus genera, and today, we want to introduce you to the 14 best picks for outdoor/indoor use. Since they’re low-maintenance plants that grow quickly, they will be perfect picks for your garden!

garden flower divider

The 14 Types of Barrel Cactus


Famous for its cylindrical shape, the Ferocactus (AKA the wild cactus) is the US’s largest group of barrel cacti. It features thick, curved spines (like a fishhook). The flowers, in turn, are a sight to see. They range from yellow to red, orange, and purple. Good drainage, moderate watering, and full sunlight—that’s what these plants need to grow and prosper.

1. California Barrel Cactus

Botanical Name Ferocactus cylindraceus
Soil Well-drained, sandy, rocky, fertile (pH 6.0–7.0)
Sun Full exposure
Hardiness Zone 9a–11b
In Bloom Early April to mid-May

Known as the desert barrel, this cactus is native to Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California. It is taller than the average cacti (up to 8 feet) and has a tubular shape and yellow/reddish spines. The blooms, flowers, and fruit are also yellow. The California cactus grows best when exposed to full sun for 6–8 hours; it won’t survive in a cold climate (anything lower than 9a on the hardiness zone map).

Plant it in well-drained, fertile, and rocky or sandy soil with neutral acidity, and it will bloom in April and last for 2–4 weeks.

2. Fishhook/Arizona Barrel Cactus

Arizona Barrel Cactus
Image Credit: mdebeeson, Pixabay
Botanical Name Ferocactus wislizeni
Soil Well-drained, gravel-rich, sandy, gritty (pH 6.1–7.5)
Sun Full sun/partial shade
Hardiness Zone 10–11
In Bloom April through June

The Fishhook is one of the most beautiful cacti in the US. While the spines aren’t very bright, the orange-red flowers make all the difference. They grow on top of the stems in a circle. The Fishhook cactus tends to lean to the south and is often slightly curved. It grows round at first but gets more tubular as it matures.

As a desert plant, the Fishhook prefers well-drained soil covered in gravel. Although it thrives in full sun, it will also survive in partial shade. Water it moderately, and it will start to bloom in mid-April and last through most of June.

3. Clump Barrel Cactus

Botanical Name Ferocactus robustus
Soil Well-drained, fertile, sandy, gravel-rich (pH 6.0–7.0)
Sun Full sun
Hardiness Zone 9a–12
In Bloom Mid-June through July

Unlike most cacti in the Ferocactus family, the clump barrel doesn’t settle with two to three branches. Instead, a mature plant can have hundreds of branches 10 feet in diameter. In contrast, the number of spines is significantly lower than expected (and they grow from the ribs).

The stems are fleshy and bright green. This cactus blooms in late spring/early summer and produces yellow and orange flowers. Well-drained, gravel-rich soil and full sun stimulate rapid growth outdoors and indoors, especially if you add a tiny dose of fertilizer once a month during the “busy” months.

4. Texas Blue Barrel

Texas Blue Barrel Cactus
Image Credit: shihina, Shutterstock
Botanical Name Ferocactus glaucescens
Soil Well-drained, loamy, sandy (pH 6.0–7.5)
Sun Full sun/partial shade
Hardiness Zone 9a–11b
In Bloom May through June

Although it’s known as the glaucous barrel cactus in some parts of the country, the Texas blue is famous for its blue-ish, deeply ribbed stems. The spines and the flowers are yellow/golden, and the cactus blooms for several weeks (from early May to most of June). Be careful with the spines, however, as they’re short yet very sharp.

The Texas blue barrel reaches 2 feet in diameter and looks like a pumpkin. If you want to grow it indoors, do your best to ensure 3–4 hours of direct sunlight. The cactus will grow in partial shade, but the soil should be sandy and loamy, with good drainage.

5. Coville’s Barrel/Emory’s Cactus

Botanical Name Ferocactus emoryi
Soil Well-drained, rocky, sandy, composted (pH 6.0–7.5)
Sun Full sun/partial shade
Hardiness Zone 9a–12
In Bloom Late spring to mid-summer

This late spring bloomer has many names, including Emory’s cactus and the Sonora barrel. So, why should you pick it over all the other species? Like most desert cacti, it thrives in full sun (but will grow in shade), survives in hot climates (9a and higher), and grows best in well-drained and rocky soil. The beautiful combination of yellow/orange blooms and dark red flowers makes it a crowd-pleaser.

On top of that, it has an exotic rib, stem, and spine structure that gives it an “otherworldly” vibe. Speaking of the spines, they have a purple hue, which makes them unique.

6. Turk’s Head

Turk's Head Cactus
Image Credit: Oleg Kovtun Hydrobio, Shutterstock
Botanical Name Ferocactus hamatacanthus
Soil Sandy, stony, peaty (pH 6.0–8.0)
Sun Full sun/light shade
Hardiness Zone 6a–11b
In Bloom Mid-summer to early fall

In contrast to the previous cactus on the list, the Turk’s Head is all about the spines. You’ll find over a dozen red/white/yellow spikes on every rib. That makes it one of the most protected cacti species. More importantly, Turk’s Head easily withstands cold temperatures (down to 6a on the hardiness zone map) and grows in light shade. The acceptable soil acidity levels are also slightly above the average (up to 8.0).

When can you expect this “fortified” plant to bloom? While the exact time will vary depending on where you live, July through early September is when you’ll start seeing flowers (2–3 inches in diameter).

7. San Diego Barrel Cactus

Botanical Name Ferocactus viridescens
Soil Rocky, loamy, sandy (pH 5.2–7.6)
Sun Full exposure
Hardiness Zone 9b–11b
In Bloom Mid-May through June

The San Diego barrel cactus grows in rocky, sandy, or loamy terrain in the wilderness. Depending on the area, the acidity levels in the soil may be low (5.2 pH). The cactus thrives when exposed to direct sunlight most of the day, and it’s hardy in zones 9b–11b. However, it is a rare species that may be harder to find.

On the bright side, it’s equally well-suited for growing outdoors and indoors. The San Diego cactus is a shrub that grows all over California. It has numerous spines (red or golden) and thick ribs.

8. Santa-Maria Barrel Cactus

barrel cactus
Image Credit: Abhardphoto, Pixabay
Botanical Name Ferocactus Santa-Maria
Soil Well-draining, sandy, gravel-rich (pH 6.0–8.0)
Sun Full exposure
Hardiness Zone 9a–11
In Bloom Late spring to early summer

Since it’s native to the deserts of Mexico, the Santa-Maria cactus easily handles scorching sunlight. It blooms in late spring and lasts till mid-June. Like the California cacti species, this plant grows in rocky, gravel-rich soil and will only thrive indoors if you ensure rapid drainage.

The Santa-Maria barrel cactus is like the golden middle between San Diego and Turk’s Head. However, it’s a bit taller and has fewer spines. Most spines are gray/brown, while the ones in the middle are dark red with a yellow-orange hue.

9. Townsend Barrel Cactus

Botanical Name Ferocactus townsendianus
Soil Well-drained, fertile, loose, rocky (pH 6.1–7.8)
Sun Full sun
Hardiness Zone 9a–10b
In Bloom Late summer to early fall

Are you looking for a barrel cactus that will bloom in late summer? The Townsend cacti might become your new favorite! As long as the soil is fertile, rocky, and loose, and the plants get 5–6 hours of sun during the day, they will flourish.

This species isn’t very big and only reaches 20 inches in height and 12 inches in diameter. Besides, it takes a while to grow and needs more water than most cacti. The Townsend features dense, stout spines (mostly red) and yellow-orange flowers.

10. Red-Spined Barrel Cactus

Red-Spined Barrel Cactus
Image Credit: suttirat wiriyanon, Shutterstock
Botanical Name Ferocactus chrysacanthus
Soil Well-drained, gravel-rich, light (pH 6.0–8.0)
Sun Full sun/partial shade
Hardiness Zone 9a–10b
In Bloom June through early August

Are you tired of having to repot your plants every year? Well, that won’t be a problem with the red-spined cactus. As the name suggests, it has red spines (lots of them) instead of green or gray, or they can be yellow, depending on the variety.

In any case, it’s very slow to grow, which means repotting will only be necessary every 3–4 years. The stems are very thick and fleshy, but they’re covered by a vast number of spines. The flowers are yellow and grow from the top of the plant’s crown.

11. Devil’s Tongue

Botanical Name Ferocactus latispinus
Soil Well-drained, perlite-rich, porous, sandy (pH 6.5–7.5)
Sun Full sun
Hardiness Zone 9b–11
In Bloom Late May to mid-June

Don’t let the name confuse you; the Devil’s Tongue is one of the most beautiful and long-lasting cacti. The ribs are gray and slightly blue, but the red/orange spines are stunning. The flowers, in turn, are dark pink and look marvelous on top of the thick spines.

Yes, this cactus is spectacular and will instantly become “the life of the party” in any garden. It flourishes in porous, perlite-rich soil and benefits greatly from full sun. Also, it blooms in late spring/early summer.

garden flower divider


Short, thin, rounded, and with multiple spines, the echinocactus plants (spiny cacti in Greek) are very bright and colorful, with lush, larger-than-average buds and flowers. Native to Mexico, they reach 2 feet in height and 1 foot in diameter. The wavy ribs make them look even bigger. To see steady growth, plant them in gravel-rich and well-drained soil and ensure at least 4–5 hours of exposure to the sun.

12. Golden Barrel

Golden Barrel Cactus
Image Credit: abcLONG, Shutterstock
Botanical Name Echinocactus grusonii
Soil Well-drained, sandy, perlite-rich (pH 6.0–7.0)
Sun Full exposure
Hardiness Zone 9–12
In Bloom Mid-spring through summer

From afar, the golden barrel looks like a watermelon. The cactus is green, but the spines and the flowers are yellow/golden (hence the name). It starts to bloom in April and lasts through most of the summer.

As a desert species, it only grows in areas with above-average temperatures (9–12 hardiness). Some sand, perlite, and good drainage will help cultivate this plant. A quick note: the golden barrel cactus is an endangered species, even though it is one of the most cultivated cacti.

13. Horse Crippler

Botanical Name Echinocactus texensis
Soil Well-drained, sandy, limey (pH 6.0–7.0)
Sun Full sun/partial shade
Hardiness Zone 5–9
In Bloom Late May to mid-June

You’re probably wondering, how did this plant get its name? Well, out in the wilderness, it’s very hard to see the Horse Crippler, and when animals step on it, it hurts their feet, essentially crippling them.

It is a low-growing, wide cactus with strong ribs and short, sharp spines. Another name for it is Devil’s Head. It is quite a resilient plant that’s hardy to zone 5 and grows rapidly in partial shade.

On top of that, it needs more water to grow compared to most cacti since it thrives in sandy soil. The flowers are pink, while the fruits are red.

14. Cottontop Barrel Cactus

Cottontop Barrel Cactus
Image Credit: Dominic Gentilcore PhD, Shutterstock
Botanical Name Echinocactus polycephalus
Soil Well-drained, gravel-rich, sandy (pH 6.0–7.8)
Sun Full exposure
Hardiness Zone 8b–11b
In Bloom Late June through August

If you’re in the market for something extraordinary, consider the Cottontop cactus. Its most prominent standout feature is the cluster structure that includes up to 200 individual barrels (roughly 8–10 inches in diameter). The spines aren’t particularly short, but there are so many that they make it very hard to notice the stems. Like most cacti on the list, the Cottontop cactus has yellow flowers.

divider 4 How to Grow a Barrel Cactus: Gardening 101

As desert species, these cacti prefer dry, warm, and sunny conditions. So, if you’re growing one in an outside garden, pick a spot with at least 5–6 hours of sunlight. If you want to use it as a houseplant, place it near a south-facing window. As for the soil, make sure it drains well. Use cactus soil rich in gravel, grip, or perlite to stimulate growth. The goal is to use soil that drains quickly and doesn’t retain moisture.

Plant the cactus in a clay pot with large drainage holes for airflow. Now, if you live in an area with low humidity levels, water the cactus once a week during the hot summer days and two to three times in the winter. Use your fingers to check the soil; wait until it’s dry before you water it. Fertilize the plant every 4–6 weeks during the growing period. Finally, the ideal temperature for these cacti is 50–80 degrees F.

Can You Eat It? How Does It Taste?

Most barrel cacti bloom in spring. That’s when the lovely red, green, or yellow flowers take over the stems and grow tiny fruits with a lemony flavor. The seeds, in turn, taste like nuts. If you’re not a big fan of tart and sour fruits, mix them with agave syrup. Or, you can add barrel cactus blossoms in salads or cookies. The nuts go well with bread, crackers, and smoothies.

These fruits are rich in vitamins C and A; adding them to your diet will strengthen your immune system. Plus, the pulp is widely used as an analgesic. You don’t have to swallow it; instead, apply it externally to the skin. Today, the fruits and seeds of the barrel cactus are more of an exotic treat. However, centuries ago, Native Americans used them as a source of vital nutrients.

garden flower divider


Regarding the barrel cactus, there’s more than enough variety. Although there are similarities between the 14 cacti we checked out today, they are still very different. Each species has a unique appearance. Whichever barrel cactus you pick, it will be worth the effort.

They can grow in the tiniest containers, take little effort in maintenance, and brighten up the room. On top of that, they come with many health benefits and last for several years, if not decades!

Featured Image Credit: Dirk M. de Boer, Shutterstock


Related posts

OUR categories

Project ideas

Hand & power tools