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7 Common Types of Cacti in Arizona (with Pictures)

sunset view in tucson arizona

The state of Arizona is known to be dry and clear most months of the year. With an average daily temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, it is one of the warmest states in the United States. For this and other reasons, Arizona makes an attractive habitat for Cacti. The Saguaro National Park has become an international tourist attraction center, drawing over a million visitors. This park houses a vast collection of the popular Saguaro cactus species.

Here are some types of Cacti you can find in Arizona.

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The 7 Common Types of Cacti in Arizona

1. The Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro Cactus
Image Credit: Frauke Feind, Pixabay
Scientific name Carnegiea Gigantea
Natives The Sonoran desert and Southern Arizona
Life span 150–200 years under the right conditions.
Size 40 to 60 ft

3,200 to 4,800 pounds in very favorable weather conditions.

Notable facts:
  • The largest cactus in the United States.
  • The plant was named after Andrew Carnegie, founder of the Carnegie Institution.
  • It can sprout up to 25 arms.

The Saguaro is the largest in the United States. A mature Saguaro can grow up to 40 ft tall, and it can be quite heavy. It is large and tree-like and often has arms sprouting from the side that lean upwards towards the sun. The plant has protective spines on its body. In late spring, the Saguaro is likely to grace us with a beautiful white flower bloom, and during the summer, it produces a bright red, fleshy fruit that is edible.

2. Violet Prickly Pear

Violet Prickly Pear
Image Credit: Flav66, Pixabay
Scientific name Opuntia Gosseliniana
Natives Pima County, Arizona, Baja, California, and Sonora desert.
Lifespan Over 20 years in the right weather conditions.
Size 4 ft tall, 5 ft wide
Notable facts
  • The fruit of the prickly pear cactus is called “Tuna”.
  • They have a special anti-freezing chemical in their cells that makes them survive in freezing weather conditions.
  • Their spines are multi-functional, protecting them from both animals and sunburn.

Another interesting type of cacti you will find in Arizona is the Violet Prickly Pear. These plants have a violet color that makes them a beauty to behold. They usually grow in clumps, about 4 by 5 ft. They are usually covered in spines, so do not be deceived by their beautiful appearance. Around the middle of the summer, they grace us with beautiful yellow flower blooms. Although there are over 40 species of this particular plant, there are just two common species; the prickly pear and the eastern prickly pear. Most of them grow white, yellow, or reddish-purple edible fruit.

3. Arizona Barrel

Arizona Barrel
Image Credit: Lane Gore, Unsplash
Scientific name Ferocactus wislizeni
Natives The Sonoran Desert
Lifespan An average lifespan of 50 years.
Size 3 to 10 inches tall
Notable facts
  • Most times, it leans in the Southwest direction, so far bent that it sometimes topples over if the root is not properly supported.
  • It is popularly called the “fish hook barrel cactus” due to its physical form.

The Arizona Barrel cactus is known for the vicious spines that cover the body of the plants, which resemble hooks. It has thick, green skin covered with these spines. In the best conditions, it can grow up to 10 ft, but it is usually about 4 to 6 ft tall on average. You would likely find this plant in areas where flooding is common and where it can have access to enough water to store it up until the dry season. Mid-summer, the Arizona Barrel cactus produces the most beautiful blooms of reddish-orange flowers that draw cactus bees to them.

4. Teddy Bear Cholla

Teddy Bear Cholla
Image Credit: MikeGoad, Pixabay
Scientific name Cylindropuntia Bigelovii
Natives Arizona and Northwestern Mexico.
Lifespan 30 years or more in proper conditions.
Size About 1 to 5 ft tall
Notable facts
  • The Cholla cactus species have Glochidia (tiny bristles with barbs facing backward). This makes them quite difficult to take out of human skin.

If you see a cactus looking like a cute, furry teddy bear, then it most likely is the Teddy bear cholla. Unfortunately, it does not feel the way it looks. The soft-looking spines are sharp and can harm you. This plant is also called the jumping cholla because the spines sometimes fall off in a “jumping” manner. All the spines are closely knit together, minimizing the amount of water that can be lost from the stem of the plant. It grows as a shrub, and in May and June, the plant begins to bloom with beautiful greenish-yellow flowers.

5. Golden Hedgehog Cactus

Golden Hedgehog Cactus
Image Credit: mark-stebnicki, Pexels
Scientific name Echinocereus Nicholii
Natives Pima County, Southern Arizona, and Northern Mexico.
Lifespan 30 years in optimal conditions.
Size 2 inches
Notable facts
  • Younger Golden Hedgehog cactus plants look a lot different from the matured ones.
  • This plant grows very fast initially but slows down with time.

This plant has pale-yellow spines around its stem, which gives it a hedgehog resemblance. A group of about 20 stems of these plants, each about 2 inches tall, are arranged together. The stem has a pale-green color that can only be noticed in younger plants. As the plant matures, the spines become thicker and soon almost completely cover the entire plant. In the middle of spring, this plant begins to bear yellow or dark red flowers that are beautiful to watch.

6. Santa Cruz Beehive Cactus

Santa Cruz Beehive Cactus
Image Credit: Galyna Andrushko, Shutterstock
Scientific name Coryphantha recurvata
Native Santa Cruz County, southern Arizona.
Lifespan About 15 years in the right weather conditions.
Size About 3 ft
  • The flowers of the Beehive cactus appear in different shades of orange, lavender, white and purple colors.

The stems of these species of cacti can be cylindrical, flat, or spherical. They are mostly clustered together in a colony of about 50 plants. They are covered in hard spines of about less than an inch long. In the middle of summer, some yellow-colored beautiful flowers begin to bloom from the apex of the stem.

7. Buckhorn Cholla

Buckhorn Cholla
Image Credit: Marin James, Shutterstock
Scientific name Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa
Native The Mojave and Sonoran desert
Lifespan 30 years or more.
Size About 3 to 10 ft in full bloom.
  • Buckhorn Chollas have spines, but not much. Therefore, a lot of smaller wild birds prefer to hide in the plants since the spines will accommodate them while preventing their predators from attacking them.

These plants make quite a statement since they usually grow in groups. When the weather is cooler, the stem of the Buckhorn cholla is greenish yellow. In hotter conditions, they become greenish-purple. It is a big plant, growing up to 10 ft in some regions. Due to the scattered branching of the stems, it can look a bit untidy, and the lower stems of older plants start to get woody. In April and May, they start to bloom, producing oval-shaped, dry fruits that are first green colored and then brown.

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Bottom Line

Arizona is a suitable place to plant the cactus, and the residents are well aware of this. Therefore, you are very likely to run into a lot of cactus plants when you move through the state. With the information above, you should be able to identify some of the more common cactus plants when you see them.

Remember that the cactus plant is not friendly to the touch. Only a few species of the cactus are spineless or have less prominent spines, and these are the ones that most gardeners or homeowners tend to grow indoors. The rest of them have a very prickly spine, and some are more difficult to get out of the human skin than others.

Featured Image Credit: LHBLLC, Shutterstock


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