What are the most common types of cacti? This is one of the most common questions that new gardeners tend to struggle with when deciding on the type of cactus to acquire. Sadly, for those who don’t understand much about succulents, they tend to think all cacti are the same. They only realize they were wrong when they step into a nursery to acquire their first plant. In reality, the cactus family has a wide range of different species to choose from.
So, what is the most common type of cactus? Some of the most common types of cacti include
- The Golden Barrel Cactus
- Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)
- The Saguaro Cactus
While all of them are perfect for growing at home, the optimum growing conditions for each species tend to vary greatly. Therefore, it is always good to take time and understand the light and water requirements of each species before you make up your mind on which one you prefer to add to your indoors or home garden.
In this post, we discuss everything you need to know about each of the mentioned species. What is unique about each one of them? Where do they grow? What are some of the features that make them unique? Read on to discover everything you need to know about these common types of cacti.
1. The Golden Barrel Cactus
The Echinocactus grusonii, commonly referred to as the golden barrel cactus is globe-shaped and ideal for growing on patios, in conservatories, or any other type of indoor glass room. This type of cactus grows to as much as four feet tall and three feet wide much like the barrel cactus hence its name. Its crown has whitish woolen hairs at the top.
Its stem is ribbed and produces prickly yellowish spines that are quite dangerous. There is also the spineless type that is hard to find.
This type of cactus flowers mostly in mid-summer although the flowering is rare. Most people grow the golden barrel cactus for its foliage rather than flowers. In fact, its desert look is more appealing to gardeners than the flowers.
Growing the Golden Barrel Cactus
Think carefully before you decide to grow this type of cactus, especially if you have children and pets since its spines can be quite dangerous. In some cases, wounds from its spines require antibiotics to heal.
On the light side, you can choose to use this plant as part of your home security system by positioning it under low windows as a defensive planting.
Be sure to plant it in a safe spot or container and put it out of reach for kids and pets. Don’t crowd it and make sure you leave sufficient room for new offsets.
The cactus grows fairly quick at first before slowing down after some time. Typically, it might take up to ten years for the golden barrel cactus to reach ten inches in diameter. Just like other cacti plants, golden barrel cactus require little care and attention to thrive.
Golden Barrel Care
The Echinocactus grusonii requires plenty of sunlight to thrive. Therefore, if you are growing it in a glass room, you may be forced to provide some shade during hot summer days to prevent sunburn. Temperatures averaging 50oF -75oF are ideal for growing but avoid anything below 40oF.
Water it sparingly from spring until fall and stop watering during winter. Overwatering this type of cacti, especially when the temperature becomes too cold, can easily lead to root rot.
You should also ensure your potting mix drains well and fertilize the plant at least once every four weeks during summer using a high potassium fertilizer.
2. Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)
The prickly pear cactus commonly referred to as Opuntia is a member of one of the largest cactus families. The cactus is usually identified by its wide, flat, and branching pads. Some people call it the paddle cactus or nopal cactus.
Many varieties of this cactus have detachable spines and glochids that can cause severe allergic skin reactions. The plant is native to the Western Hemisphere in parts of North America and Mexico. The fruits, pads, and flowers of a prickly pear cactus are edible.
With all the spines and glochids, it may be hard to understand why the Opuntia cactus is so popular until you see its beautiful flowers which blossom from the areola of thorns.
Although it takes quite long to mature and start flowering, it is worth the wait. The flowers come dazzling in shades of orange, yellow, and red.
Growing a Prickly Pear Cactus
You can grow the prickly pear cactus from cuttings. Wait until spring or summer to achieve better results with cuttings. If you choose to grow the plant from seeds, start in late spring for better results.
To achieve better results, make sure you grow the prickly pear in a spot that receives plenty of sunshine and has well-draining soil.
Be careful with the planting and only transplant at the same level as they are currently growing. Planting the prickly pear deeper into a container may cause severe rotting of the plant.
Keep in mind that prickly pear cacti can be relatively heavy to lift and place in a hole. Therefore, an extra pair of hands may help.
Opuntia Cactus Care
This type of cacti prefers alkaline to neutral, well-draining soil. Soil with poor drainage can cause severe plant and root rot. The prickly pear is extremely drought-resistant and doesn’t require frequent watering. In fact, avoid watering newly propagated pads for the first month. After that, only water every three or four weeks during the first year.
To encourage flowering, make sure you fertilize your young plants with a well-balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. For relatively mature plants, consider using a 5-10-10 or even 0-10-10 water-soluble fertilizer to promote fruiting and flowering.
Luckily, prickly pear cactus is not susceptible to pests and diseases but always remember the fact that it can easily be affected by rot if grown in potting mix with poor drainage.
3. Saguaro Cactus
The Carnegiea gigantea, also known as the saguaro cactus, is one of the defining plants of the Sonoran desert. The succulent is composed of a tall, thick, columnar stem that is about 18-24 inches wide. A typical saguaro will also have several branches curving upwards distinctively.
Its skin is relatively smooth and waxy, and the stem and trunk have stout spines clustered on their ribs.
With the right conditions this giant cactus can live for up to 200 years. This cactus is a slow-growing plant that takes up to 30 years to start flowering.
A ten-year-old Saguaro might only be one or two inches tall. However, a full-grown saguaro can be up to 60 feet tall. When it is fully hydrated, the plant can weigh up to 4800 pounds.
Growing a Saguaro Cactus
The big size of this plant doesn’t mean that you cannot grow it indoors or in your home garden. In fact, the cactus is among the most common indoor cacti plants in the United States and other parts of North America.
However, to grow it successfully, you need to do everything right to help it stay healthy and thriving. The freezing point is one of the critical considerations when determining where to grow a saguaro.
Technically, if the elevation is too high, the extremely cold weather and frost can easily kill the plant. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure your plant receives plenty of sunlight. If you are growing it indoors, position it in a brightly lit spot preferably a north-facing window.
During winter, make sure you bring your saguaro indoors before temperatures drop to below 60oF. Just like the other types of cacti, the saguaro requires well-draining soil that doesn’t hold water for too long.
Saguaro Cactus Care
Although this type of cactus is extremely drought resistant and can survive for too long without water, it doesn’t mean you avoid watering it completely. Saguaro plants grow and flower better if given an adequate supply of water.
Water it moderately during the growing season (from April to mid-September) and sparingly during winter.
Fertilize it every two or three weeks during the growing season from early spring to late summer.
Another thing you need to keep in mind is that saguaro plants have a weak root system. Therefore, avoid growing them in bigger pots and don’t repot them unless it is absolutely necessary.
4. Rhipsalis Cactus
Rhipsalis baccifera or the mistletoe cactus is a tropical cactus native to rainforests in relatively warm regions. The plant is primarily epiphytic meaning it lives in trees. However, some varieties of this cactus are lithophytic meaning that they grow on rocks.
The cactus features a cylindrical- pendant stem that branches frequently. Rhipsalis cactus lacks spines and only has beautiful hair-like structures on their surfaces. Its flowers and fruits are relatively smaller in size and spineless.
A majority of Rhipsalis species grow in tropical zones of Brazil, but a few of them are also found in South America and the Caribbean.
Growing Rhipsalis Cactus
The mistletoe cactus is relatively easy to grow from cuttings since seeds take quite a long time and require near perfect environmental conditions to germinate. Simply take a cutting and let the severed end callus for several days.
After that, plant the callused end of the cutting into a well-draining potting mix that has been lightly watered. Most cuttings start growing roots after two to six weeks.
Rhipsalis Cactus Care
Make sure you plant your mistletoe cactus in well-draining soil. You can make your own potting mix by combining regular garden soil with coir, gravel, orchid bark, or sphagnum to enhance drainage.
One thing you must keep in mind is that Rhipsalis is not a drought-resistant plant. Therefore, frequent watering is essential to keep the plant healthy.
However, take great care not to overwater it since it can cause weak stems and root rot. Typically, Rhipsalis cactus requires watering at least once every week.
Avoid applying fertilizer on newly potted mistletoe plant and wait for at least one year when the soil begins to become depleted of nutrients. If you must apply fertilizer to your plant, consider using a diluted half-strength fertilizer specially formulated for cacti.