The cactus, known by its family name of cactaceae, is a very unique and popular plant. It’s known for its wide variety of species, each very distinct in appearance. They thrive in dry, hot climates. Unlike most plants, cactus need very minimal amounts of water, thriving in well-drained areas. They store what water they do get, allowing them to survive droughts.
Cacti and succulents are terms that are often used interchangeably, however they are not always the same. All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti have structures called areolas, small cushioned shapes that grow spines, branches or hair, that define their family. Many succulents don’t have areolas and so are classified in a different plant family.
While Cacti are commonly thought of as desert plants, they can thrive in a home environment too. We’ve divided the species up by indoor and outdoor cacti. To help you decide on which plant is the best fit, take a look at each one’s appearance, water intake and sunlight needs.
Indoor Cacti Varieties
Although cacti are known for their love of sunlight, many thrive as indoor plants. Add one to your windowsill or living space for some unique decor. Indoor cacti tend to need less light and are smaller in size, making them the perfect houseplant.
Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia microdasys)
Originally from Mexico, the bunny ears cactus is named after its appearance. It has two pads that are bunny ear shaped. They are covered with glochids or brown prickles and should be handled with care. The bunny ears cactus grows to two or three feet, making it the perfect house plant. It produces white flowers and purple fruits in the summer if exposed to enough light.
Chin Cactus (Gymnocalycium)
Popularly known as the chin cactus, the gymnocalycium is a South American species of cactus. It’s name means “naked kalyx” in Greek which refers to the lack of hair or spines on the flower buds. Depending on the variety, some chin cacti seek shade while others thrive in sunlight.
Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)
The Saguaro cactus can grow to forty feet, but it grows slowly. This means it can be used as an indoor plant for years before you need to move it outdoors. It has a barrel-shaped body, giving it the classic cactus appearance. Native to the Sonoran Desert, this plant requires a lot of light. If kept as an indoor plant, be sure to place it in direct sunlight.
Old Lady Cactus (Mammillaria hahniana)
The old lady cactus is a type of pincushion cactus in the mammillaria family, which has 250 species. It has hairs and spines and is known for its halo of tiny pink or purple flowers that bloom in spring. The old lady cactus should be planted in a sandy potting mix and watered every other week.
Star Cactus (Astrophytum asteria)
Also known as sea urchin cactus or sand dollar cactus, the star cactus is identified by its round body that’s sectioned into eight slices. It is covered with white hairs and tiny white dots. In the spring it blooms a yellow flower. The star cactus only grows two to six inches in diameter, making it an ideal house plant.
Easter Cactus (Hatiora gaertneri)
Native to Brazil, the easter cactus blooms in late winter and early spring. Its flowers vary from whites to oranges to lavenders. The plant’s spines are stacked on top of each other, giving it a unique shape.
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
Often confused with the Thanksgiving cactus, the Christmas cactus blooms in late winter. It has vibrant red flowers and is a common holiday gift. The Christmas cactus does well indoors, in moderate home conditions. Avoid watering too much because this will cause the roots to rot. This plant can adapt to low light environments, but blooms excel with more light.
Moon Cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii)
Also known as chin cactus, the moon cactus varies in size, shape and color. A popular variety is the hibotan cactus. It originated in South America and comes in bright reds, pinks, yellows and oranges. These small plants thrive on window sills that get partial light.
Outdoor Cacti Varieties
When you picture a cactus, you probably imagine a huge structure in the dessert. Although many varieties thrive in the wild, some do well in the comfort of your backyard. Depending on what climate you live in, an outdoor cactus could be the perfect addition to your yard.
Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus)
The barrel cactus is named after its barrel or circular shape. Ribs line the sides of the plant and spiky spines grow from them. Some popular varieties include the golden barrel, california barrel, fishhook cactus, blue barrel and colviller’s barrel. Flowers bloom in May and June, showing off red or yellow colors.
Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)
Also known as the crab cactus, the Thanksgiving cactus blooms around the time of the holiday. It continues to bloom into the winter months, needing cooler temperatures to flourish. This outdoor plant does well in cooler climates, but must be in a region that does not have frost.
Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)
Also known as dutchman’s pipe cactus, queen of the night is an epiphyllum cactus that grows on trees. It’s native to Brazil and produces large white blooms. This cactus is named after its tendency to be a night-blooming plant. Using slightly acidic soil will encourage the queen of the night to bloom more frequently.
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)
The prickly pear cactus is a genus that is very popular in drought-prone areas. Some common variations are the beavertail prickly pear and the Indian fig prickly pear. The prickly pear does well in backyards, but sheds its spines, so may not be for everyone. This cactus produces yellow, red or purple flowers.
Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida)
Native to the American Southwest, the cholla cactus has a round stem with sharp spines. There are more than 20 species in the plant family that come in a variety of sizes. They produce green or orange blooms. The cholla cactus doesn’t need much water, but requires ample light.
Totem Pole Cactus (Pachycereus schottii monstrosus)
The totem pole cactus gets its name from its tall stature, growing to be ten to twelve feet high. The totem pole cactus is textured with wrinkles. Although it thrives in light, the noon sun can burn the plant.
Cacti are a unique addition to any home or garden. Whether you decide to plant an outdoor cactus in your backyard or add a cactus and succulent arrangement to your windowsill, they are low maintenance plants that are easy to care for.