Cacti are amongst the most popular choices for houseplant or indoor plant collections. Ideal for beginners or nervous plant carers, these are pleasingly easy to care for plants. Hardy and long lasting, in the right environment, many indoor cactus types tolerate a little neglect such as a sparse watering routine. This means that even if you occasionally forget your little plant it is unlikely to shrivel up and die.
A succulent collection is both attractive and easy to maintain.
Unlike tropical flowers many indoor cactus types don’t require high humidity levels in order to thrive. Instead they prefer dry air and average room temperatures. While many like to sit in a full sun position, most can tolerate with as little as 3 hours light a day. Supplementary lighting, such as grow lights, can also be used.
When happy and healthy most indoor cactus types provide long lasting greenery and vibrant colorful blooms. Growing into unusual shapes and with tactile, spiky textures, cacti often display a slow growth habit, this helps to make them a low maintenance option. Easy to care for and packed with visual interest the cacti listed below are amongst the most interesting indoor plants that you can grow.
What is the Difference Between Cacti and Succulents?
Interestingly all cacti are succulents however not all succulents are classed as cacti. Unlike cacti, succulents typically store water in their fleshy foliage. Cacti are more tolerant of hot, direct light positions than some succulents. Cacti also have areoles. These are little bumps on the outside of the plant from which spines or hairs emerge.
Different Indoor Cactus Types
Most indoor cactus types are members of the cactaceae family. As you can see from our list of attractive specimens, these plants come in a range of shapes, sizes and colors. Mainly succulents, they are also pleasingly easy to care for.
Succulents typically have fleshy or pad-like leaves or bodies.
Indoor cactus types can be divided into two groups, desert and forest types.
Most desert types grow in desert climates, these have the traditional cacti appearance. Their bodies, forming in the shape of a ball, obelisk or paddle, are covered in spines or hairs. Prized for their stark beauty and attractive flowers, these are tough little houseplants.
Forest cacti grow in wooded areas such as temperate forests or subtropical areas. Christmas cacti are one of the most commonly grown of the forest cultivars. Many forest cacti are epiphytic or have a climbing growth habit. This makes them ideal hanging plants.
Typically hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11, both forest and desert indoor cactus types are slow growing and produce attractive flowers.
The following suggestions are amongst the most interesting indoor cactus types.
1 Angel Wings
The first of our indoor cactus types Angel Wings (Opuntia albispina) is sometimes known as Bunny Ears. Part of the Prickly Pear family, Angel Wings is one of the indoor cactus types that does not produce spikes on its pad-like body. Instead evenly spaced clusters of hairs emerge. This makes it a good choice if you have small, curious children.
Native to Mexico, the pad-like clusters which make up the body of Angel Wings can reach 2 ft in height. The plants can also spread up to 5 ft wide. However, this size is only achievable if the Angel Wings is grown outside. When cultivated as an indoor cactus, growth is more contained.
The pad-like body of Angel Wings can look like ears.
Further adding to the interest, Angel Wings pads can grow in seemingly random directions. When in flower pale yellow flowers decorate the plant. As these fade red edible fruit forms. Best placed in a full sun position, Angel Wings also tolerates partial light. It does best when given a regular drink of water.
2 African Milk Tree
African Milk Tree (Euphorbia trigona) is another of the easy to care for indoor cactus types on our list. Also known as the Cathedral Plant, the African Milk Tree can reach a maximum height of 8 ft. But don’t let this put you off. The African Milk Tree is a slow growing specimen. When grown indoors the plant rarely exceeds 4 ft.
A relative of the Poinsettia, the African Milk Tree is a tall, upright narrow specimen. Small green leaves emerge between the sharp thorns along the sturdy stem. If you want a contrasting option, the Rubra cultivar produces red-purple leaves along its stem.
The Rubra cultivar produces red-purple leaves on the sturdy green stem.
Best planted in well draining soil and watered twice a month, the African Milk Tree tolerates both full and partial sun positions. If correctly cared for these plants can last for decades.
Be careful when handling your African Milk Tree. Exposure to the sap can cause skin irritation.
3 Aloe Vera
While Aloe Vera plants are most definitely succulents, they are not technically a cact. However the plants are often grouped as such. Aloe Vera also shares many growing and care needs with many cacti plants.
Identified by their stocky green leaves, sometimes adorned with the occasional white speck, there are over 25 types of Aloe Vera all of which bring a range of health benefits as well as providing visual interest. Thriving in pots and containers, Aloe Vera is a reliable and easy to care for succulent. Best placed in a sunny or light spot, the foliage can feel spongy and dense when the plant is well watered.
The speckled, fleshy leaves of the Aloe Vera plant.
4 Hens and Chicks
Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) is one of the most attractive indoor cactus types. Also known as Sempervivum, Hens and Chicks is a rosette shaped succulent. Forming in clusters, the mother plant, or the mother hen, sits in the center. Around it are offshoots, or chicks, develop and spread.
The rosette shaped mother hen sets our chicks, or offshoots.
There are around 40 different Hens and Chicks cultivars in a range of shapes and colors. The most common are red, purple and green. Easy to care for, Hens and Chicks plants are best planted in a sunny spot. Once established these plants rarely require watering.
5 Christmas Cactus
Another of the indoor cactus types that lacks teeth or spines, the Christmas Cacti is popular for its smooth, segmented foliage and soft, rounded spines. Flowering at Christmas, it is part of the holiday cacti group. Thanksgiving and Easter flowering types are also available.
Native to the Brazilian rainforests, where they grow as epiphytes on the branches of trees, Christmas Cacti prefers more humid conditions than other indoor cactus types. Room temperature should average around 70 ℉ during the day, dropping to 60 ℉ at night. Water moderately.
Christmas Cacti are a reliable, easy to care for houseplant choice.
An easy to care for specimen, as our grow guide shows, red, pink, white and orange flowering types are available.
In the wilds of the Sonoran desert the Saguaro cacti reaches 40 ft in height. Luckily the plant’s slow growth rate, rarely growing more than an inch a decade, means that it can be easily cultivated as a houseplant. Once the plants are mature enough, usually after 40 years of steady growth, white flowers with yellow centers emerge during the late spring and early summer months. As the flowers fade, edible fruits form.
The Saguaro is the tallest plant on our list.
A majestic specimen, Saguaro cacti can live for up to 200 years. This is a barrel-shaped cacti that thrives in indirect light. Too much direct light may kill it. Water your Saguaro once every few weeks or when the soil dries out.
7 Old Lady
Full of character, Old Lady (Mammillaria hahniana) is a small powder puff shaped plant. Thriving in arid conditions, the body of the Old Lady is a 10 to 20 inch sphere which is covered with spines and white hairs which can resemble a ball of cobwebs. Happy and healthy specimens also produce a crown-like halo of pink flowers on the top of the body during the summer months. While pink is the most common color, red and purple flowering types are also available.
Pink flowers emerge above the spines and hairs.
Best planted in sandy potting soil, water your Old Lady cacti fortnightly. In the winter this can be reduced to watering once a month. Place this attractive specimen on a south facing windowsill so that it can bask in lots of sunlight. Old Lady also works well in container gardens.
Barrel cacti (Ferocactus), also known as Mother-in-laws Cushion, is one of the most fierce indoor cactus types. A muffin shaped cacti which is covered with long, rigid spines that protect the edible, juicy pulp, Barrel cacti often spills over the edges of its container, providing further visual interest.
The large, rounded body of the Barrel cactus.
Producing orange, yellow and purple flowers in late spring, Barrel cacti can live for decades with the right care. Place in full sun during the spring and summer months, but keep the surrounding humidity levels low. A spot on a south facing windowsill is ideal. Water sparingly, as little as once every two or three months. Like other indoor cactus types, too much water can harm or even kill the plant.
9 Bishop’s Cap
Native to Mexico, Bishop’s Cap (Astrophytum ornatum) is one of the most striking indoor cactus types. Bishop’s Cap, or Monk’s Hood to use its other common name, can have between 3 and 7 vertical ribs which create a star-like shape when the plant is young. These are covered in stiff, protective spikes. Once the plant is mature, after 5 or 6 years, daisy-like flowers emerge on the top of the body. Bishop’s Cap is particularly attractive when a decorative gravel or mulch is placed on top of the soil.
Bishop’s Cap is a distinctive specimen.
Bishop’s Cap often develops a white frosty coating that can suggest a disease such as powdery mildew. However this is a defense mechanism, protecting the plant from the sun. Thriving in hot, sunny positions, water Bishop’s Cap regularly during the summer months. You can cease watering completely during the winter months.
An ideal beginner cacti, Ladyfinger (Mammillaria elongata) or Gold Lace is one of the smaller indoor cactus types. Reaching 6 inches tall, this Ladyfinger forms dense clusters of tubes in green and orange colors. These can look like a hand, hence the name. During the spring white, yellow or pink flowers form.
Ladyfinger is a small cacti.
A small specimen, Ladyfinger can reach a mature height of 8 inches and spreads around 12 inches wide. Like many other cacti on this list, Ladyfinger cacti thrive in a sunny position. While fertilization is not required, the plants do appreciate an occasional dose of water.
11 Prickly Pear
One of the more distinctive indoor cactus types upon first glance the Prickly Pear (Opuntia) appears to be two cacti growing on top of each other. The higher radish-like colorful parts emerge from the large padded, leaf-like body. You can also find specimens with large spine, spine free cultivars and once that produce edible fruit in red, greens and yellow-orange colors. Both the fruits and the pads are edible, just make sure you clean them first.
The colorful flowers of the Prickly Pear sit on top of the pad-like body.
Water once every 2 to 4 weeks, Prickly Pear thrives when placed in a sunny position. These plants like to mature, growing for around 4 years, before setting fruit and flower.
12 Snake Plant
One of the most tolerant indoor cactus types, Snake Plant (Sansevieria) is named because the bodies resemble a snake’s tongue. Hardy and resilient, the Snake Plant thrives when neglected. The plants tolerate both drought and low light levels.
One of the many houseplants that also purify the air in your home, the Snake Plant is a must have addition to any indoor plant collection. Thriving in indirect sunlight, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Many specimens also benefit from an occasional dose of fertilizer.
The elongated foliage of the Snake Plant.
The most commonly grown Snake Plant is Sansevieria trifasciata or Mother-in-law’s Tongue. However, other attractive cultivars such as the yellow edged Sansevieria Golden Hahnii are also available.
Caring for Indoor Cactus Types
While the two indoor cactus types have different growth habits and care needs they are both pleasingly easy to cultivate.
Desert indoor cactus types like lots of light, especially during the winter months. Some specimens may scorch if placed in the direct summer sun. Harden off the plants, slowly exposing them to more direct light, can help to prevent this.
Forest indoor cactus types like bright, but not direct light. They can be placed outside during the summer months.
Finding the right position encourages healthy growth.
Temperature and Humidity
Desert cacti like hot dry temperatures. These should average 70 to 80 ℉ when the plants are actively growing. In the winter, when the plants are dormant, the temperature can be allowed to drop to 55 ℉. In the wild desert cacti used to chilly nights, however indoor types do require protection from cold winter drafts.
Forest indoor cactus types tolerate a wider range of temperatures. This can be from 55 to 70 °F when the plants are actively growing. When they are dormant a cooler temperature of around 50 °F is ideal. The DOQAUS Digital Thermometer enables you to accurately measure both the temperature and humidity levels around your sensitive plants.
Desert cacti do best when planted in a fast draining cacti mix. You can make your own cacti potting mix by mixing potting soil with inorganic agents such as perlite or sand. Incorporating these materials helps to improve drainage and aerate the soil. Desert cacti are slow growing plants. If the soil is good they rarely require repotting. Desert cacti are more likely to flower if under-potted, or allowed to sit in a pot that is a little too small.
As long as it is well draining, forest cacti types can be planted in a regular potting soil mix. Unlike desert cacti, forest cacti require regular repotting. Repot at the start of the growing season to encourage lots of foliage and flowers to form.
Knowing how often to water cacti can be difficult. All indoor cactus types have their own specific watering requirements. Generally, desert cacti types require frequent watering during the spring and summer months when growth is active or the plants are flowering. Water well when soil starts to dry out.
During the winter reduce or cease watering. Water only if your plants start to shrivel up. Applying too much water during the winter months is a common mistake and can cause rot at the base. If allowed to spread or become too advanced the rot can kill the plant. If rot starts to spread, start again by taking cuttings from healthy parts of the plant and destroying the remaining plant.
Forest cacti can be watered like other houseplants during the summer months and when buds start to show. During their post flowering rest period, water forest cacti only when the soil is dry to the touch. Do not water heavily during the rest period. Again, this can cause rot. If rot becomes too advanced, take cuttings and start again.
Getting your watering routine right is one of the most difficult aspects of cacti care.
All indoor cactus types appreciate a regular dose of fertilizer when they are actively growing. Desert cacti prefer a cacti fertilizer while forest types can be given a dose of standard houseplant fertilizer. Consult the product information for exact dosage amounts and frequency.
Pruning Indoor Cacti
The majority of indoor cacti don’t require pruning. Remove any dead or damaged growth with sharp garden scissors.
Remember to wear gloves when handling the plants to protect yourself from their sharp thorns.
If your indoor cactus produces offshoots simply use a clean, sharp sterile knife to cut the offshoot from the parent plant. Some drop their offshoots when they are ready to set their own roots.
Remember to wear work gloves when handling.
Cut the offshoot as close to base as possible. Allow the offshoot to dry out, place it on a sunny windowsill until a callus forms over the cut area. Dip the callused area in Garden Safe Rooting Hormone before placing the cutting on top of a pot or tray filled with a good growing medium. Mist the soil and offshoot regularly. Once roots have developed you can pot on the offshoot.
Growing From Seed
While both desert and forest cacti can be cultivated in this way, it is a slow process that requires lots of patience. You can either purchase cacti seeds or harvest your own from spent flowers. Harvested seeds may require stratification before sowing.
Prepare your potting mix before planting the seeds as deep as they are wide. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of sand or cacti potting mix. Water lightly and place in a propagator in a bright location. Do not place the seeds in direct sun.
Germination takes roughly 3 weeks. Once the seeds have germinated they can be removed from the propagator during the day. Continue to protect the developing seedlings at night. After 6 months of steady growth the young cacti should be ready for potting on.
How to Pot and Repot
While many indoor cactus types adore being pot or root bound, if the soil is too old or poor you will need to repot. Forest cacti appreciate more frequent repotting than desert types.
Remember to wear gloves when handling cacti.
Remove the specimen from its pot. You may need to use a clean trowel to loosen the roots.
Add a thick layer of appropriate potting mix to the bottom of a clean terracotta pot. For desert cacti types this is a cacti potting mix, while for indoor forest cacti you can use a regular potting mix. Aim to plant to the same depth as in the previous pot. You may need to add or remove soil before you are happy with the position of the plant. When you are happy, plug any remaining gaps with more potting mix. Use a sharp stick or chopstick to push soil down removing air pockets. Water lightly.
Most cacti plants are attractive and easy to care for. Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/mini-cactus-spike-plants-pot-755542/
All indoor cactus types are prone to pests such as scale, fungus gnats, spider mites and mealybugs. Wipe any infestations by brushing the leaves with cotton swabs dipped in water.
Colorful and easy to care for indoor cactus types offer a range of easy to care for possibilities to lift your home or houseplant collection.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.