Different Types of Cactus and How to Grow Them

Many people are intimidated by the thought of trying to grow cacti. However, there are dozens of different types of cactus available, and several of them are very low-maintenance options that are very beginner-friendly. You won’t have to water most of them much, and they thrive in hot and arid environments like you find in a lot of different homes. Different types of cactus come in a huge range of heights, with and without needles, and they can live for years under the right conditions with minimal maintenance. Some produce beautiful flowers throughout the year, and you can mix and match them with succulents.

Since many people are intimidated by cacti, I’ve put together a list that will highlight the different types of cactus for you. I’ll outline their growing conditions, whether or not they’re a good pick for beginners, and more. This way, you’ll go into this project confident that you can pick out and successfully grow different types of cactus in your home or office.

1. Angel Wings

First up is Angel Wings, and it is native to parts of Mexico. Also called Bunny Ears, this is a dense, shrub-like type of cactus that is between 40 and 60 cm tall. There are no spines on this type of cactus, but it does have white or yellow glochids that form in clusters. They’re thinner than human hair, and they can detach if you touch them and cause irritation. There are no central leaves or stems, and the sections grow in pairs. They produce two-inch yellow flowers in the late spring. This is a desert cactus that requires sandy, gritty soil and limited water. Avoid watering it during winter and be careful not to break it when you repot it.

1 Bunny Ears Cactus
Opuntia microdasys by sergio niebla / CC BY-SA 2.0

2. Barrel Cactus

This type of cactus can live up to 100 years, and they live in both direct sun and extreme heat, so you want to try and replicate these conditions. This cacti is muffin-shaped, and it spills over the edges of the pot. It will produce purple, orange, or yellow flowers in April, and it grows long spines. They need full sunlight in summer and spring with very low humidity, so you should place it in a south-facing window. They’ll burn under direct sunlight, and you can get away with watering them once every two or three months at the most. Over watering them is one fast way to kill them.

2 Barrel Cactus Group
Barrel Cactus by Keith Roper / CC BY 2.0

3. Christmas Cactus

The Christmas Cactus blooms in the winter months, and it has hanging branches that can get up to three-feet long. The flowers range from white and pink to yellow, lilac, or red. They like humid climates as they are native to Brazil, and they need natural but indirect light. You should water them once a month, and only water them when it’s dry to the touch. Overwatering them will cause the tips to turn brown. Add organic mulch two or three months after they bloom, and the plant will need 12-14 hours of darkness a day to bloom.

3 Christmas Cactus in Bloom
Schlumbergera by Kari Nousiainen / CC BY-NC 2.0

4. Blue Candle Cactus

This eye-catching type of cactus is also called the whortleberry cactus. It’s a type of shrubby cactus that will grow between four and five meters high, and it has slightly thicker stems. It produces smaller flowers that are a creamy white coloring, and it also produces dark purple, edible fruits. It’s very popular in Mexico for a food source, and they’re very low-maintenance. They need bright but indirect sunlight with gritty soil. You want them to get bone dry between watering sessions to avoid overwatering it. Don’t allow the temperature to dip below 25-degrees F, or it’ll kill the cactus.

4 Blue Candle
NYC – Brooklyn Botanic Garden – Blue Candle by Wally Gobetz / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

5. Saguaro Cactus

This is an extremely slow-growing type of cactus that can take a decade to reach an inch high, but it can grow up to 40-feet tall at full maturity. It lives around 150 years, and it’ll grow the first arm between 75 and 100 years. This makes it great for desert landscaping. It produces flowers in April and June that open after sunset and stay open until mid afternoon. They have edible fruits that ripen in June, and this is a barrel-shaped cactus. A single foot of this cactus can weigh in at 90 pounds, and you want to water it every two weeks, or when the soil dries out. Keep it in full but indirect lighting because direct lighting will kill it.

5 Saguaro Cactus Mature
Saguaro Cactus – Carnegiea gigantea by docentjoyce / CC BY 2.0

6. Rat Tail Cactus

Native to Mexico, this type of cactus can be grown in greenhouses, outdoors, or indoors. It offers long trailing branches that can grow several feet long, and it’ll produce flowers in the spring and summer months that come in shades of violet, red, orange, or pink. You should grow this cactus in a hanging pot, and you can propagate it by cuttings relatively easily. Put it in a space that gets full light in a south or west-facing window. Keep the soil moist when it’s blooming in the summer and water sparingly in the winter months. The cactus will do fine at room temperature as long as it doesn’t get too cold.

6 Close Up of a Rat Tail Cactus
Rat Tail Cactus by Dwayne / CC BY-NC 2.0

7. Bishop’s Cap

Bishop’s Cap is a type of cactus that is native to Mexico, and it has between three and seven vertical ribs that create a star-like shape when the plant is young. It’ll grow between 70 and 100cm tall at full maturity, and 10 to 20cm in diameter. It produces a daisy-like flower on the top, and it’ll bloom in the early spring months. It can take six years to flower, and it can’t take intense light. Leave them out of full sun indoors, and water them frequently during the summer. During the winter, stop watering. These conditions make them very low maintenance and hard to kill.

7 Bishops Cap Flowering
Bishop’s Cap Cactus by Ken Bosma / CC BY 2.0

8. Jumping Cholla Cactus

This bigger type of cactus can grow up to 13-feet high at full maturity, and it has flowers that come in shades of lavender, white, or pink. The name references how the stems detach from the plant at the slightest touch, and they have very sharp spines. They’ll root if you throw them in a pot or on the ground. They need slightly acidic soil with a gritty and sandy makeup. They need as much light as they can get in a partial shade environment, and you’ll want it to dry out between watering sessions.

8 Jumping Cholla
Jumping Cholla – Tucson, Arizona, USA by Christos / CC BY-SA 2.0

9. Peanut Cactus

You can grow this type of cactus indoors or outdoors, and it’s native to Argentina. It has long but very thin stems that have orange flowers that can get up to six inches wide when they bloom in late spring. This cactus tops out at six inches high, and it’s popular in gardens in hot areas due to the high growth rates. You should only water it when the top few inches of the soil dry out to avoid root rot, and it prefers as much sunlight as you can get it without being direct. It also likes dry and hot temperatures that you may have trouble getting unless it’s in a south-facing window.

9 Peanut Cactus
Echinopsis chamaecereus (Peanut Cactus) by Leonora (Ellie) Enking / CC BY-SA 2.0

10. Barbados Gooseberry

The fruits and leaves on this type of cactus are both edible, and they contain high amounts of protein, iron, and other nutrients. Unlike other types of cacti, this is a vine that can get to an impressive 33-feet tall with slightly thicker stems. The flowers are almost two inches wide, and they can come in white, pink or cream shades. This is usually an outdoor plant because it offers shrubby growth, and they like to stay in dry areas. They grow slowly, so you won’t need to repot them regularly. Put them in bright but indirect sunlight and water them infrequently. You’d rather underwater than overwater to prevent root rot.

10. Gooseberry Cactus
Pereskia aculeata by Joao Medeiros / CC BY 2.0

11. Kingcup Cactus

This type of cactus is part of the hedgehog cactus family. It’s native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, and you may hear it referred to as the Mojave mound cactus. It forms a pile of hundreds of stems that have cylindrical shapes. The flowers bloom in the late spring months, and they produce slightly larger scarlet or orange-red blooms that stand out in stark contrast to the cactus’ wooly look. They like partial sunlight, porous soil that will drain quickly when you water it, and a small amount of moisture. Water this cactus when the soil feels dry to the touch.

11 Kingcup Cactus Blooms
2012.05.09_19.04.54_CIMG7591 by Andrey Zharkikh / CC BY 2.0

12. Silver Torch Cactus

Better known as the Wooly Torch or the Snow Pole, you’ll find this type of cactus growing in the mountain regions of Bolivia or Argentina. It grows up to almost 10-feet tall at full maturity, and it gives you a greenish-grey coloring on slender and erect columns that are around 2.5-inches wide. It needs a high-draining soil that wicks moisture away, and you’ll want strong sunlight with cooler temperatures. It can withstand frost levels without dying, and it needs a lot of water during the summer. In the winter, you can cut back and not water it at all, and it produces burgundy or deep red plants in the summer.

12 Silver Torch Cactus
Silver Torch Cactus by Jim, the Photographer / CC BY 2.0

13. Organ Pipe Cactus

Living for up to 150 years, this type of cactus is native to Mexico and the United States. You’ll find them growing in rocky deserts, and they develop several steps that will grow from a single short stem. The stems are six-inches thick, and they can reach up to 26-feet high. They have funnel-shaped flowers that open at night and close at dawn, and they have a white coloring. They develop fruits that are as big as tennis balls, and they need well-drained, gritty soil. You’ll want access to full sunlight and water it sparingly. Look carefully for signs of overwatering in the spring months.

13 Organ Pipe Cactus
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument by Trevor Huxham / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

14. Old Man Cactus

You’ll find this type of cactus growing in Guanajuato in Hidalgo in the eastern portion of Mexico. It grows in columns with clusters of stems that can get up to 15-feet tall at full maturity. This cactus has a very unique shaggy coat with longer white hairs that look like an older man’s hair, hence the name. It doesn’t flower for 10 to 20 years, and you’ll see the white, red, or yellow flowers at night during the spring. It likes well-draining soil with Meditteranean climates with a lot of heat and sun. Let the soil dry out between watering sessions, and water it deeply when you do.

14 Old Man Cactus with White Shag
Old Man Cactus by Bennilover / CC BY-ND 2.0

15. Prickly Pear

This is another large type of cactus that can get up to 23-feet tall. You can get species with larger spines, but there are some spineless ones too. It has fruits that come in wine red, yellow-orange, red, and green that you can eat raw. You can also eat the pads, as long as you clean them. You’ll need a stem segment to propagate a new plant, and it needs a well-draining soil. Water it every two to four weeks, and it can take up to four years before it produces flowers. It needs ample sunlight to grow, and you should put it in a partially shaded location in hotter areas. You don’t need fertilizer for it to grow well, and it’ll bloom into the mid summer months.

15 Pickly Pear Cactus
Prickly Pears on Ektar #3 by Neal Wellons / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

16. Queen of the Night Cactus

If you want a fast-growing type of cactus, try this one from Southern Mexico and South America. They produce flowers in late spring all of the way through the summer, and they can grow up to several feet high at full maturity. They bloom during the night and wilt before dawn comes, and the flowers are white with a sweet scent. They produce purple-reddish hued fruits. Feed them in the morning hours to prevent scorching, and put them in a location that gets a lot of indirect sunlight with partial shade. Keep them in well-draining but sandy soil, and they like mild winters with very little water. They make excellent landscape edging.

16 Queen of the Night in Bloom
Queen of the Night by Tatters ✾ / CC BY-SA 2.0

17. Totem Pole Cactus

This type of cactus is a smooth-skinned species that produces no visible spines. It can grow up to 12 feet tall at full maturity, and it has small bumps on it that make it look like someone carved into it. This is another night blooming species that produces a light pink flower that will bloom all evening before closing in the early afternoon, and they produce edible, egg-shaped fruits. They can grow if you neglect them, and they like partial shade over direct sun. Protect them from winter temperatures by moving them inside, and water them when the soil dries out.

17 Totem Pole Cactus
Totem Pole Cactus (Pachycereus schottii var. monstrosus) by Tracy 27 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

18. Mexican Fence Post Cactus

This is another slow-growing type of cactus that can get between 12 and 20-feet tall at full maturity. It has stems that are around three to four inches around, and it’ll grow several different arms as it grows. Many Mexican homes use this plant as a natural fence or privacy screen, and it’ll bloom in the spring to produce yellow or red fruits dotted with black seeds. It works well by planting it against the wall of your home. It needs full sunlight to partial shade, and you want to give it porous soil that drains very well. You’ll only need to water it once in a while in the dry, hot months.

18 Mexican Fence Post Cactus
Cactus garden at Glendale Public Library by Joe Schallan / CC BY-NC 2.0

19. Moon Cactus

You can find this type of cactus in South America, Argentina, and Paraguay. It has orange yellow, red, and pink colored flowers that make it stand out. It comes in several varieties, including hybrids. The plants and flowers can get around six inches to a foot tall, and it doesn’t need a lot of water to do well. This makes it an excellent pick for beginners, and you should only water it when the soil feels dry to the touch. It likes bright but indirect sunlight for several hours a day, and you can easily graft it to another plant and have it start to grow. The flowers sit atop the cactus in a ball shape.

19 Small Moon Cacti
Gymnocalycium mihanovichii by Daniel Sabastian Cueto / CC BY-SA 2.0

20. Old Lady Cactus

Commonly known as Mammillaria hahniana, this is a powder puff type of cactus that grows in arid areas. It can grow 10-inches tall by 20-inches wide, and it produces white spines. You’ll want to put it in a south-facing window to ensure it gets bright but indirect sunlight. It’ll start to bloom in the spring and continue into the summer months, producing purple or red flowers. You’ll want it to have light between four and six hours a day. Get a well-draining soil with perlite, and you only want to water it when the soil is dry to the touch. It works well in container gardens due to the smaller size.

20 Old Lady Cactus
Mammillaria hahniana by kakteenklaus / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

21. Fairy Tale Cactus

Growing well in zones 10 and 11, this type of cactus is a North American native. It has many-stemmed clumps that will grow in varying heights while giving the appearance of tiny turrets and towers. The ribs on this plant are very distinct, and it grows very dense and short spines. This plant will grow very slowly before reaching the mature height of six feet tall, and the green coloring will slowly fade to brown as the cactus ages. The growing tips will branch out as it grows, and it rarely flowers. If it does, you’ll get larger white flowers that open during the night.

21 Fairy Tale Cactus
Night Blooming-Cereus by Homer Edward Price / CC BY 2.0

22. San Pedro Cactus

The botanical name for this type of cactus is Echinopsis pachanoi, and it is native to the Andes Mountains in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. This is a very low-maintenance house plant that will grow very quickly in a more mild climate. This plant is very drought-tolerant, and it works well for xeriscaping. As long as you have well-draining and deep soil, it can thrive in areas that get a lot of rainfall. You want to place it in a slightly shaded area so it gets bright but indirect sunlight. This is a bright green cactus that produces small clusters of spikes.

22 San Pedro Cactus
Flor de Cactus San Pedro by Jorge Pacheco / CC BY-SA 2.0

23. Cholla Cactus

This type of cactus is very closely related to the prickly pear cactus. However, these cacti have a much more restricted growth range in the southwest portion of the United States. They have elongated rounded cylindrical stems that connect using segmented joints. You’ll need a lot of clearance from other plants with this cacti, and it has dense spines that feature paper sheaths all over the Cholla. Some of them are very colorful. You need a dry and sunny location for this plant to grow well, and the soil should be gritty. You’ll need to be in zones five through nine for it to do well outdoors.

23 Chola Cactus
Cholla Cactus by Quinn Dombrowski / CC BY-SA 2.0

24. Feather Cactus

Growing in zones 9 through 11, this type of cactus has wispy white filaments that are both functional and ornamental. Native to Mexico, the white filaments provide shade for this squatty, short cactus to help prevent it from burning. This cactus will grow up to 16-inches wide and 3-inches tall, and it works well as a smaller houseplant. You’ll need a very shallow but wide container for this plant to grow indoors, and you should be very careful when you water it. Don’t get the wispy white covering wet, and water it sparingly. Get a cactus plant food and feed it twice a year.

24 Feather Cactus
Feather cactus by Anika Malone / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

25. Pencil Cactus

The final entry on the different types of cactus list is the pencil cactus. This plant is a distant relative of the rubber plant and poinsettia, and you grow it like you would any other cacti species. Native to India and Africa, it can easily reach heights of 30 feet or more outside. You can easily trim it to keep it the height of the ceiling when you keep it indoors, and the temperature should stay above 25-degrees F. You can choose from chartreuse, orange, solid green, or red plants. You’ll need partial shade, and you want to water it sparingly while planting it in well-drained soil.

25 Pencil Cactus
Epi Sp Pencil Cactus by Ernest McGray, Jr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bottom Line

These 25 different types of cactus are all easy to grow and maintain. Some of them are better suited for growing outdoors due to the height and size of them, but you can convert many of them to grow indoors. I invite you to mix and match them with your favorite succulents to create eye-catching displays throughout your home. Try a few and see how they do in your area.

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