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Image of Ferocactus

Maureen Gilmer



Botanical Name


Plant Common Name

Barrel Cactus

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

Genus Ferocactus contains the primary desert barrel cactus of the North American deserts. It contains 29 species which are either round or columnar in shape. Its range spans most of the arid regions of the American Southwest, dipping down into northern and central Mexico. They are also common in the Baja California peninsula where conditions are extremely arid.

The genus is named from the Latin, ferox, which means wild or fierce. Recent DNA testing has linked this genus to a common ancestor shared with closely related Echinocactus, another genus of sizable barrel forms. Large barrels are among the most widely cultivated species for desert gardens due to ease of cultivation and large size.

Barrel cacti are rounded in youth and many species become elongated to columnar forms with great age. Ribs are large and prominent though often difficult to see due to the abundance of spines. Areoles are large, bearing spines that may be quite thick and sometimes hooked. Plants bloom in spring on the very young areoles, often producing a crown of blossoms atop the rounded tip of the stem. Flowers are daisy-like in red, orange and yellow depending on the species. Oblong fruits are bright yellow and thick walled. The genus is divided by botanists into those species that produce fruits that are dry at maturity from those that are juicy.

These cacti were once quite popular for making cactus candy from their inner flesh. Sadly, parts of Southern California lost their great old barrel cacti a half century ago due to over-collecting for this purpose. In some areas the only place they remain in habitat is out of reach on near vertical cliffs. Key species include the dominant Ferocactus cylindraceus, a California native that is the prime barrel for landscaping in the desert Southwest. The most beautiful is Ferocactus glaucescens which bears beautiful turquoise blue skin and comparatively few spines. The tallest species in widespread cultivation is Ferocactus wislizeni. When young, these barrel cactus often begin life beneath a nurse plant such as creosote bush or brittlebush. Decades pass before they reach a height that rises above that of its protective foliage. Most of the very old specimens in the wild have long outlived their nurse plant which has disappeared altogether. This illustrates the importance of protecting juveniles from direct sun in the desert. They are tolerant of heavier soils but in the wild they can survive for a year without rainfall, perhaps longer, so beware of too much moisture in the root zone.


  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 10

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    12 - 15

  • Sunset Zone

    12, 13, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    3'-9' / 0.9m - 2.7m

  • Width

    6"-14" / 15.2cm - 35.6cm

  • Bloom Time

    Spring, Late Spring, Early Summer, Summer

  • Native To

    North America, Southwestern United States, Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances


  • Growth Rate


  • Water Requirements

    Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant

  • Habit


  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest


  • Flower Color

    Yellow, Red, Orange

  • Fruit Color


  • Fragrant Flowers


  • Fragrant Fruit


  • Fragrant Foliage


  • Bark or Stem Fragrant


  • Flower Petal Number


  • Repeat Bloomer


  • Showy Fruit


  • Edible Fruit


  • Showy Foliage


  • Evergreen


  • Showy Bark


Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Container, Houseplant, Rock Garden / Wall

  • Sharp or Has Thorns


  • Invasive


  • Self-Sowing