Big and tall, short and stout, sharp and spikey or smooth and flowery: it’s the rather alien world of cacti succulents. And you won’t believe how many different types of cactus there are out there!
With everyone staying indoors a lot more over the recent months for reasons we won’t be delving into here at The Hobby Kraze, it’s not surprising to see that so many people are adopting more and more variances of cacti into the home.
They’re pretty, they’re unique, they’re low maintenance, they’re blooming plants and they bring a little life back into the four walls. And, with that, the team here at The Hobby Kraze have been asked about the various cacti for a while. So, here’s our answer (well, a lot of answers) about cactus identification, flowering cacti, choosing the right succulent and growing a cactus plant at home.
That’s why we’ve also collected the top 42 types of cactus you can find around the world with many of them being something you can cultivate on your very own window ledge and forget about for a while.
To begin, we’ve got a few FAQs to deal with:
- When do cacti bloom? In the 42 types of cactus, you’ll notice all cacti are angiosperm plants meaning all have the capability to flower. Flowering cacti will bloom at different times, but most need a chill period to do so meaning it’s most likely in Autumn.
- Are the types of cactus a flower? Cacti are not flowers. Sorry to burst your bubble on that one; they’re not trees either. In fact, they are classed as a plant within the family of succulents alongside Jade Plants and Aloe Vera (but they can grow flowers).
- Are cacti poisonous and are cacti poisonous to dogs? The answer is the same for both: some are, and some aren’t. You’ll have to read on to know exactly which, so you know you’re growing a cactus plant at home that won’t be taking you and your pets down!
- Can you eat a cactus? When considering cactus identification, you should check to see whether your choice of the various types of cactus grow fruit or not. This is because while the cactus is not edible, all cactus fruits are. I.e., the Prickly Pear category.
- How do cacti store water? When it rains or you water your cactus, its stem (which is spongy or hollow) will photosynthesise the water through long reaching roots before holding it within its thick wax-coated walls until it’s needed.
- Do cacti die? While they’re known for being the most hard-wearing of plants when considering growing a cactus plant at home, all plants can die. When it comes to the types of cactus, the most common reasons for wilting are overwatering and the cold.
- How do cacti reproduce? As angiosperm plants mature to flowering cacti, they all have pollen moved around by animals and insects eating. When the pollen fertilises the egg, a ‘fruit’ forms with seeds scattered by the weather. Then, a new cactus can grow.
- Why do cacti have thorns/spines/spikes/needles? There are many reasons the types of cacti evolved to have spikes; for one, it deters thirsty animals. Another reason is to provide shade, and another is to help avoid water loss through evaporation.
To find out some more about how a plant blooms and when, have a little look at our other article “The Top 53 Native Types of Flowers to Grow in Your Great British Garden” which looks into the difference between an annual plant and a perennial!
Now, to get on with the good bit to help you in choosing the right succulent from the top 42 types of cactus:
African Milk Tree Cactus (Euphorbia Trigona)
First on the list is the African Milk Tree Cactus. And, unfortunately, we’re starting with a bit of a false name; this cactus is not a tree, nor does it have any milk (it has a white and toxic sap). However, it is from West Africa in origin. Their cactus identification features long stems with adjacent growing leaves, plus a love for warm shade.
Amazon Fishhook Cactus (Mammillaria Grahamii)
Also going by the name of the Graham’s Nipple Cactus, these types of cactus can be perfect for growing a cactus plant at home with a unique twist. As flowering cacti, they have stout stems and hooked needles but are topped with a halo of pink or lavender blooms that open in April and May in dry and gravel-ridden habitats across Texas.
Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus Grusonii)
Also known as the Mother In-Law’s Cushion and the Golden Ball, these types of cactus are becoming more of a rare sight in their native habitat of Eastern Mexico. When choosing the right succulent for your home, be sure to have the right capacity. For example, the Barrel Cactus loves to grow on volcanic rock and can reach up to a meter.
Beaver’s Tail Cactus (Opuntia Basilaris)
The Beaver’s Tail Cactus is the first of the types of cactus categorised as a ‘Prickly Pear’. They’re entirely edible, have large paddle-style growths akin to a beaver’s tail and feature small glochids alongside needles to help ward animals and maintain shade. Found in Southwest USA, they’re also topped with stunning magenta blooms.
Bishop’s Cap Cactus (Astrophytum Myriostigma)
With the cactus identification cross section showing ribs in a 5-point star, the Bishop’s Cap Cactus is 70cm short and very round. Hence, the name as it often looks like a bishop’s cap from many angles. Despite being a common houseplant, these types of cactus grow wild in Mexico as a singular column blooming one stunning yellow flower.
Brain Cactus (Stenocactus Multicostatus)
With the name, it’s no surprise to see the 100 strange and winding ribs on this small yet bulbous cactus. It’s native to the sands of Mexico but, as another single-growing stem, it’s a popular choice for growing a cactus plant at home. It blooms under the sun at 2.5 inches tall with a cluster of pink gerbera-like flowers at around 5°C.
Branched Pencil Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia Ramosissima)
This evergreen from the Mojave Desert also answers to the Diamond Cholla Cactus. The pencil-thin stems can branch out to look like a diamond in the desert. Grey and green in colour, it is better as a wild cactus growing above 2 meters. As flowering cacti, it buds small orange flowers and spiny-bodied fruits that have a level of toxicity!
Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia Microdasys)
The Bunny Ears Cactus (A.K.A. the Polka Dot Cactus) is our second breed of paddle-stem Prickly Pears here on our list of the top 42 types of cactus. This means, if you see it in the wild (or even when you grow it at home) you’re completely safe to eat it when glochids are removed. Characteristically, it likes a lot of water during its first season.
Burro’s Tail Cactus (Sedum Morganianum)
The Burro’s Tail Cactus is a very unusual growth among many of the other types of cactus in the list. This is because, in terms of cactus identification, they can be likened to a vine with a bunch of grapes rather than a generic-looking cactus. Similarly, they are another species (part of the Sedum family) that are edible when cooked!
Button Cactus (Epithelantha Micromeris)
These global and button-looking types of cactus are green, spikey and have some down (fluff) on its body to help with the shade. As they are from Mexico and love the sun as well as moist brown ground. Growing to 5cm tall, they’re prefect in choosing the right succulent for your desk. Plus, they grow edible black seeds in red fruits.
Calico Cactus (Opuntia Engelmannii)
Also known as Engelmann’s Prickly Pear and the Desert Prickly Pear, the Calico Cactus is another of the edible types of cactus for snacks and deserted sustenance. They’re also one of the flowering cacti that features yellow buds to bloom in the Mexican Winter. As another single-stem growth, it is a good potted plant for the home.
Candelabra Cactus (Euphorbia Candelabrum)
This cactus looks more like a tree; the Candelabra Cactus grows to a staggering 12 meters in height with some seen at 20 meters. Unlike most cacti in this list, these types of cactus are native to Northern Africa. They also have a very toxic milk (despite being considered an ancient cure for syphilis) so maybe don’t consider growing it at home.
Carmine Cob Cactus (Echinopsis Backebergii)
Unlike the above, if you are considering growing a cactus plant at home, the Carmine Cob Cactus is a good option. They grow to just 5cm in height, have a beautiful red or pink bloom, don’t have a milky toxic sap and can grow with a single stem or in a cluster. One thing to note would be that they’re best grown in the warmth under a glass cage.
Chenille Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia Aciculata)
Also known as Old Man’s Whiskers, this edible cactus is another of the Mexican Prickly Pear cactus identification types. Meaning, it has the iconic paddle, few spikes and yellow-scale blooms that – as flowering cacti – come out under the sun. It features a fringe of spines on the edge of the pad as well as a knack for enduring cold weathers.
Chin Cactus (Gymnocalycium Quehlianum)
Here at The Hobby Kraze, these types of Argentinian cactus are our favourite. They’re perfect when growing a cactus plant at home as flowering cacti with a single stem column, hooked spikes and tipped with a cluster of daisy-breed blooms that have gradients of silken pink and white. Plus, they grow to 6cm as a perfect desk succulent.
Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia Fulgida)
Also known to be the Jumping Cactus, these Sonoran Desert dwellers can almost look a little drunk in their growth with many stems growing in random directions. Despite the mess, they can grow to 4 meters tall with a stark green and grey body filled with sharp spikes. They also droop green pear-shaped and edible fruits and pink blooms.
Christmas Cactus (Cylindropuntia Leptocaulis)
The Christmas Cactus cultivates Winter red berries that create a popular drink among some Native American tribesmen for the neurotic effects after crushing. These types of cactus often grow into bush-like shrubs that resemble other Christmas plants like a Holly bush, hence the name. They can also grow to 180cm with small and yellow buds.
Climbing Cactus (Epiphyllum Phyllanthus)
Known to be pollinated by hawkmoths at night, these types of cactus are one of few that are actually nocturnal. Instead of a typical structured stem with spikes, they have waterfall leaves as well as one long thin stem which blooms a single green-white flower at dusk. They originate from Central America but make a good houseplant, too.
Clumpy Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis Baccifera)
Looking like mistletoe, the Clumpy Mistletoe Cactus has long, thin and falling stems which can be bright green, or brown in colour. They also feature the iconic small white fruits of mistletoe (which are actually edible) while looking like the perfect hanging plant. Native to the Americas they’ve been carried across the world by migratory birds.
Creeping Devil Cactus (Stenocereus Eruca)
Known as clonal propagation types of cactus, this succulent is a columnar growth that cultivates along the ground rather than upright where one end creeps 60cm a decade while the other dies. It likes sandy regions such as it’s native Pacific coastal grounds. In terms of cactus identification: it’s green, grey, has spikes and grows dragon fruit.
Easter Cactus (Schlumbergera Gaertneri)
Another seemingly seasonal succulent, these types of cactus also go by the name of the Whitsun Cactus. They are a typically ornamental plant deriving from the Brazilian sub-tropical rainforest. They grow on trees with long leaves instead of in the ground by rocks with a prickly stem. They also feature red blooms in the style of a daisy flower.
Emory's Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus Echidne)
As a common little houseplant, this globular plant is great when choosing the right succulent for the home and garden. However, it does have significant spikes looking like barbed wire around the cactus ball. A native Mexican plant, they grow to 30cm in height and diameter while being topped with a bright yellow bloom for insects.
Fairy Castle Cactus (Acanthocereus Tetragonus)
Despite the adorable name, these Florida native flowering cacti are columnar and have numerous stems of 7 meters, 5 ribs, 8 spines, and edible fruits. In fact, the fruits are considered a sweet delicacy, but the Fairy Castle Cactus is often grown as a living fence than as a food. Plus, the nocturnal white flowers bloom throughout the year.
Feather Cactus (Mammillaria Plumosa)
Only 12cm tall and in need of a small water once a month, these are great when growing a cactus plant at home. They look just like the Button Cactus but grow in small clusters with a lot of spikes and down like the Old Lady Cactus (which you’ll find out about later). These types of cactus also bloom stunning tiny white and yellow flowers.
Golden Rat Tail Cactus (Cleistocactus Winteri)
The Golden Rat Tail Cactus actually looks like a cluster of prickly pickles due to the size and shape. A thing to note when choosing the right succulent, these types of cactus are very fast growing. They also bring coral flowers in colour that are native to Bolivia and the ease of growth indoors or outdoors as a plant growing to 2.5 meters in length.
Lady Finger Cactus (Mammillaria Elongate)
When you see a cactus thriving as a plant in a house and on a window ledge, it’s most likely to be the Lady Finger Cactus. These types of cactus are native to Mexico and grow in clusters but are harvested and potted as a single stem. They take the cactus identification of the Button Cactus but in the shape of a finger with white blooms.
Lemon Ball Cactus (Parodia Leninghausii)
Also known as the Golden Ball Cactus, these types of cactus can either be solitary or clustered and feature many ribs and spines. As flowering cacti, they also cultivate with clusters of funnel-shaped yellow flowers at the apex of the structured stem. Also, we should note that, despite the name, the cactus identification is oblong rather than ball.
Link Leaf Cactus (Pereskia Aculeata)
The Link Leaf Cactus is a strange one for the types of cactus simply because it has very non-succulent features. It has a brown stem with normal-looking leaves that grow on vines as long as 10 meters. Originating from Brazil, the flowering cacti brings small white and yellow flowers as well as spines and edible orange fruits high in iron.
Living Rock Cactus (Ariocarpus Agavoides)
Given its name simply because of its rock-like features, this Mexican succulent is grey, small and hardy. Perfect when growing a cactus plant at home, they like dry soil and low light while blooming a large rosette of a magenta flower at the tip of its rock formation body. It only grows to 6cm in height and has leaves rather than a stem.
Medusa’s Head Cactus (Euphorbia Caput-Medusae)
Typically found in South Africa after overseas cultivation, the Medusa’s Head cactus is given its namesake due to the resemblance to the snakes on Medusa’s head in the mythology. As a slow grower, it features long stems and, rather than ribs and spines, has knobbles. Growing to under a meter, it looks like a flower at bird’s-eye-view.
Moon Cactus (Gymnocalycium Mihanovichii)
The Moon Cactus is our only one of the types of cactus that’s a mutant; they’re formed from two different cacti and are cultivated to produce small potted-plant-sized succulents with one short stout stem and a large bloom varying from yellow to red. This makes it perfect for growing a cactus plant at home, especially as it’s non-toxic.
Old Lady Cactus (Mammillaria Hahniana)
As the Amazon Fishhook Cactus, the Old Lady Cactus is a breed of flowering cacti with halos of bright pink Summer flowers acting as targets for pollinating animals and insects. Native to Mexico, these types of cactus grow to 10 inches in height and 20 in width (it’s bulbous). Plus, it’s covered in white spikes and down (hence the name).
Owl’s Eyes Cactus (Mammillaria Parkinsonii)
Also called the Owl Eye Pincushion, these types of cactus look like many button cacti attached together. However, like the Old Lady Cactus individual stems have a bout of white down and needles alongside the flowering halo. However, it’s illegal to start growing a cactus plant at home in this species as it is classified endangered and toxic.
Pipe Organ Cactus (Pilosocereus Royenii)
With another name not quite safe for The Hobby Kraze, the cactus identification features for the Pipe Organ Cactus include having long tubular branches with multiple ribs and sharp spikes. Green and blue in body colour, it cultivates across South America while growing a large yellow bloom at the tip. Also, it is commonly pollinated by bats!
Queen of the Night Cactus (Epiphyllum Oxypetalum)
Choosing the right succulent means knowing when you’ll be able to appreciate it’s beauty. And, if you’re a night owl, you’re in luck with the Queen of the Night Cactus. These types of cactus are similar in looks to the Climbing Cactus. However, these flowering cacti only show their brilliant layered and fragrant white blooms at night.
Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea)
When envisioning a cactus, you probably think of the Arizona Saguaro Cactus standing in the middle of the desert with a few arms, a thick structured body, some needles and ribs. Every now and again you might see one with a red bloom, but as annual evergreens they live over 150 years growing to 12 meters with stored rainwater.
Sheldon’s Pincushion Cactus (Mammillaria Sheldonii)
Native to the Northwest of Mexico, Sheldon’s Pincushion Cactus is one of those types of cactus featuring the cylindrical body, a green hue, pink blooms, hooked needles and the need for a lot of light. With this, if it is one you’re considering when growing a cactus plant at home, use good drainage, place in the sun and water sparingly.
Star Cactus (Astrophytum Asterias)
At just 6cm tall, the Star Cactus is described as a mixture between the Bishop’s Cap Cactus and the Button Cactus: it’s small and round with a couple of ribs to create the star shape. With this cactus identification, it’s also known as the Sand Dollar Cactus. They’re native to Texas and, as flowering cacti, bloom rubber-like yellow buds.
Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus Engelmannii)
Loving the sun and growing to 24 inches upon maturity, the Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus blooms beautiful violet flowers with large petals at the tip of the stem. With their cactus identification, they’re generally found cultivating in areas such as Mexico and California in clusters of around 20 stems (so you’ll need desert soil and space).
Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera Truncata)
Found in habitats around the Eastern coasts of Brazil, this little cactus thrives in a rainforest and needs more water than many other species of flowering cacti. As a house plant, they’ll need a weekly watering a well as partial sunlight to help bring out the bright pink blooms at the tip of each of the thin and smooth waterfall stems.
Totem Pole Cactus (Lophocereus Schottii)
Also known in the botanist’s world as the Senita Cactus, the Totem Pole Cactus is named as such due to the totem pole look of the long, tall and structured stem. Instead of being riddled with sharp needles, these types of cactus actually have wrinkles in its pads and – strangely – thrive under the sun despite being very easily burned!
Wooly Torch Cactus (Cleistocactus Strausii)
Called the Wooly Torch Cactus because of the tall, white and eerie structures that tower as part of this plant, it is often considered a spectacle. They are a native flowering cacti cultivating in the Bolivian mountains reaching 3 meters in height with 25 columns covered in grey spines and small, closed, burgundy flowers.
With that, we’ve finished our list of the top 42 types of cactus you could be cultivating on a window ledge at home.
If you’re a green-thumbed lover of nature and enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it with other botanists and individuals wanting to begin growing a cactus plant at home. After all, at this point it’s more than a trend: it’s a home aesthetic!
Plus, if you did enjoy reading all about cactus identification through the various types of flowering cacti while helping you in choosing the right succulent for your home, you may also have a spark of interest in these other guides to nature from the team right here at The Hobby Kraze:
- The Ultimate Guide to the Types of Jade Plant: From Colour to Elegance
- The Types of Trees in The British Woodland and Beyond
- A Foodie Guide to the Types of Nuts
- The Top 51 Native Types of Flowers to Grow in Your Great British Garden
- 32 Types of Mushrooms, Shrooms, Sprouts, Spores, Ground Fruits and Other Fungi