Barrel cactus

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Echinocactus grusonii— Golden Barrel Cactus, endemic to Mexico.

Barrel cactus are various members of the two genera Echinocactus and Ferocactus, found in the deserts of Southwestern North America.


Some species of Barrel cactus easily reach over 1 metre (3.3 ft) in height at maturity, and have been known to reach 3 metres (9.8 ft) in some regions. The ribs are numerous and pronounced, and the spines are long and can range in color from yellow to tan to red, depending on the age of the plant and the species. Flowers appear at the top of the plant only after many years.

Barrel cactus buds typically start to bloom in April with a bright yellow or orange flower. Pink and red varieties also exist but occur less frequently. The flowers only appear on the very top of the plant. As the flowers begin to wilt in early May, they may change color. A late summer desert rainstorm can produce a late bloomer as shown in the photo of the orange flowered variety (it bloomed two days after a rain storm in mid August and then continued to bloom right through the end of September).

One should approach a barrel cactus with extreme caution. A puncture to human skin from one of the spines is considered a dirty wound. If the puncture is deep enough to draw blood, antibiotics may be needed; and could take up to several months for the wound to heal properly. Barrel cactus plants are one of the more dangerous cacti to humans in the desert.[1]

Six young Barrel cactus in a cluster in the Mojave desert


As the flowers wilt away, small pineapple-shaped greenish fruit may form. Left untouched, the fruit has been known to last a full calendar year. The fruit can be easily removed but are not usually consumed because they are fairly dry and bitter


Native Americans collected the fruit as emergency food during extreme drought conditions.

The Seri people distinguished three species of barrel cactus: [2]


Barrel cactus are cultivated by plant nurseries as an ornamental plant. They are considered easy to grow and relatively fast growing. They may produce round offshoots.

Barrel cactus can fall over because they grow based on sun orientation. They usually grow towards the south to prevent surface tissue sunburn, giving the name "compass cactus."[3]



  1. ^ "FAQs about the Desert". Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Archived from the original on 8 February 2015. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Richard S. Felger and Mary B. Moser (1m985) People of the desert and sea: ethnobotany of the Seri Indians. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  3. ^ Johnson, G. Mark (2003-03-26). The Ultimate Desert Handbook. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 196. ISBN 0-07-139303-X.