Types of Cactus in
the Desert Southwest

Including all native Cacti Species in the United States,
from the Southwest, the Midwest, Puerto Rico and Florida.

 

 

Updated October 5, 2021

What represents the diversity of the American Southwest better than the cacti? Explore my illustrations and descriptions of every cactus species in the United States. My simple illustrations are designed to highlight the field identifications of each cactus, helping you learn and enjoy them in the wild. This is the world's only complete guide to every cactus in the desert southwest and the United States. Explore the American cactuses by genus:

Cacti of the Desert Southwest

Cereus

Cereus Cacti are the large, tree-like cactuses that we most identify with the southwest. While most species occur in Latin America, three in the American Southwest are iconic to the region.

Bergerocactus emoryi Cactus (Snake Cactus)

Bergerocactus emoryi

Golden-spined Cereus

This medium-sized cactus is native to the Southern California and Baja California coast. This cactus features a lemon yellow flower and a unique golden color from its large, yellow spines.

Pachysereus schottii (Senita Cactus)

Pachycereus schottii

Senita

One of the most recognizeable cacti of the Sonoran desert in Mexico, this large species is known only in and near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona. It's large pinkish flowers are pollinated only by a single creature; the Senita Moth. This is an example of mutualism in nature; both species' survival depends on the other.

Night Blooming Cereus (Peniocereus greggii)

Peniocereus greggii

Night-blooming Cereus

This cactus from Arizona, New Mexico and Texas as well as northern Mexican states, is known for its short-lived flowers which bloom after sunset. These blooms have a vanilla-like smell, and and an elegant white and green-yellow palette.

Carnegiea gigantea (Saguaro Cactus)

Carnegiea gigantea

Saguaro

This gigantic cactus symbolizes the Sonoran Desert, the state of Arizona, northern Mexican cultures, and even the United States around the world. They are remarkable organisms, living for over one-hundred and fifty years and acting as hotels for myriad animals.

Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus Thurberi)

Stenocereus thurberi

Organ Pipe Cactus

The Organ Pipe Cactus, which can grow as high as twenty-five feet, is named after its resemblance to pipe organs. It grows in primarily in Baja California and Sonora, where it is often the primary element in desert landscapes. It also grows in a corner of southwest Arizona, where it is protected at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Coryphantha

The Coryphantha cactuses are small to medium-sized 'beehive' cactuses, often recognizable as a pint-size potted plants. This genus of roundish, barrel-like cactuses with bright flowers is found mostly in the American Southwest and Desert Mexico.

Foxtail Cactus (Coryphantha Alversonii)

Coryphantha alversonii

Foxtail Cactus

This black-tip spined cactus from Southern California's Mojave desert mountains is medium-sized, and known for its spectacular pink and yellow blooms.

Sea Urchin Cactus (Coryphantha echinus)

Coryphantha echinus

Sea Urchin Cactus

The fragile yellow flowers on this small cactus from the far western deserts of Texas and the Chihuahan desert in Mexico last only a few hours each year. This species grows in desert scrub and degraded grasslands, and rarely grows in clumps.

Cactus Species

Coryphantha macromeris

Nipple Beehive Cactus

This small cactus of the Chihuahan Desert is common in Texas and New Mexico, as well as much of the desert regions of Mexico. It grows in a wide variety of soils, and its purplish-magenta flowers bloom in late summer.

Whiskerbush (Coryphantha ramillosa)

Coryphantha ramillosa

Whiskerbush

This rare and threatened species from the border between Texas and Mexico is small and spherical, growing in areas where few other plants grow. It features a stunning pinkish-magenta bloom and long spines.

Pima Pineapple Cactus (Coryphantha Robustispina)

Coryphantha robustispina

Pima Pineapple

Often called Pima Pineapple or Pineapple Cactus, this small specimen known from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico, grows in sandy and gravel soils.

Nickels's Pincushion Cactus (Coryphantha nickelsiae)

Coryphantha nickelsiae

Nickels's Pincushhion Cactus

This rare cactus of the eastern Chihuahuan desert, in both Texas and northern Mexico, features yellowish-white flowers. It flowers late in the summer and is often found in thorn scrub or limestone outcrops.

Santa Cruz Beehive Cactus (Coryphantha recurvata)

Coryphantha recurvata

Santa Cruz Beehive Cactus

This cactus, which grows in clusters of tightly packed individuals, has a very limited distribution along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Pineapple Cactus (Coryphantha sulcata)

Coryphantha sulcata

Pineapple Cactus

This cactus of Texas and, to a lesser degree, northern Mexico, features a bright Indian Yellow flower. Like many other rare cacti, Coryphanta sulcata may be a subspecies of another species. In this case, possibly Coryphantha nickelsiae.

Nickel's Pincushion Cactus (Coryphantha nickelsiae)

Coryphantha nickelsiae

Nickel's Pincushion Cactus

This cactus, known only from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico, and southern Texas, grows in partial-desert shrublands. It features yellowish-white flowers.

Cylindropuntia

The Cylindropuntia are often known as the chollas, and they are many people's favorite cactus to despise, for their frightening ability to attach their spines to your body. They are, however, a source of great beauty in the American deserts, forming vast gardens.

Buckhorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa)

Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa

Buckhorn Cholla

Buckhorn Cholla, a large tree-like cholla which grows upwards of 13 feet, is common in both the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. It is most often found on sandy, well-drained soils and gravelly slopes.

Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

Cylindropuntia bigelovii

Teddy Bear Cholla

This fuzzy, soft looking cactus may look cute, but it is an evil menace! That fuzz means razor-thin spines that will detach from the plant in clusters. It is common to see these spine clusters detached and laying on the ground near these chollas. Teddy-bear Cholla are also a beautiful component of the deserts of Arizona, California, Nevada and northwestern Mexico and form thick desert forests.

California Cholla

Cylindropuntia californica

California Cholla

This large cholla, known to the coastal regions of far Southern California and Mexico's Baja peninsula, can grow to lengths of nine feet. It features small yellowish flowers. Because it is not as densely-packed with spines as the other chollas, its greenish skin is visible.

Silver Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)

Cylindropuntia echinocarpa

Silver Cholla

This large and common cholla has a broad range in California and the Baja peninsula. It can grow to nearly seven feet in height; forming large, foreboding thickets. Its flowers are most often yellowish-green.

Hoffman's Teddybear Cholla (Cylindropuntia fosbergii)

Cylindropuntia fosbergii

Hoffmann's Teddybear Cholla

This species is limited to the deserts of Southeastern California, mostly in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It is sometimes referred to as the Pink Teddy-bear Cholla, for its pink-tinged spines.

Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida)

Cylindropuntia fulgida

Jumping Cholla

This treelike cactus, sometimes called the Hanging Chain Cholla, because of the way its branches hang, is a cactus of the Sonoran desert on both sides of the border. Like the Teddy-bear Cholla, Jumping Cholla stems detach easily, almost as if they 'jump' onto your when you brush past one.

Gander's Buckhorn cholla (Cylindropuntia ganderi)

Cylindropuntia ganderi

Gander's Buckhorn Cholla

This common cholla is widespread in the Sonoran desert, on both sides of the border. It features acid yellow flowers, and untidy plants that can grow as tall as 10 feet.

Cane Cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata)

Cylindropuntia imbricata

cane Cholla

Cane Cholla, distributed across the southwest and desert mexico, is abundant, and more cold tolerant than other cactuses. It is seen in places like Oklahoma and in the colder parts of New Mexico. It can grow into 15 foot tall clumping trees, and features magenta flowers.

Pencil Cactus (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis)

Cylindropuntia leptocaulis

Pencil Cactus

Sometimes referred to as the Christmas Cactus, this unique cholla of the Southwestern United States and desert Mexico features narrow, pencil-like stems. In December, the pencil cactus grows red berries, which explains its alternate common name.

Coastal Cholla (Cylindropuntia prolifera)

Cylindropuntia prolifera

Coastal Cholla

The Coastal Cholla is a grayish-greenish cactus of Baja California, Southern California and the Channel Islands. It is common on the hillsides, cliffs and bluffs of the Pacific Ocean, particularly on the Channel Islands, where it grows alongside the native chapparal and scrub.

Diamond Cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)

Cylindropuntia ramosissima

Diamond Cholla

The Diamond Cholla, widely distributed in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of the United States and Mexico, is a tree-like cactus with small brown or light-orange flowers, and mostly spineless branches. Its golden spines are few and far between, but they are long and sharp. This cactus gets its name from the diamond-shaped patterns that adorn its stems.

Hudson Pear (Cylindropuntia spinosior)

Cylindropuntia rosea

Hudson Pear

A beautiful cactus, the Hudson Pear features white pines and brilliant pink-magenta flowers. In some parts of the world, including Australia, Hudson Pear has become an invasive.

Spiny Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia spinosior)

Cylindropuntia spinosior

Spiny Cholla

Also known as the Walkingstick Cactus, this cholla features thin, snake-like stems and beautiful violet-magenta blooms. It is known mostly from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. In the United States, it is seen only in Arizona and New Mexico.

Sheathed Cholla (Cylindropuntia tunicata)

Cylindropuntia tunicata

Sheathed Cholla

The Sheathed Cholla is one massive arms cache of a cactus. It is just packed with spines! This species lives primarily in the Chihuahan desert of Mexico, and can be seen in Texas' Chihuahan desert as well.

Whipple Cholla (Cylindropuntia whipplei)

Cylindropuntia whipplei

Whipple Cholla

This grassland cholla of the Chihuahuan Desert dwells in higher elevation grasslands and deserts. Its spineless fruits were traditionally harvested for flour.

Wolf's Cholla

Cylindropuntia wolfii

Wolf's Cholla

The Wolf's Cholla is found almost entirely in the Colorado Desert portion of the Sonoran Desert, in places such as Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It has long, wooly branches and orange or magenta colored flower.

Peach Springs Cholla (Cylindropuntia abyssi)

Cylindropuntia abyssi

Peach Springs Canyon Cholla

This cactus is known only from Peach Springs Canyon in northern Arizona's Hualapi Reservation, and less so in nearby parts of the Grand Canyon. It features greenish-white flowers.

Arizona Pencil Cholla (Cylindropuntia arbuscula)

Cylindropuntia arbuscula

Arizona Pencil Cholla

This cholla shrub of Arizona and Sonora features thin, pencil-like stems and tiny red-orange flowers. This species is sometimes referred to as the Bush Cholla or Branched Pencil Cholla.

Thistle Cholla (Cylindropuntia davisii)

Cylindropuntia davisii

Thistle Cholla

This shrub-like cholla of the oak-juniper-mesquite woodlands of eastern New Mexico and west Texas. Like the Teddy-bear Cholla, the large spines of this species break off easily, causing untold anguish for animals and humans.

Klein's Pencil Cactus (Cylindropuntia kleiniae)

Cylindropuntia kleiniae

Klein's Pencil Cactus

This cactus of the Chihuahuan desert of New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico features magenta-colored flowers and grows in creosote and mesquite flatlands.

Munz's Cholla (Cylindropuntia munzii)

Cylindropuntia munzii

Munz's Cholla

This cholla, which resembles a tree in its growth and size, grows upwards of nine feet. It is known only from the far Southeastern edge of California, near the border with Mexico, and south in the eastern edges of Baja California Norte.

Staghorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor)

Cylindropuntia versicolor

Staghorn Cholla

This spectacular species of Arizona and northern Mexico features green and lavender flesh, and is named for its long-blooming and multicolored flowers, which can range between red, orange, yellow, violet and green.

Echinocereus

The Echinocereus genus is composed of ribbed cylindrical cactuses. Many are referred to as 'hedgehog cacti'; referring to the ancient Greek genus name, which means, Hedgehog Candle. Some of the most brilliant blooms in U.S. cactuses are produced in the Echinocereus genus.

Arizona Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus arizonicus)

Echinocereus arizonicus

Arizona Claret-cup cactus

This lovely cactus of Arizona and New Mexico is known for its immensely colorful blooms, which show shaded of orange, yellow and brilliant red. This species grows in mounds or clumps.

Cactus Species

Echinocereus chisoensis

Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus

This stunning species is known for its extremely limited range within desert shrublands of Big Bend National Park, on the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. It features bright magenta-pink blooms.

Cactus Species

Echinocereus dasyacanthus

Texas Rainbow Cactus

This thickly-bristled cactus, appearing in arid rocky slopes and desert floors of several Southwestern states, has an unusual creamy-light green color produced by its carpet of spines. Its flowers are striking yellow or yellow-green. It's name is derived for multi-colored bands up its spine.

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

Echinocereus engelmannii

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

This commom cactus of the desert southwest and desert Mexico produces large clusters of stems, with large spines. It is known for its beautiful magenta flowers, which produce fruit which tastes like strawberry.

Robust Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus fasciculatus)

Echinocereus fasciculatus

Robust Hedgehog Cactus

This species, growing primarily in Arizona's Sonoran desert, is a clumping cactus which features brilliant magenta flowers, often blending toward white.

Pinkflower Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus fendleri)

Echinocereus fendleri

Pinkflower Hedgehog Cactus

This species, found in dry soils of Arizona, New Mexico and Southwestern Colorado is also known as Fendler's Hedgehog Cactus, named after a naturalist of the 1800's. It's flowers vary from pink, to white to deep purple.

Cactus Species

Echinocereus pentalophus

Lady Finger Cactus

This species is found in northeastern Mexico, and can also be found in the Rio Grande Valley of Southeastern Texas. Its magenta and yellow flowers are among the most attractive of the North American cacti.

Dahlia Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus poselgeri)

Echinocereus poselgeri

Dahlia Hedgehog Cactus

This unusual species is known mostly for its distribution in the Mexican state of Coahuila, but is also found in Southern Texas. It's brilliant reddish-pink blooms open in the late afternoon, and close up at night.

Lace Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii)

Echinocereus reichenbachii

Lace Hedgehog Cactus

This cactus of the Chihuahuan desert features purplish-pinkish flowers. It can be found as far east as Colorado and Nebraska.

Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus )

Echinocereus triglochidiatus

Mojave Mound Cactus

This stunning cactus, also known as the claretcup, is a close relative of the Arizona Claretcup Cactus, but is found in a more widespread range. It prefers shady areas on rocky slopes.

Nylon Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus viridiflorus)

Echinocereus viridiflorus

Nylon Hedgehog Cactus

This small cactus exists in more eastern habitats in both the United States and Mexico. It is found in habitats like dry grasslands and prairies, in eastern Texas and even as far north as South Dakota.

Boyce Thompson Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus boyce-thompsonii)

Echinocereus boyce-thompsonii

Boyce Thompson Hedgehog Cactus

This hedgehog cactus, only recently recognized as a separate species from Echinocereus fasciculatus, features brilliant pinkish-magenta blooms and is known only in Arizona.

Leding's Hedgehog Cactus

Echinocereus ledingii

Leding's Hedgehog Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Berlandier's Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus berlandieri)

Echinocereus berlandieri

Berlandier's Hedgehog Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Scarlet Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus coccineus)

Echinocereus coccineus

Scarlet Hedgehog Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Strawberry Cactus (Echinocereus enneacanthus)

Echinocereus enneacanthus

Strawberry Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Nichol's Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus nicholii)

Echinocereus nicholii

Nichol's Hedgehog Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Yellow-flowered Alicoche (Echinocereus papillosus)

Echinocereus papillosus

Yellow-flowered Alicoche

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Rainbow Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus)

Echinocereus pectinatus

Rainbow Hedgehog Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Devilthorn (Echinocereus pseudopectinatus)

Echinocereus pseudopectinatus

Devilthorn

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Arizona Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus rigidissimus)

Echinocereus rigidissimus

Arizona Rainbow Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Varied Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus russanthus)

Echinocereus russanthus

Varied Hedgehog Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Straw-color Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus stramineus)

Echinocereus stramineus

Straw-color Hedgehog Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Ferocactus

The ferrocactus cacti are the barrel-shaped species of the American southwest and northwestern mexico. They are known for their shallow roots and ability to withstand extreme aridity and heat.

Desert Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus)

Ferocactus cylindraceus

Desert Barrel Cactus

This large barrel cactus of the Mojave desert often has a cylindrical, 'barrel' shape. It can reach lengths of nearly seven feet. It features yellow or maroon-colored flowers, and a yellow-colored fruit. It is one of the most recognizeable and attractive cactus species of Southern California.

Traveler's Friend Cactus (Ferocactus emoryi)

Ferocactus emoryi

Traveler's Friend

This small, globe-shaped barrel cactus grows as a single unit. It is known mostly in the state of Sonora and on the baja peninsula, but is also found in Arizona.

Turk's Head Cactus (Ferocactus hamatacanthus)

Ferocactus hamatacanthus

Turk's Head

This common cactus of the Chihuahuan desert, is also present in New Mexico and Texas. It forms one single globe, which, at later stages becomes more of a columnar shape, and features an often yellow, but sometimes variable-colored flower.

Keg Cactus (Ferocactus viridescens)

Ferocactus viridescens

Keg Cactus

This rare barrel cactus, sometimes known as the San Diego Barrel Cactus or Coast Barrel Cactus exists mostly along the coast of Southern California and Baja California. It has a globe or cylindrical shape, and grows in cooler climates than other barrel cacti. It is threatened due to habitat loss, agriculture and coastal development.

Arizona Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni)

Ferocactus wislizeni

Arizona Barrel Cactus

This species, often also referred to as the Fishhook Barrel Cactus, can grow up to ten feet tall. It is most often found in Arizona and northwestern Mexico, but it can also be found in New Mexico and Texas.

Mammillaria

This genera has extraordinary diversity, with over 200 species known to science throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In the American southwest, there are only five species. These species are united by their typical globe shapes and tubercles or 'nipples' throughout. They are often densely covered with flat spines.

Strawberry Pincushion (Mammillaria dioica)

Mammillaria dioica

Strawberry Pincushion

This species is unique to the western part of the Colorado desert, mostly in the western Southern Californian deserts and in Baja California. It features attractive orange-yellow-cream colored flowers.

Graham's Nipple Cactus (Mammillaria grahamii)

Mammillaria grahamii

Graham's Nipple Cactus

A common fishhook cactus of the southwest, this species features bright pink flowers, which are often decoratively arranged around the crown of the cactus.

Lacespine Nipple Cactus

Mammillaria lasiacantha

Lacespine Nipple Cactus

This common cactus of Mexico can also be found in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. It is among the many cacti that are often smuggled by collectors. It is threatened with extinction.

Common Fishhook Cactus (Mammillaria tetrancistra)

Mammillaria tetrancistra

Common Fishhook Cactus

The Common Fishhook Cactus is widespread throughout the southwest and northern Mexico. It features a small lavender-pink bloom.

Thornber's Nipple Cactus (Mammillaria thornberi)

Mammillaria thornberi

Thornber's nipple cactus

This cactus, which often forms multiple clumping stems, features tiny flowers. It grows in Southern Arizona and the Mexican Sonoran desert.

Opuntia

The Opuntia cacti are recognized for their beaver-tail like pads. They are often referred to as the Prickly pears. These are among the classic cactus shapes, and they have played a key role in the cuisine of many native North American groups, particularly in Mexico, where Prickly pears of many species are consumed as a vegetable.

Old Man's Whiskers Cactus (Opuntia aciculata)

Opuntia aciculata

old man's whiskers

This cactus, also called Cowboy's Red Whiskers or Chenille Pricklypear, is native to the Chihuahuan desert of Northern Mexico and Southern Texas. This species is sometimes used as a vegetable. Its fruits are edible and the pads can be cooked.

Devil's Tongue (Opuntia ammophila)

Opuntia ammophila

Devil's Tongue

This Florida Prickly pear cactus, which grows to six feet, forms a single trunk and features yellowish flowers.

Beavertail Pricklypear Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)

Opuntia basilaris

Beavertail Pricklypear

The classic southwestern Prickly pear cactus, the Beavertail is common in the Mojave, Sonoran and Colorado deserts. This plant, which can forms hundreds of pads, was a key part of the diet of many pre-Columbian southwestern tribes.

Pancake Pricklypear (Opuntia chlorotica)

Opuntia chlorotica

Pancake Pricklypear

A common prickly pear cactus, the Pancake Pricklypear can be found throughout most of the southwest and the deserts of northern Mexico.

Lake Mead Pricklypear

Opuntia diploursina

Lake Mead Pricklypear

The Lake Mead pricklypear has a limited range. It exists only within the vicinity of Lake Mead. It features large, bright yellow flowers.

Texas Pricklypear (Opuntia engelmannii)

Opuntia engelmannii

Engelmann's Pricklypear

This is a common pricklypear of the eastern portions of the southwest, appearing often in Texas, Louisiana and even Missouri. But it is also common in the true southwest, and desert Mexico.

Mojave Pricklypear (Opuntia erinacea)

Opuntia erinacea

Mojave Pricklypear

Sometimes called the Grizzlybear Pricklypear, for its furry spines, this cactus forms low, but large clumps. It is often found in higher elevation deserts.

Brittle Pricklypear (Opuntia fragilis)

Opuntia fragilis

Brittle Pricklypear

This is a common cactus of the western portions of North America, and is common even in northern latitudes of British Columbia. Its a tiny clumping cactus. It features small yellowish flowers.

Violet Pricklypear (Opuntia gosseliniana)

Opuntia gosseliniana

Violet Pricklypear

This beautiful cactus, with its often brilliant purple pads, is known only to Pima County in Arizona, as well as several states in northern Mexico. The species features bright lemon yellow flowers.

Eastern Pricklypear (Opuntia humifusa)

Opuntia humifusa

Eastern Pricklypear

This cactus, sometimes called the Indian Fig, occurs in the eastern states. A distribution map would show it completely absent west of the rockies, and distributed in every state around the Great Lakes and Eastern Seaboard. This cold tolerant and sun-loving species' fruits are sometimes consumed.

Coastal Pricklypear (Opuntia littoralis)

Opuntia littoralis

Coastal Pricklypear

This pricklypear is known from the chapparal environments of the Southern California and Baja coast. It is known as a spreader, forming clumps. Its fruit is edible and known to have been consumed in prehistory.

Long-spined Purplish Pricklypear (Opuntia macrocentra)

Opuntia macrocentra

Long-spined Purplish Pricklypear

This pricklypear forms deep purple coloration on its pads, bright yellow flowers and edible fruit. It is found in northwestern Mexico, as well as diverse desert environments in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico.

Twistspine Pricklypear (Opuntia macrorhiza)

Opuntia macrorhiza

Twistspine Pricklypear

The twistspine pricklypear, sometimes referred to as the Plains Pricklypear, is a common cactus of the midwest, known to thrive in my home state of Minnesota. It features bright yellow flowers, and edible fruits.

Chapparal Pricklypear (Opuntia oricola)

Opuntia oricola

Chapparal Pricklypear

A prickly pear of the chapparal regions of southern California and Baja, this species can grow to six feet in height, and features yellowish-orangish flowers.

Tulip Pricklypear ()

Opuntia phaeacantha

Tulip Pricklypear

A common cactus of the desert southwest and great plains, this species is known to form dense thickets. It is sometimes referred to as the Plateau Pricklypear.

Plains Pricklypear (Opuntia engelmannii)

Opuntia polyacantha

Plains Pricklypear

This pricklypear, common in many regions of North America, from Chihuahua to western Canada, is sometimes known as the Starvation Pricklypear, for its ability to aid those in need of emergency hydration.

Pediocactus

This genus is often referred to as the pincushion cactuses, and like two other genera, the hedgehog cactuses. These cacti are generally small and unbranched.

Marble Canyon Cactus (Pediocactus bradyi)

Pediocactus bradyi

Marble Canyon Cactus

This cactus, sometimes called Brady's Pincushion Cactus, is one of the rarest species in the United States. It is an endangered species restricted to Marble Canyon, the attractive section of the Colorado River near the Grand Canyon. It is a tiny cactus, and is admired by collectors, who threaten its existence.

San Rafael Cactus (Pediocactus despainii)

Pediocactus despainii

San Rafael Cactus

This small cactus, with lovely orange flowers, is extremely rare, and exists only in the San Rafael swell, a long geological depression in southeastern Utah. Only about 6,000 individual plants remain.

Knowlton's Miniature Cactus (Pediocactus knowltonii)

Pediocactus knowltonii

Knowlton's Miniature Cactus

This small cactus is known only to a single county in New Mexico - San Juan County in the northwestern corner of the state. It features yellow and lavenderish flowers. Only about 6,000 plants remain.

Navajo Pincushion Cactus (Pediocactus peeblesianus)

Pediocactus peeblesianus

Navajo Pincushion Cactus

This cactus, which grows only to about 6 centimeters in heights, is often hidden or even buried in the substrate. It features yellow flowers.

Gypsum Cactus (Pediocactus sileri)

Pediocactus sileri

Gypsum Cactus

This species of the border between Utah and arizona, has a unique cylindrical-egg shape, and is known to prefer soils rich in gypsum. Mining, especially of uranium, is one of the key threats to this vulnerable species.

Winkler's Cactus (Pediocactus winkleri)

Pediocactus winkleri

Winkler's Cactus

This small cactus, known only in two counties of Utah, is a tiny globular cactus that is often hidden in rocky environments. It is listed as a threatened species, under threat mostly by cactus poachers.

Sclerocactus

Sclerocactus cacti are commonly known as the fishhooks, and sometimes as the little barrel cactuses. They often feature a larger hooked spine in their spine areoles, and they range in cooler, higher and harsher climates than other genuses.

Shorthook Fishhook Cactus (Sclerocactus brevihamatus)

Sclerocactus brevihamatus

Shorthook Fishhook Cactus

This small globe of a cactus, endemic to Texas, is endangered. It features cream or green colored flowers.

Pariette Cactus (Sclerocactus brevispinus)

Sclerocactus brevispinus

Pariette Cactus

This rare cactus is known only to the state of Utah, specifically, a single draw (a low ground between two ridges), in Duchesne County. It features violent-magenta flowers.

Colorado Hookless Cactus (Sclerocactus glaucus)

Sclerocactus glaucus

Colorado Hookless Cactus

This threatened cactus is known only only from a narrow corridor in Southwestern Colorado. It features magenta flowers and multicolored spines.

Mesa Verde Fishhook Cactus (Sclerocactus mesae-verdae)

Sclerocactus mesae-verdae

Mesa Verde Fishhook Cactus

This species from the borders of New Mexico and Colorado is extremely rare, and is an endangered species. It features yellow and white flowers, which sometimes show purple stripes.

Grama Grass Cactus (Sclerocactus papyracanthus)

Sclerocactus papyracanthus

Grama Grass Cactus

This Chihuahuan desert cactus, grows in grasslands in northern Mexico and Texas. It flourishes especially in the blue grama grasses of this region. It features white and green flowers.

Redspined Fishhook Cactus (Sclerocactus polyancistrus)

Sclerocactus polyancistrus

Redspined Fishhook Cactus

This cactus of the Mojave desert grows in clusters, and produces highly variable reddish-violet flowers.

Silver Fishhook Cactus (Sclerocactus sileri)

Sclerocactus sileri

Silver Fishhook Cactus

This tiny cactus, rare in northern Arizona and in miniscule populations in Utah and Nevada, features small white-yellow flowers.

Uinta Basin Hookless Cactus (Sclerocactus wetlandicus)

Sclerocactus wetlandicus

Uinta Basin Hookless Cactus

This rare cactus, is known only to a portion of Duchesne County in Utah. It grows on rough, rocky and gravelly mesa slopes. Its flowers are magenta and yellow.

Wright's Fishhook Cactus (Sclerocactus wrightiae)

Sclerocactus wrightiae

Wright's Fishhook Cactus

This federally endangered cactus grows in sandy shrubland soils in a limited range in Utah, near Capitol Reef National Park and the San Rafael swell. It features small flowers, which may be white, yellowish or pink.

Other Cactus Genuses

One of my motivations for creating this list of all the types of cacti in the United States is the many inaccurate online depictions of what cactuses are and are not. Cactus is a biological term, referring to related species. North America has a lot of other plants that look like cactuses - yuccas, joshua trees and ocotillo are some of the most commonly misinterpreted as cacti. The following species are the remaining cacti species that do not fall in the main genuses represented above.

Fairy Castle Cactus (Acanthocereus tetragonus)

Acanthocereus tetragonus

Fairy Castle Cactus

This unusual cactus, native to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, Florida, and broadly distributed in Latin America, is tall and grows in large thickets. Its flowers bloom only at night.

Dry Whiskey (Ariocarpus fissuratus)

Ariocarpus fissuratus

Dry Whiskey

This cactus is one of our most unusual, and is sometimes called the Living Rock Cactus. It is often brownish gray, or dull green in color, and can resemble a small rock. It is threatened by cactus poachers.

Star Peyote (Astrophytum asterias)

Astrophytum asterias

Star Peyote

This unusually shaped cactus, known for its pincushion appearance and yellow and orange flowers, is found only in Texas, north of the border. It grows mostly in thorn scrub habitat. It is endangered, and threatened by poachers.

Redspine Butterfly Cactus (Echinomastus erectocentrus)

Echinomastus erectocentrus

Redspine Butterfly Cactus

This cactus of the Mexican, Arizonan and New Mexican Sonoran desert is known to grow on limestone. It features purple and pink blooms.

Birdfoot Cactus (Escobaria minima)

Escobaria minima

Birdfoot Cactus

This tiny cactus was so sought after by collectors, that is now an endangered species in the wild. It's hative habitat is restricted to a single county in Texas. Today, only three native populations remain. It is an attractive pygmy cactus with pink and yellow flowers.

Missouri Foxtail Cactus (Escobaria missouriensis)

Escobaria missouriensis

Missouri foxtail cactus

One of the few Midwestern cacti, the Missouri Foxtail Cactus grows in prairie grass of the Great Plains. It is widespread across the Midwest, and also occurs in the Desert Southwest. The flowers are large and unique, with a pale green coloration.

Spinystar Cactus (Escobaria vivipara)

Escobaria vivipara

Spinystar

This small, oblong or globe-shaped cactus is widely distributed across North America. It is found as far north as Alaska, and is known from my native state of Minnesota. It features brilliant magenta flowers.

Matted Cholla (Grusonia parishii)

Grusonia parishii

Matted Cholla

This cactus of the Mojave and Sonora deserts grows in spreading mats, low to the ground. It features yellowish flowers, tipped in reddish-pink, and long, sometimes red spines.

Sagebrush Cholla (Grusonia pulchella)

Grusonia pulchella

Sagebrush Cholla

This cactus of the Mojave Desert grows in salt flats, sand dunes and alkali basins. It has stunning pink and yellow flowers, large relative to the smallish size of this cactus.

Prickly Applecactus (Harrisia aboriginum)

Harrisia aboriginum

Prickly Applecactus

The thin, long Prickly Applecactus originates from the gulf coast of Florida and features a stunning white flower.

Caribbean Applecactus (Harrisia fragrans)

Harrisia fragrans

Caribbean applecactus

This federally endangered cactus, like many other wild things in Florida, suffered from overdevelopment in the one county where it originates. Like many Florida cacti, this one prefers sandy scrub and coastal hammocks.

Simpson's Applecactus (Harrisia simpsonii)

Harrisia simpsonii

Simpson's applecactus

This is small, erect cactus sometimes called the Queen of the Night. It is native to the state of Florida.

Key Tree Cactus (Pilosocereus robinii)

Pilosocereus robinii

Key tree-cactus

The endangered, and federally protected Key-Tree Cactus of the Florida Keys, Bahamas and Cuba grows in the porous limestone habitats of this subtropical region. These cactus trees can grow thirty-three feet tall, and often have beautiful shapes.

Devil's Head Cactus (Echinocactus horizonthalonius)

Echinocactus horizonthalonius

Devilshead

A small barrel cactus from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the Devilshead grows mostly in limstone soils. This rare species has several colorful nicknames.One nickname, "The Horse Crippler Cactus," comes from the danger this small cactus, often hidden in the brush, could inflict on a horse.

Cotton Top Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)

Echinocactus polycephalus

Cotton Top Cactus

This rugged species features wooly fruits, which give it its common names. These cacti live in rugged terrain, in places where other cactus species are unusual.

Horse Crippler Cactus (Echinocactus texensis)

Echinocactus texensis

Horse Crippler

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Bonker Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocactus Bonkerae)

Echinocactus Bonkerae

Bonker Hedgehog Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Vine-like Moonlight Cactus (Selenicereus spinulosus)

Selenicereus spinulosus

Vine-like Moonlight Cactus

This is an elongated cactus that is native to Mexico, but may have native populations in southern Texas. It features elegant and unusual night-blooming flowers.

Florida Semaphore Cactus (Consolea corallicola)

Consolea corallicola

Florida Semaphore Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Necklacelike Pricklypear (Consolea moniliformis)

Consolea moniliformis

Necklacelike Pricklypear

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Road Kill Cactus ()

Consolea rubescens

Road Kill Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Top Cactus (Echinomastus gautii)

Echinomastus gautii

Top Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

White Fishhook Cactus (Echinomastus intertextus)

Echinomastus intertextus

White Fishhook Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Warnock's Fishhook Cactus (Echinomastus warnockii)

Echinomastus warnockii

Warnock's Fishhook Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Johnson's Fishhook Cactus (Echinomastus johnsonii)

Echinomastus johnsonii

Johnson's Fishhook Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Mariposa Cactus (Echinomastus mariposensis)

Echinomastus mariposensis

Mariposa Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Pingpong Ball Cactus (Epithelantha bokei)

Epithelantha bokei

Pingpong Ball Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Button Cactus (Epithelantha micromeris)

Epithelantha micromeris

Button Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Silver Lace Cob Cactus (Escobaria albicolumnaria)

Escobaria albicolumnaria

Silver Lace Cob Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Cushion Foxtail Cactus (Escobaria alversonii)

Escobaria alversonii

Cushion Foxtail Cactus

We are currently writing the descriptions of these recently added cacti species.

Dense Cory Cactus (Escobaria dasyacantha)

Escobaria dasyacantha

Dense Cory Cactus

This cactus of Texas, New Mexico and northern Mexico igrows in a wide variety of habitats, including grassland and creosote habitats. Its flowers are variable, but often show warm pink hues.

Desert Beehive Cactus(Escobaria Desertii)

Escobaria desertii

Desert Beehive Cactus

A cactus of Pinyon-Juniper and Joshua Tree forests, this high elevation cactus features variable flowers, sometimes orange-ish, and sometimes brownish. Many botanists consider this a morph of Escobaria Vivipara, but others argue this is its own species.

Duncan Pincushion Cactus (Escobaria duncanii)

Escobaria duncanii

Duncan Pincushion Cactus

The Duncan Pincushion Cactus is a tiny cactus, present in New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico. It's U.S. populations are very small. Its flowers are a striking pink and magenta.

Big Nipple Cactus (Escobaria emskoetteriana)

Escobaria emskoetteriana

Big Nipple Cactus

This small cactus of Mexico and the plains of the Rio Grande in Texas is known to thrive in thornscrub habitat. Its flowers are yellowish-green with notes of magenta and pink.

Guadalupe Pincushion Cactus (Escobaria Guadalupensis)

Escobaria guadalupensis

Guadalupe Pincushion Cactus

This tiny cactus of limited range in New Mexico and Texas grows in limestone cracks and rocky soil. There is disagreement over whether this is a species or subspecies.

Hester's Pincushion Cactus (Escobaria hesteri)

Escobaria hesteri

Hester's Pincushion Cactus

This dwarf cactus, known only from Texas, grows to 2 inches tall and features magenta-purple flowers.

The following species will be published in late summer and fall 2021:

Escobaria orcuttii

Escobaria organensis

Escobaria robbinsorum

Escobaria sandbergii

Escobaria sneedii

Escobaria tuberculosa

Escobaria villardii

Ferocactus eastwoodiae

Grusonia aggeria

Grusonia clavata

Grusonia emoryi

Grusonia grahamii

Grusonia kunzei

Grusonia schottii

Harrisia eriophora

Harrisia portoricensis

Hylocereus trigonus

Leptocereus grantianus

Leptocereus quadricostatus

Lophophora williamsii

Mammillaria barbata

Mammillaria heyderi

Mammillaria mainiae

Mammillaria nivosa

Mammillaria pottsii

Mammillaria prolifera

Mammillaria sphaerica

Mammillaria wrightii

Neolloydia conoidea

Opuntia atrispina

Opuntia aurea

Opuntia aureispina

Opuntia austrina

Opuntia borinquensis

Opuntia chisosensis

Opuntia cymochila

Opuntia dillenii

Opuntia ellisiana

Opuntia laevis

Opuntia martiniana

Opuntia pinkavae

Opuntia repens

Opuntia rufida

Opuntia santa-rita

Opuntia stricta

Opuntia strigil

Opuntia tenuiflora

Opuntia triacantha

Opuntia turbinata

Pediocactus hermannii

Pediocactus paradinei

Pediocactus simpsonii

Peniocereus striatus

Pilosocereus polygonus

Pilosocereus royenii

Rhipsalis baccifera

Sclerocactus havasupaiensis

Sclerocactus nyensis

Sclerocactus parviflorus

Sclerocactus pubispinus

Sclerocactus scheeri

Sclerocactus spinosior

Sclerocactus uncinatus

Sclerocactus whipplei

Stenocereus fimbriatus

Thelocactus bicolor

Thelocactus setispinus


 

Explore more in the Desert Southwest


On the Road to a small desert spring, I investigate the border wall and the case for resurrecting a Transboundary Preserve.

My ongoing project to sketch every cactus in the Desert Southwest and the United States.

Notes on traveling to the Coyote Buttes during surreal winter weather.

Road trip to the Hatch Chili Festival in Southern New Mexico.

Kayaking the Salton Sea to the tiny seaside town.

Exploring the LA River by road and kayak, with notes on my 14 years living in the city.

Notes on ecological devastation and salvation along the New River in Southern California.

Notes on the rich desert tapestry of Anza-Borrego in Southern California.

You want to hear about a hotel nightmare? Notes from Panamint Valley, California.

Notes on my travels to Joshua Tree National Park and the Western Mojave of Sothern California.

Notes from a desert California outpost, and the weird rocky world of the Searles lakebed.

Exploring the idea of travel and limitations during some of the amazing wildflower blooms in California history.

A few years ago, I decided to cross Las Vegas by skateboard, and then write about it.

We are walking on a hard, sandy soil when suddenly my boy shrieks in pain.

Notes on the pupfish of Death Valley and the Desert Southwest.

Notes on my frantic road trip across the dazzling desert Plateus of Utah and Arizona.