Barrel Cactus (All You Need to Know)

What is a Barrel Cactus?

The Barrel Cactus is a member of the Cactaceae family.

The genus name for this particular cactus is Ferocactus, which resembles the wild appearance of this plant due to its thick spikes covering the whole cactus giving it a fierce look.

Barrel cactus grows in a round tubular shape densely covered with stout spines giving it the shape and appearance of a spiky barrel.

The Barrel Cactus is a highly aesthetic cactus that forms a geometric pattern of spines arranged in a criss-cross manner.

This typical cactus mainly grows in the deserts of southwest regions in arid grounds with less water but abundant sunlight.

Barrel Cacti have a thick fleshy stem to store maximum water for growth. The plant is covered with thick and thin spines serving multiple functions simultaneously.

The thin spines help stop water loss and protect the plant from blistering rays of the sun.

On the other hand, the thick spines spread long enough to prevent all the desert plant eaters from eating the cactus.

Range and Habitat

Barrel Cacti are found near desert washes, canyon walls of the desert, and steep surfaces with crushed rocks native to almost all the blazing deserts of North America, spreading in Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Mojave deserts of Southern California and Baja in Central Mexico.

The Lifespan of Barrel Cactus

A fully grown and matured Barrel Cactus can live up to 50-100 years, making them among the list of the oldest thriving cacti.

They keep multiplying in a single colony while the old ones degenerate into giving life to new cacti.

Flowers of Barrel Cactus

Cactus plants are famous not for their features but also for the exotic and beautiful flowers that grow out from their stem without extra effort.

The branch of the Barrel Cactus also yields exceptional-looking yellow flowers, which create a flock in the center of the cactus.

The most habitual specie of cactus, called the Ferocactus cylindraceus, has tiny yet beautiful-looking yellow petal flowers with reddish stems and a thick base.

Another specie of Barrel Cactus, Ferocactus wislizeni, has reddish-orange petals calling it a fire plant.

The flowers appear in a ring with the center filled with hairs of anthers and stamens, enabling easy pollination and eventually seed dispersal.

Species of Barrel Cactus


The Echinocactus family has six families who have their birth origins in Mexico.

The plants of this family are less fleshy, attaining an average height of 2 feet.

This particular genus of Barrel Cactus is characterized by the wavy and ribbed structure and long-shaped fruits which hang from the stems.

The Golden Barrel Cactus is the most exotic desert ornamental.

It is famous for its distinct golden spines and is considered among the endangered species of wild plants.


The family of Sclerocactus has 19 different species and is known as little barrels due to their small size.

These particular cacti have a spine hooked to the center, which is their distinguishing feature.

The flowers grown from the cacti of this family are of cream, pink and yellow colors.

For example, The Mojave Fishhook Cactus is a cylinder-shaped cactus that grows up to 16 inches and is visibly prominent due to its large red and white spines and enormous flowers on the stem.

One more kind, called S. parviflorus (Small Flowered Fishhook Cactus), grows in the terrains of the Colorado Plateau.

The remaining species of this cacti family grow in large colonies spreading in a large area.


The family of the genus Ferocactus is native to the arid climates of Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

These cacti have fleshy stems with rigid and prominent ribs while their height reaches up to 10 feet.

These cacti yield fragrant flowers of yellow, orange, and purple colors.

The spines of these cacti spread elongated up to 10 cm keeping all the desert creatures away.


The genus of Thelocactus is a family of more than 30 species of small to medium-sized spiny cacti having small projections called tubercles which are amalgamated into the ribs of the stem.

Most species of this cacti family come under miniature barrel cacti. One of this kind, called T. hexaedrophorus, has blue tubercles of enormous size and is considered to be a very rare cactus.

The cacti of this family have unique colored plants of snowy white and purple and, unlike any other cactus plant, have multi-colored spines.


The family of Neolloydia encompasses 14 different species of Barrel Cactus, and their colonies are found abundantly in the regions of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

The height of these specific cacti goes up to 40 cm and spreads out to 12cm in width.

These cacti are columnar-shaped with a bulbous and spiny stem.

The taxonomy of this genus is widely spread.

Uses and Importance of Barrel Cactus

  • Native Americans use both young and older flowers of Barrel Cactus as edibles. They boil the more immature flowers and use them as an alternative to cabbage, and they extract the juices of the older flowers to use them as a drink.
  • The spines of Barrel Cactus are sterilized to be used in ancient style tattooing with traditional methods.
  • Since Barrel Cactus is shaped like a large pot, it is often used as a cooking pot by travelers and desert wanderers by simply emptying the matter inside, filling it with stones, and lighting the barrel up to cook the food.
  • The pulp of this cacti is used in the confectionery industry to make candies.
  • If somebody faces an emergency and life-threatening water shortage situation in a desert, they can chew the stem of the Barrel Cactus to release the pulp from the branch, which is rich in water and other nutrients.
  • The black seeds found in Barrel Cactus are grounded to be used as an energy powder for drinks as it has essential nutrients and antioxidants.
  • The spines of Barrel Cactus are long enough to be used as fishing hooks in deserts where no resourceful supplies are available.
  • The red spines of Ferocactus cylindraceus are bent down to make rings, bracelets, and other types of small jewelry.
  • Barrel Cactus is also used for medicinal purposes for treating salivary gland swelling.

Side Effects of Barrel Cactus

  • The water stored inside the stem of Barrel Cacti is very alkaline and cannot be used as a drink.
  • The water of Barrel Cacti causes body pain, diarrhea, and extreme headaches if consumed.
  • The spines of Barrel Cacti can cause intense infections which cannot be treated without antibiotics.

Lifecycle of Barrel Cactus

Seeds Stage of Barrel Cactus Plant

A Barrel Cactus yields seeds in paper textured seed pods generated from flowers at the top of the cactus.

The best season to disperse these seeds in the soil is Spring, when the temperature is mediocre and provides the best appropriate heat for seed germination.

When sowing, an area with open access to sunlight should be chosen where loose sand is scattered everywhere for better seed dispersal.

After planting, the soil needs to be slightly moist for better germination, especially when the seedlings are tiny.

Young Stage of Barrel Cactus Plant

The seedlings of Barrel Cactus have a quicker growth rate than other forms of Cacti and can grow up to 4 inches in a few weeks of sowing.

Within a year, a small-shaped barrel cactus densely covered with spines protrudes out.

In the young phase, the spines pop up from the tubercles jutting out of the ribbed structure of the cactus, which hides eventually during the maturation process.

The young cactus needs consistent care with regular watering and abundant sunlight. During scorching weather, the plant needs excess water to germinate.

Barrel Cactus retains the moisture level during winters to grow significantly without extra watering.

Mature Stage of Barrel Cactus Plant

As the Barrel Cactus goes into the maturity process, the growth rate decelerates. A fully matured cactus takes almost a decade to grow to its full size.

The ribs of the Barrel Cactus are pretty evident in the mature stage.

The yellow-colored spines emerge from the yellow areoles, which are small bumps on the cactus. The areoles also produce flowers.

The spines, which are bright yellow, create a significant golden glow in the bright sunlight, making it look wild and fiery.

Flowering Stage of Barrel Cactus Plant

A healthy and matured Barrel Cactus Plant starts producing flowers when it reaches a growth diameter of about 15 inches.

The flowers emerge in Spring from the hairy area on top of the cactus, and these flowers fully bloom in summer.

The flowers of Barrel Cactus are bright yellow and small in size, visibly prominent all year long.

When the summers are about to end, the flowers of the Barrel Cactus successfully generate seeds hence putting an end to the reproductive life cycle of the Barrel Cactus Plant.

This cycle goes on till the death of the cactus, usually up to 100 years.

How to Grow a Barrel Cactus Plant?

Barrel Cactus is a low-maintenance plant that flourishes in hot and arid weather conditions. Specific tips should be kept in mind when planning to grow a Barrel Cactus plant.

Sunlight is the Best Friend

Barrel Cacti are usually planted outdoors, and when growing them, the area should be open to sunlight from every direction to germinate the seedlings faster.

If planted indoors, the pots of Barrel Cactus should be placed near a window that has direct sunlight coming through it.

Less Water, More Growth

Barrel Cactus is a desert plant that doesn’t need excessive water to germinate.

Instead, it needs to be watered sparingly. In dry and warm seasons, the pots should be watered minimally weekly.

In winters, the watering has to be done cautiously, a span of twice a month, to prevent the cactus from experiencing root rot. Before watering, the soil of the pot should be dried out completely.

Good Quality Soil

When planting Barrel Cactus, use garden-quality soil, especially for growing cactus plants.

This particular soil enables water to drain out properly and allows good airflow for roots to sustain better.

Avoid Temperature Oscillations

Barrel Cactus plants thrive positively in warm and dry conditions. If their pots are kept indoors, it is advised to keep them away from air coolers, humidifiers, and places where humidity levels differ all day.

How to Care for Barrel Cactus?

  • Use good fertilizers to enhance the growth during the germination period.
  • Be watchful about when to repot your cactus plant.
  • Clay pots with ample drainage holes work best for cactus plants as they release excess water and retain proper moisture.


To sum up, Barrel Cactus is a rare species of exotic cacti. The beauty of these cacti should be preserved rather than destroyed by using them for eating purposes.