One little known garden fact in need of publicity is that cactus plants can thrive in many areas of North America.
Retail outlets often sell container cactus, some of which might be transplantable to the garden. In northern climates, gardeners might need to check the cold hardiness of any plant.
A handful of the most common cactus genera suited to garden environments are listed below.
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Types of Cactus
Approximately thirty species of Hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus genus, grow in the western states.
Many species grow a foot or less in height, and grow in clusters of short cylindrical stems. Their brilliant color flowers, make them very popular plants for native gardens.
The beautiful red, cup shaped flower of the Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) tells the story behind the plant name.
The color and texture contrasts between the flower and rest of the plant make it a familiar photographic subject for many people living in its range, the southern area of the desert Southwest from California to Texas.
Gardeners and landscapers sing its praises, using it as a hummingbird plant, with reports of hummingbird species, such as the Broad-tailed, Black-chinned hummingbird and Magnificent, seen feeding on it.
The Golden Hedgehog (Echinocereus nicholii) in the picture produces pink flowers.
Fishhook cactus refers to a variety of plants in the large Mammillaria genus.
The fishhook cactus pictured, Mammillaria dioica, is commonly called a strawberry cactus. The flowers suggest it could also be called a candy cane cactus.
Their habitat is desert and hillsides in California and Arizona, and they bloom in the early spring.
Mammillaria diversity means plant size can range from small to large. Smaller Mammillaria species are very popular garden plants.
Pincushion cactus refers to many species, especially those in the Coryphantha genus. The picture highlights their small round stature, making them ideal garden cactus.
Pincushion cactus adapt to a variety of habitats, with adaptability providing advantages and disadvantages for individual species.
The Cochise Pincushion Cactus ((Coryphantha robbinsorum)), for example, only lives in Sonoran Desert habitat dominated by limestone. The species was listed at a threatened species in Arizona in 1986. Extended drought conditions in their habitat pose problems for long term species survival.
Barrel cactus refers to of cacti in two different genera, Echinocactus and Ferocactus.
They share the physical trait of a resembling a spiny covered barrel shaped plant.
The top picture shows a flower from the California Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus), a common species of the Southwest desert.
Most barrel species grow between 4-10 feet in height. Often they stand singularly in place on the desert floor, although as shown in the picture, some grow in small clusters.
All barrel cacti flower on the top of the plant in a circular configuration. Flowers range in color from yellow to red.
Cholla refers to about thirty cacti species in the genus Cylindropuntia that grow throughout the desert Southwest from Texas west to California.
The Buckhorn cholla flower (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa) shown in the larger picture highlights its characteristic red stamen.
Silver Cholla, picture on the right, have greenish-yellow stamen.
Cholla make excellent landscaping plants. Resident birds such as Cactus Wrens often nest in the branches of taller species.
© 2008-2012 Patricia A. Michaels.