14 Types of Cacti for Indoors and Outdoors (Including Pictures)

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Types of Cacti for Indoors and Outdoors
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Many types of cactus plants are easy to grow and care for and can make great houseplants. There is a wide variety of cacti to choose from if you want to grow this type of plant. Cacti come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and some house cacti look stunning when they flower. Lots of different types of cacti also thrive outdoors where the climate is hot and dry. Some cactus species also thrive in tropical climates where they require a warm humid environment.

One of the great things about having different types of cacti as house plants is that they need little watering. The majority of indoor cactus plants need to be in a small pot on a sunny window sill and get watered occasionally. Popular indoor varieties of cacti include Bunny Ears, Christmas cactus, Moon cactus, and the Balloon cactus.

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Of course, cacti are well-known for growing outdoors in arid desserts. If you live in a warm climate, planting different kinds of cacti can decorate your garden or rock garden. Some good choices of desert cactus types for growing outside are the Arizona Barrel Cactus, the Prickly Pear, and the Old Man Cactus.

Cactus Plant Features

The cactus plant family (Cactaceae) consists of a number of unique succulent-type plants that thrive in dry conditions. There are thousands of different types of cacti, with all of them being native to the Americas.

Although cacti are classified as succulents, they differ from many types of succulents. Cacti retain their moisture in their stems rather than in their fleshy leaves.

Most varieties of cacti have stems that are in varying shades of green. One of the unique features of cacti plants is the way they photosynthesize. Contrasting with other plants, all cactus species take in carbon dioxide at night when temperatures are cooler. This means that less evaporation occurs during the hot day.

Many types of desert cacti stems also have ribs that allow the plant to expand when it takes in moisture after heavy rainfalls.

Another of the identifying features of cacti is their spines. Some types of cacti have long sharp spikes that can cause pain if they prick your skin. Other cacti varieties have softer spines to protect the plant. For example, the Prickly Pear has soft hair-like spines that can easily cause irritation if they lodge in your skin.

One of the most striking features of all cactus varieties is their blooms. Although short-lived, cactus flowers can be stunning. Cactus flowers can be various colors from deep pinks to beautiful shades of red. Yellow, orange, white, and burgundy flowers are also common in various types of cactus.

In fact, one of the differences between cacti and other types of succulents is the fact that they flower.

Growing Cacti Plants Indoors

Just how easy is it to care for indoor cactus breeds? It is surprisingly easy to look after different types of indoor cactus houseplants.

Most types of cacti that you can buy in garden centers and stores are well-suited for growing indoors. For your cactus plant to thrive, you should place it on a south-facing window sill where it gets plenty of sunshine.

One of the most important things to remember when caring for indoor cactus plants is to water them properly. Generally, cacti only need regular water during the growing season when it is very sunny. You should water them well but allow all the excess water to drain out. During the fall and winter indoor cacti only need light watering every few weeks.

During the growing season, the ideal room temperature for cacti to grow well is around 70°F to 75°F (21°C to 23°C) during the day and 60°F (15.5°C) at night. (1)

Use soil and fertilizer that is prepared specially for indoor types of cacti.

How to Care for Outdoor Types of Cacti

Cacti are excellent landscaping solutions for many types of gardens that get a lot of sun and heat during the summer.

Depending on where you live, you can also find types of cactus plants that can survive freezing temperatures in the winter.

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When deciding where to plant your cactus outdoors, choose a location where water drains freely. For example, planting on the top of a rock garden or on a south-facing slope will ensure that the cactus doesn’t get waterlogged.

Indoor Types of Cacti

So now that you know that cacti are flowering plants that are easy to care for, let’s look at many types of cacti for growing indoors and outdoors.

Bunny Ears Cactus

bunny ears cactus

The Bunny Ears is a flowering type of cactus which resemble rabbit’s ears. The small size of this cactus makes it a perfect house plant.

Bunny Ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys) is a flowering type of cactus native to Mexico that grows indoors just as well as it grows outdoors. Other names for this interesting cactus include Bunny cactus, Angel’s Wings, or Polka-Dot cactus.

This type of cactus houseplant looks comical with its green pads that resemble rabbit’s ears. The indoor cactus can grow around 15” to 23” (40 – 60 cm) tall. However, as with most cacti, the Bunny Ears cactus is slow-growing and a small type of plant will take a few years to reach this height.

Occasionally, you may see yellow flowers blooming on the Bunny Ears.

The Bunny Ears cactus has fine hair-like spines (glochids) that are extremely thin. They can cause a great deal of skin irritation if you brush against the plant and they lodge in your skin. The white or yellow glochids give the plant a dotted appearance like polka dots.

Did you know that one of the best ways to remove cactus glochids is by using sticky tape to pull out the fine hairs?

Old Lady Cactus

old lady cactus

The old lady is a ball-shaped type of cactus that can be grown indoors

The Old Lady cactus (Mammillaria hahniana) is a large, spherical type of cactus that is covered in spikes and fine spines.

This type of cactus looks somewhat like a large pincushion. The ball-shaped cactus can grow up to 20” (50 cm) in diameter and 10” (25 cm) tall. One of the delightful features of this desert cactus is the reddish-purple flowers that can sometimes appear. These small flowers grow in a circle around the top of the cactus.

This cactus needs a hot dry climate to grow in, and most people have success growing this cactus indoors in a large container.

Balloon Cactus

baloon cactus

The Balloon cactus is a beautiful round cactus with large yellow flower

This large cactus, the Balloon cactus, certainly lives up to its scientific name, the Parodia magnifica – Many describe the appearance of this round cactus as magnificent.

This stunning large globe-shaped cactus has a large rib-like appearance with rows of contrasting white or yellow spines on the edge. Another striking feature of this large cactus is the large yellow flower that appears on the top when it blooms.

The Balloon Cactus can grow up to 6” (15 cm) tall and measure 18” (45 cm) across.

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Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus

The Christmas cactus is a type of cactus that flowers during winter time

A very popular indoor type of cactus is the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) that is native to tropical regions in Brazil.

There are actually a number of types of cacti in the Schlumbergera family, with the Christmas cactus being just one. This type of cactus doesn’t have leaves but long trailing flat segmented stems. This cactus species flowers during winter time, which is why it is called the Christmas cactus.

The trailing flowering stems make this cactus variety a good option for hanging baskets or to place on top of furniture.

This flowering cactus species can produce white, pink, yellow, and red flowers.

Different species of cacti in the Schlumbergera genius flower at different times of the year. Some other similar types of cacti include the Easter cactus (a cactus now in the classification of the Hatiora genius), Thanksgiving cactus, or Holiday cactus.

To ensure the Christmas cactus flowers, it needs to be in cool conditions with little water and get 12 – 14 hours of darkness every day.

Powder Puff Cactus

powder puff

The Mammillaria family of cacti includes several cultivars: Mammillaria backebergiana ernestii (left) and Mammillaria boolii (right)

Mammillaria mystax

Mammillaria mystax is a small type of cactus making it an ideal house plant

The Powder Puff cactus is a small round cactus that is a species in the Mammillaria family of cacti.

This cactus shaped like a ball is a slow-growing variety of cactus which is surrounded by soft hairy spines. From the various cacti in the Mammillaria family, the Powder Puff cactus is one of the easiest to care for. The spherical cactus will grow to between 3” and 5” (7.5 – 12 cm) high and about the same in diameter.

As with most cacti, the Powder Puff cactus needs to get a lot of sun, and the soil should never be more than slightly moist. You can expect the Powder Puff to bloom in the summertime with white or red flowers that form a crown on the top.

Other popular cacti from the Mammillaria genius include some of the following:

Mammillaria backebergiana ernestii is a cactus that has a tall cylindrical appearance.

Mammillaria boolii is a small round cactus covered in fine hair-like spines. The interesting feature of this cactus is the relatively large flowers which appear on this small cactus.

Mammillaria mystax is native to Mexico and has reddish-violet flowers that appear in April and May.

Moon Cactus

moon cactus

The Moon cactus is an unusual type of cactus that comes in various colors

Originating in Paraguay and Argentina, the Moon cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii) is an unusual type of cactus.

These ribbed type of cacti can’t produce chlorophyll. So, they need to be grafted onto a succulent for them to grow. Usually, Moon cactus plants are sold already grafted. They can look like a colorful spiky cactus that sits on top of a columnar succulent.

These colorful cacti varieties come in vibrant pink, orange, red, and yellow colors. Unlike other types of indoor cacti, these houseplants prefer partial shade. You should also water the cactus well every time the soil dries out. Avoid watering during the winter.

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Chin Cactus

Gymnocalycium baldianum

Gymnocalycium baldianum is one of the varieties of chin cactus plants

The Chin cactus (Gymnocalycium) originates in South America and is a small round type of indoor cactus.

The botanical name for this cactus variety comes from the fact that it is “hairless” or “spineless.” There are about 70 different species in the Gymnocalycium genius and they all produce brightly-colored flowers. Some varieties of this type of cactus can be as small as 1.5” (4 cm) with the largest types growing up to 6” (15 cm) in diameter.

Star Cactus

star cactus

Star cactus is a type of a popular cactus plant for indoors

Native to Texas, the Star cactus (Astrophytum asterias) is a small type of round cactus that some say resembles a sea urchin.

The Star cactus has the shape of a puffed-up disc and its body is divided into sections. On each of the segments are rows of white dots that are covered with tiny hairs. The cactus should flower in the springtime with a large yellow flower on its top.

Because this type of cactus is a popular houseplant, many cultivars have been developed. Some of these, such as the Astrophytum asteriasSuper Kabuto’ is a delightful ornamental cactus with patterns of interesting white dots covering the body.

Astrophytum asterias ‘Super Kabuto’

Astrophytum asterias ‘Super Kabuto’

Outdoor Types of Cacti

Planting different varieties of cacti outdoors is a great way to add exotic plants to your garden landscape.

In general, cacti are low-maintenance plants that can survive harsh conditions. However, for all types of cacti to thrive outdoor, they need lightly moist to dry soil. Too much water can result in their roots rotting.

Even if you have a small garden or a balcony, there are many varieties of small cacti that are great for growing in containers outside.

Let’s look at some popular cacti you can easily grow outdoors.

Arizona Barrel Cactus

young Arizona barrel cactus

Young Arizona barrel cactus with flowers on the right

giant barrel cactus

Types of cacti: Fruit atop Arizona barrel cactus (left) and a giant barrel cactus (right)

The Arizona Barrel cactus is a desert cactus variety that is native to the Sonoran Desert.

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This large round spiky type of cactus can grow to an impressive 6 ft. (1.3 m) in height and measure 2 ft. (60 cm) in diameter. Although the most common types grow between 3 and 4 ft. (0.9 – 1.2 m).

The olive-green skin of Arizona barrel cactus is covered in yellow hooked spines that grow on the ribs. This cactus species is drought-resistant and gets moisture from occasional flooding that takes place.

The Arizona Barrel cactus flowers in the middle of June and these blooms are a delightful reddish-orange color.

Having few of these Arizona cacti in your garden can create a stunning feature, especially when planted together in a grid formation.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Opuntia basilaris

Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) is a type of prickly pear cactus

Prickly Pear cacti grow in areas that are prone to drought and produce purple or rose-colored flowers.

There are many species of this type of cactus with the Beavertail Prickly Pear and Indian Fig Pear being some of the most common. This outdoor cactus variety generally has large barbed spines up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length. These cactus spikes can easily puncture the skin. The spines also shed which means that this type of cactus may not be suitable for all gardens.

The cactus is formed by large flattened pad-like structures that are a light blue-green color.

There are various types of Prickly Pear cacti that can suit many landscaping needs. For example, the Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) can grow into a medium-sized shrub-like plant that is about 15” (40 cm) tall and produces pink flowers. However, the tall Indian Fig cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a spineless variety of cactus that can grow up to 23 ft. (7 m)!

If you have cold winters and you want a prickly pear to decorate your garden, then try the Santa Rita prickly pear cactus. This can withstand temperatures as low as 15°F (-9°C) and grow to a height of 1.5 ft. (45 cm).

Saguaro Cactus

saguaro cactus

Saguaro cactus is a type of Arizona cactus that has a very slow growth rate

One type of very tall Arizona cactus is the Saguaro cactus that can grow over 40 ft. (12 m) tall. You can identify this desert cactus as it has the classic “cactus” appearance. The Saguaro has a tall long central body and “arms” that reach up to the sky.

This type of columnar cactus is a common sight in deserts in Mexico, Arizona, and California. Some species of the Saguaro cacti grow arm-like structures, whereas others are just like a tall column. The ribs that run up the length of this tall cactus variety have lots of sharp hard spines.

Similar to other cacti species, the Saguaro cactus is a flowering plant. White flowers appear on the giant cactus in late spring to early summer. After flowering, red edible fruits appear that have a sweet fleshy texture.

Even though this cactus grows to an enormous height outdoors, you can actually grow this cactus species indoors in a container. Due to its slow growth rate, the Saguaro cactus may only grow an inch (2.5 cm) in height in a 10-year period!

Queen of the Night

Epiphyllum oxypetalum

The Queen of the Night is a type of orchid cactus because of the beautiful flowers which resemble some orchid species

The Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) cactus gets its name from the fact that its beautiful white flowers only bloom at night. This orchid-type cactus is also called the Dutchman’s Pipe cactus.

Originating in Southern Mexico and South America, this flowering type of cactus has long cylindrical ribbed columns. Some of these cactus stems can grow to a height of 20 ft. (6 m). From the main green stem, smaller stems branch off that produce white blooms that give off a pleasant fragrance.

One of the reasons why this type of cactus is prized is due to its large flowers. The flowers from the Queen of the Night can be up to 11” (28 cm) long and 5” (13 cm) wide. This type of flowering cactus only blooms at night when the temperature drops to between 52 and 57°F (11 – 14°C).

Being a type of tropical cactus, Queen of the Night cacti enjoy indirect sunlight throughout the day. If you live in colder climates, it is best to grow this type of cactus as an indoor houseplant.

The Old Man Cactus

Old Man Cactus

The Old Man Cactus is a tall variety of cactus

Another tall variety of cactus is the Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) which is covered with a “wooly” white coat.

Planting this tall columnar cactus creates an interesting feature in any garden. The stems can grow in clusters and reach a height of between 16 and 52 ft. (5 – 15 m). Due to the unkempt appearance of the shaggy white hair covering the tubular plant, it is called the ‘Old Man’ cactus.

When planted outdoors, you may have to wait for at least 10 years for the cactus to flower. By this time, it may have lost some of its distinctive wooly coat but will produce yellow, red, or white flowers.

Even though the tall cactus looks like it is covered by soft cotton, sharp hard spines grow beneath the hairy exterior. For best results, plant the Old Man cactus where it gets plenty of sun and in well-drained soil.

Strawberry Cactus

strawberry cactus

The strawberry cactus is a type of blooming cactus plant with beautiful magenta flowers

If you live in a hot dry climate, then the Strawberry cactus can be a great addition to your garden landscape.

This type of blooming cactus grows in clumps of small spiky cactus stems. This is one reason why this cactus species is also called the Hedgehog cactus. Each cluster of cactus stems can contain around 20 balls.

This outdoor desert cactus blooms around late spring and produces stunning magenta flowers. The funnel-type flowers have deep pink petals with a black and yellow center. These cactus flowers can grow up to 3.5” (9 cm) long.

The sharp spines on the Strawberry cactus can also add a bit of color to your garden. These inch-long (2 cm) spines can come in various colors such as yellow, brown, white, and gray.

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