9 Different Types Of Cactus Plants You Need To Know About

Are you looking for a hardy and beautiful cactus to bring into your home?

Do you want a houseplant that can stand up to a lot of wear and tear as well as a few beginner mistakes?

Did you know that there are actually a lot of different types of cactus plants, some of which are better for beginners than others?

In this article, you’ll be introduced to several different kinds of cactus plants to help you get started learning about these excellent succulents. You’ll find out which ones are better for keeping indoors and which ones are easier to grow than others.

Although there are many subspecies of cactus plants, they can all be grouped into 9 different main categories. Throughout this article, we’ll walk you through these 9 categories and make sure you know the difference between each one, so you can better recognize the cactus plants you’re looking at the next time you go shopping.

Depending on your climate and the amount of care you plan to put into cactus keeping, you may want to choose some of these categories over others. But don’t worry! Regardless of how you plan to take care of your cactus, there’s definitely a great household cactus plant out there just waiting for you to discover it.

Read on to learn more about the 9 types of cactus plants and to determine which ones are best for you.

1. Hedgehog Cactus

The hedgehog cactus is the name given to plants that fall into the echinocereus genus. These are succulent plants that grow low to the ground, which causes it to form shorter spines. Because of its size and the size of its spines, this type of cactus earned the nickname “hedgehog.” During the springtime, these plants can grow flowers when they reach the right maturity and are kept in the right conditions. When searching for pictures and names of cactus plants, you’re likely to notice this cactus in its flowering form.

types of cactus plants


This plant grows in small groups that usually include a handful of separate stems, but could grow up to 50 or more stems depending on the size of the plant. The stems don’t get any taller than about a foot each, which makes these good cactus plants to keep indoors. They do, however, tend to grow a lot of spines.

  • This cactus plant grows naturally in rocky and sandy soil, so it needs to be planted in a pot of similar soil in your home.
  • Hedgehog cactus plants must be grown in full sunlight or in very light shade, but cannot grow in full shade.
  • Be sure to plant your hedgehog cactus in a well-draining pot, as it will quickly develop root rot otherwise.
  • You can easily grow a hedgehog plant indoors, and they also thrive outdoors.
  • If you’re trying to get your hedgehog cactus to flower, you’ll need to recreate warm spring rainy weather by setting your indoor temperature correctly and watering your plant enough.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Echinocereus arizonicus
  • Echinocereus berlandieri
  • Echinocereus bonkerae
  • Echinocereus mojavensis
  • Echniocereus pectinatus
cactus plants types

2. Barrel Cactus

The barrel cactus may be one of the first things you think of when you imagine cactus plants. They are mid-sized to large and shaped like cylinders instead of like towers or balls. They are covered in big, sharp spines that can be painful if you come into contact with them. These plants grow flowers at the top of the cactus and eventually will grow fruit. Unlike the prickly pear cactus, however, this fruit is not edible by humans. Because this cactus was once widely harvested for the production of cactus candy, it is now a protected species in the wild.

kinds of cactus plant


It may be very difficult to grow a barrel cactus at home, and it can be tough to even find a starter plant depending on where you live. These plants tend to prefer their wild habitats more than they like being grown indoors or even in a garden, but with the right perseverance and the proper growing conditions, you can still help a barrel cactus to thrive. However, take note that these plants are not good for beginners, and they’re not suited well to growing indoors either.

  • The barrel cactus may be started indoors, but once it’s taken root in its pot it needs to be transplanted outside immediately for best results.
  • These plants prefer the temperatures they can find in the Sonoran Desert in the United States and Mexico. If you live in a very cold climate, you will be unable to grow a barrel cactus well at home.
  • Under the right conditions, you can keep your cactus plants flowering for a long time to come.
  • These plants may grow very tall and could be difficult to maintain because of their spines.
  • Since this is a protected species, you may need to check with the individual laws in your area to find out if the barrel cactus can be grown privately or not.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Echinocactus grusonii
  • Ferocactus wislizeni
  • Ferocactus cylindraceus
  • Ferocactus emoryi
cactus plants types

3. Ball Cactus

Ball cactus plants include a variety of different species, but all of them share the same general physical characteristics. These plants look like small green round balls that are covered in yellow or white spines all over the plant. During the right growing conditions, usually in the early part of spring, colorful flowers will grow on top of the cactus plant in shades of pink, red, yellow, and white. This is the appearance many home cactus growers are going for, but it can be difficult to get your indoor ball cactus to grow flowers without a lot of care.

 names of cactus plants


Despite the difficulty of getting the flowers to grow, the ball cactus is a great option for beginners and anyone looking to grow cactus plants indoors. These plants don’t require the same high temperatures that a lot of their cousins need to thrive, so you can keep them inside without as much concern for the overall temperature of your home. This plant likes colder winters and temperatures down to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. While it does still need to be watered regularly, it doesn’t require a lot of water to thrive and it can survive through droughts very well.

This plant never gets more than a few inches tall, although it may grow wider over the years. This is a very hardy type of cactus that is capable of living up to 20 years under the right growing conditions. Although it can live outdoors comfortably, it may be easier to provide this plant partial direct sunlight and partial shade if you keep it indoors. It doesn’t do well in constant direct sunlight because it may shrivel up over time.

  • This is a very prickly cactus plant and you will need to keep it away from young children and pets. You may also want to put on gloves if you’re going to be handling it for repotting.
  • There are no major pest concerns you’ll have to worry about with this plant, which makes it great for beginning cactus growers.
  • Most of the flowers that grow from this plant are pink or white. If you’re looking for red or yellow, you may have to shop around a little bit more.
  • Plant this cactus in sandy, rocky soil for best results.
  • During the winter, these plants may go dormant, but this doesn’t mean they’ve died. It just means you’ll need to warm them up or wait for spring to see them come to life again.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Gymnocalycium mihanovichii
  • Escobaria vivipara
  • Escobaria missouriensis
  • Parodia scopa
  • Parodia magnifica
cactus plants types

4. Columnar Cactus

Columnar cactus plants have an appearance that suits their name perfectly. When identifying cactus plants, these are some of the easiest to take note of. As with most categories of cactus plants, there are a few different types of plants that fall into this label. Unlike many other categories, columnar cactus plants can be found across many different genus groups instead of coming from just one or two. The term “columnar” refers simply to the style of a given cactus and doesn’t have much to do with its genetics beyond that.

photos of cactus plants


Columnar cactus plants usually grow very tall and may not be best suited for indoor growing. With that said, however, it does take several years for these plants to start growing so large, so you may be able to get several years of indoor life out of them before you need to transplant them. Just remember that eventually, you are going to need some outdoor space for your columnar cactus plant to thrive, and you’ll want to replant it outdoors before it gets too big to deal with.

The giant Saguaro cactus falls into the category of columnar cactus plants. Most columnar cactus plants are made up of individual tall, long columns that are covered in spines and attached to the same main trunk. In nature, they may be taller than humans very often, but when grown at home, it may be more difficult to get them to grow this large.

  • A small cutting from a columnar cactus plant can be used to propagate a new plant with the right care and setup. This is a great way to get new plants without having to go out and purchase fully-grown ones.
  • Plant cuttings of columnar cactus plants in rocky, sandy soil such as pumice. This helps them take root and thrive very quickly, especially when watered correctly.
  • Columnar cactus plants should be kept indoors at temperatures higher than 68 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. These plants, especially when they’re younger, aren’t able to tolerate cooler temperatures very well.
  • The columnar cactus should be watered sparingly, but that doesn’t mean you can get away without watering it at all. Once a week should be right unless your climate is extreme.
  • This plant can develop root rot very quickly, so take care not to overwater and not to place in soil that can’t drain well.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Cephalocereus senilis
  • Cleistocactus smaragdiflorus
  • Carnegiea gigantea
cactus plants types

5. Prickly Pear Cactus

A prickly pear cactus plant is always a stunning addition to a cactus collection. When learning to identify cactus plants, this may be one of the first ones you start to recognize. Prickly pear cactus plants can be as small as a couple of feet tall or as large as 7 feet tall, depending on the species in question. These plants look more like succulents in general than specific cactus plants, especially because they aren’t totally covered in spines like other types of cactuses usually are. Instead, the prickly pear has large leaf-like pads that feature a few small patches of spines rather than full coverage.

names for cactus plants


This cactus plant is popular because it is edible. There are many different recipes that incorporate the pad portions of the prickly pear plant as well as the fruit this cactus produces at the right times of the year. It’s even believed that eating this plant may help reduce bad cholesterol and boost good cholesterol, although this claim does still need some backup. Under the right conditions, you may even be able to grow the fruit of this plant at home yourself.

  • Although the prickly pear isn’t very dangerous to handle, the spines it does have may break off and get lodged in the skin, so be cautious with it.
  • This cactus requires gravelly soil and dry conditions to thrive. However, it will still need to be watered lightly on a regular basis.
  • Since this is a desert cactus plant, it does best in temperatures that mimic those of the desert at day and at night.
  • ​Eventually, if you’re growing one of the larger prickly pear plants, you may need to transplant it outdoors so that it can continue growing well.
  • Smaller prickly pears can be kept as houseplants as long as they have access to full direct sunlight every day.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Opuntia ficus-indica
  • Opuntia ellisiana
  • Opuntia violacea
  • Opuntia rufida
  • Opuntia aurea
cactus plants types

6. Cholla Cactus

The cholla cactus is a unique and quirky little cactus plant that grows in jointed segments attached to a main trunk. This is a very sharp and prickly plant that can cause injury if not handled correctly, so it pays to put on some gloves if you’re going to be repotting it. These plants are very versatile and come in many different shapes and sizes, from shrub to tree and a few in-between as well. The smallest plants in this category come in at a few feet in height, while the largest may be 12 or more feet tall. Of course, if you’re looking for an indoor plant, stick to the smaller ones.

images of cactus plants


You’ll need to offer your cholla cactus gritty soil that can drain very well. It needs direct sunlight if possible and should be kept at warmer temperatures. A little bit of sand in the soil may also help it grow, as this plant is native to the Southwestern part of the United States where it grows on the sides of rocky slopes in the desert. This plant does need to be watered regularly but doesn’t require much water to thrive.

  • This plant is often plagued with mealybug pests. If you’ll be growing a lot of cholla cactus, be prepared for the presence of mealybugs.
  • If you grow a cholla cactus plant that starts small and gets much larger, you’ll need to replant it outdoors where it can grow to its fullest.
  • If your plant starts to develop rotting or dying spots on the stems, cut them off with pruning shears and cut back significantly on the amount of water you’re giving your cactus.
  • This is a good cold-weather cactus that is happiest at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit but will still grow at temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • This plant will survive (although may not flourish) at temperatures as cold as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Cylindropuntia bigelovii
  • Cylindropuntia fulgida
  • Cylindropuntia imbricate
  • Cylindropuntia echinocarpa
  • Cylindropuntia leptocaulis
cactus plants types

7. Pincushion Cactus

Pincushion cactus plants are native to the Sonoran Desert, so they require similar conditions to grow correctly. They stay fairly small throughout their lives and remain very popular choices for people looking to grow cactus plants indoors. Like many names for cactus plants, these little species got theirs because of their appearance. They are short, round, and covered in small spines that look like pins sticking out all over the plant.

cacti pictures


If you’ve ever taken a look at cactus plants available for sale at home repair stores and even in some department stores, you may have seen a pincushion cactus there. There are several different varieties of this plant available, but most of them grow fairly low to the ground and make great additions to indoor potted plant setups. Most varieties of pincushion cactus will not grow larger than about 6 inches tall, which means you could always keep it on your windowsill throughout its life if you prefer.

  • The pincushion cactus is very prickly, so take care not to put it in a place where pets or very young children could come into contact with it.
  • You should plant a pincushion cactus in gritty soil and try not to water it too often. It also should be allowed to drain very well to prevent root rot.
  • Never place your pincushion cactus in a place where it will get below 50 degrees at night. These plants prefer warmer temperatures.
  • During certain parts of the year, this cactus may grow flowers if the temperature and water levels are kept up.
  • This cactus can be grown from offshoots of a larger pincushion cactus plant.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Mammillaria matudae
  • Mammillaria candida
  • Mammillaria bocasa-na
  • Mammillaria hahniana
  • Mammllaria zeilmanniana
cactus plants types

8. Totem Pole Cactus

The totem pole cactus is a large and incredible cactus that you may have seen in cacti pictures before. These plants are so large when fully grown that they look more like trees than cactus plants, so they will eventually get too large to be grown indoors. However, it takes several years for them to reach this level of growth. They need gravelly soil to thrive and don’t require a lot of water to stay healthy and grow strong. The totem pole cactus is a natural mutation of the Senita cactus plant.

different types of cactus plants


There are no flowers are fruits that grow on the totem pole cactus, and this may make it less interesting to some home growers. However, if you’re willing to put forth the effort and eventually more your plant outdoors, it can be a fun and exciting piece of indoor décor for many years.

  • The totem pole cactus doesn’t have any natural pests and it isn’t prone to getting sick from plant diseases, either, which makes it a great option for beginning cactus keepers.
  • This plant must be kept in full sunlight and should never be allowed to drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Do not water this plant until the soil it’s planted in has become completely dry. Otherwise, you’ll risk rotting the roots quickly.
  • This cactus has no thorns or spines, so it’s safe to keep around pets and small children without worry.
  • You should never use organic mulch on this cactus plant.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Lophocereus schotti
  • Lophocereus gatesii
  • Lophocereus bahiensis
cactus plants types

9. Organ Pipe Cactus

Organ pipe cactus plants are truly unique and beautiful. When you see pics of cactus plants in this category, you probably see the giant ones that grow in nature. These cactus plants can only be found in nature in the Sonoran Desert located in the United States and Mexico. Because of their natural climate, these plants cannot tolerate much cold at all. Even though it does get old at night in the Sonoran Desert, this cactus plant grows at higher elevations that are not as cool as the lower parts of the desert floor.

identifying cactus plants


The organ pipe cactus is made up of several stems that grow from one joined base. They curve gently outward and, when several form in a bunch, they resemble the pipes of an old organ. These plants can grow up to 20 feet tall, but it does take several years for this growth to take place. Because of this, you can begin growing an organ pipe cactus indoors, but note that you’ll need to relocate it outside after it starts to outgrow its space.

  • If you’ll be trying to grow an organ pipe cactus from a seedling stage, note that it will need a lot of shade and plenty of water to get started.
  • At night and during the right time of the year, these cactus plants will flower. This usually takes place during the hottest part of the summer.
  • In late summer, the organ pipe cactus grows red fruits that can be eaten by humans as well as many of the animals that live in the Sonoran Desert.
  • If you plan to grow one of these plants indoors, you’ll need to keep it very warm in order for this cactus to thrive.

Specific Cactus Plants in This Category

  • Stenocereus thurberi
  • Stenocereus stallatus
  • Stenocereus alamosensis
cactus plants types


Within each of the 9 categories of cactus plants, there are several different species you can choose from depending on your specific needs. We hope that this article has helped you understand a little bit more about how to differentiate between each of these so that the next time you go shopping in person or see images of cactus plants in your online shopping adventures, you’ll be better able to tell what you’re about to purchase.

Remember that there are 5 important tips you should keep in mind when you’re choosing a cactus to grow inside your home. The specific needs of an indoor cactus are much different from outdoor plants, so pay attention to these suggestions before you pick up your new prickly friend:

1. Temperature hardiness 

temperature of cactus

Think about the temperature your home stays during the whole year. It might climb to 80 degrees indoors during the summer but dip as low as 60 in the winter—or your temperatures may fluctuate even more than this. Choose a cactus that can handle a lot of extremes, especially if there’s no way to regulate the temperature in the room where you’ll be keeping your plant.

2. Size

If you’re looking for something to sit on your windowsill, you’ll be limited to a small handful of cactus plants to choose from. If you’re keeping your cactus in a pot on the floor, you’ll be a little bit freer in terms of what you can and can’t choose. Either way, pick a cactus that won’t eventually outgrow its space.

3. Spines

If you have young children or pets who may be able to access your cactus, be sure to choose one that doesn’t have a lot of spines. If it does, try to pick one with softer spines to prevent any unforeseen injury to your little ones or furry friends.

kinds of cactus plants

4. Trunk and spines

Check out the trunk and spines of the cactus you’re looking at. They should be colorful, not too soft, and free from any black or squishy parts. If your cactus is looking a little brown, pass on that one and try another one.

5. Light needs

Last but not least, think about how much light your plant is going to need. Will you be able to provide it with the right amount and intensity of lighting all day long? If you’re keeping it in a windowsill, will the direct light be too strong for the variety you’re looking at, or will it be just right?

a. Using blinds or curtains can help filter light for plants that are little more sensitive than others, but be sure you research the types of cactus you’re looking at before you choose one that needs light you can’t offer.

If you’re shopping online, be sure you ask the seller for any photos of cactus plants you might need to help you choose. In person, take your time to closely and carefully examine each plant before you make your final decision.

Pretty soon, you’ll have the perfect cactus—or set of cactus plants—to bring home and use in your interior decorating for many years to come!