Cool Cacti: These Plants Come in a Quirky Array of Shapes and Sizes

See if any of these cacti varieties prick your interest.
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Opuntia Cactus Perfect for Small Pots

Opuntia Cactus Perfect for Small Pots

The Opuntia microdasys 'albispina' is related to the large, imposing prickly pear, but this dwarf Opuntia is perfect for small pots in the home.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

The Opuntia microdasys 'albispina' is related to the large, imposing prickly pear, but this dwarf Opuntia is perfect for small pots in the home.

When you think of a cactus plant, what comes to mind?  Is it the iconic cucumber-shaped, prickly green variety with the bent “arms,” made famous in movies and cartoons?

Fact is, cacti come in all kinds of unique shapes, colors and sizes. Here are some cool varieties you may not already be familiar with:

Devil's Tongue Barrel

Also called Crow’s Claw Cactus, this globe-shaped variety grows as large as 16 inches and features large pink, yellow and white spines protruding from the middle. The cacti bursts out into bright pink blooms in fall or winter. The juice of the Devil’s Tongue plant is thought to be healing to the skin. It can be grown indoors and enjoys house temperatures.

Eastern Prickly Pear

This fascinating perennial grows as tall as two and a half feet, and is made up of a series of large flat pads that are plump in spring, but wither in winter. The cactus produces a pearly yellow flower with a red or orange center in summer, which quickly develop into large, bright purplish-pink fruits in autumn. Eastern Prickly Pear grows readily in cold climates as far north as Minnesota and is easy to cultivate in a backyard garden. It can tolerate moisture and humidity more readily than many cacti.

Opuntia microdasys 'albispina'

This cute little plant (pictured) is nicknamed the “polka dot” for a reason! It looks like a series of plump, spiny green ovals glued together end to end. A cousin of the larger prickly pear, this dwarf variety is much less imposing. It’s native to the Southwest, and can be grown indoors in small pots. 

Echinocereus

This species includes a large number of show-stopping cacti, recognized for their dazzling flowers. Echinocereus varieties include everything from thin stick-shaped cacti (E. poselgeri) to fat, round, smooth balls (E. knippelianus). The plants are native to Western states and Mexico, and can withstand a range of climates from hot and dry to rainy and cold.

Thinking of trying your hand at growing cacti? Here are a few other interesting varieties to check out:

Ruby Ball, or Red Cap Cactus

This plant, readily available at many garden centers and nurseries, is actually two plants grafted together.

Fishbone Cactus

This tall, branchy specimen really does look like a series of fish bones stuck together end-to-end. They look very cool in a hanging basket.

Pipe Organ Cactus

This green, spiny, cylindrical variety is common in the desert and grows very large. But since it’s slow growing, it can make a fun houseplant.

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