How long does it take for a barrel cactus to grow?

Echinocactus Grusonii

The barrel cactus is primarily suited for growing in garden rockery settings, desert type landscapes, patios and botanical gardens. They are grown indoors inside conservatories or other glass rooms where enough sunlight is provided. However, they seem to have great difficulty flowering indoors.

How they look: The globular shaped stem can grow up to 60 inches tall and 36 inches wide in the wild, or where they are given conditions similar to the natural Mexican habitat. This stem is ribbed and produces prickly yellowish spines (there is also a spineless type), and the crown of the cactus has white colored woollen hairs at the top.

Flowering: The golden barrel cacti will produce yellow flowers during mid-summer, although these are unlikely to appear indoors. These are grown mainly for the foliage rather than flowers; for the desert look that’s appealing to cactus growers and collectors.

Growing and care: The Echinocactus grusonii is fairly quick growing at first; then the growth rate slows right down. So you can expect to wait about 10 years for the cactus to reach 10 inches in diameter. Like most cacti they’re drought tolerant and need very little care and attention to grow well. Not enough sunlight and over-watering are common mistakes. When handling, it’s best to use gloves to protect your hands from the prickly spines.

Plants & Flowers

Common Names: Mother-in-Laws Chair, Golden Barrel Cactus, Golden Ball

Family: Cactaceae

Echinocactus grusonii

Distribution and habitat: Echinocactus grusonii is a well known species of cactus endemic to east-central Mexico. It is rare and critically endangered species in the wild. The cactus grows in volcanic rock on slopes at altitudes around 1,400 metres (4,600 ft).

Growing as a large roughly spherical globe, Echinocactus grusonii may eventually reach over 1 metre (3.3 ft) in height after many years. The generation lifetime is estimated to be 30 years.

Description: Echinocactus grusonii will have probably a diameter of 5-8cm (2-3 inch) as a four-year-old seedling. The rate of growth slows down with the age, however, and it will take 15 or 20 years for the plant to add another 15-28cm (6-11 inch) to its girth. Very young specimens are covered with tubercles (wart-like swellings). As Echinocactus grusonii grows, the tubercles gradually become lined up in vertical rows and less conspicuous. By the time a plant is 15cm (6 inch) across, the tubercles will have merged, forming 20 to 27 narrow ribs separated by deep indentations. Areoles closely set along the ribs are filled with yellowish or whitish woolly hairs. The areoles at the top of the plant are so numerous that the crown of the ball appears covered in wool. The characteristic golden spines of the species also rise from the areoles. From 5 to 10 of the spines are 1cm (0.4 inch) or more long and another 3 to 5 of them may be twice as long.

Bright yellow, cup-shaped, 5cm (2 inch) wide flowers eventually appear from areoles on the crown of mature plants, but because Echinocactus grusonii does not bloom until fully mature, the flowers are never seen in room size specimens. In areas with mild winter temperatures, however, this Echinocactus grusonii can be successfully grown outdoors and in good conditions may ultimately become old and big enough to produce flowers in summer.

Houseplant care: Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling.
Light: Echinocactus grusonii need to be given direct sunlight throughout the year in order to produce long and well coloured spines.

Temperature: During the active growth period normally warm room temperatures are suitable. Indoor Echinocactus grusonii should be given a winter rest period, ideally at about 10°C (50°C). The minimum tolerable temperature is about 5°C (41°C). At lower temperatures the surface of the plant may become discoloured by the appearance of distinguishing brown spots. On the other hand, if indoor winter temperatures rise much above 12°C (70°C), the plant will be encouraged to continue growing and with often inadequate light of short winter days, the nearly spherical shape may elongate in a rather unsightly way.

Water: During the active growth period water moderately, enough to make the potting mixture moist throughout and allowing the top centimetre (0.4 inch) or so of the potting mixture to dry out before watering again. During the winter rest period water much more sparingly, giving only enough to keep the potting mixture from drying out completely. Too much moisture inevitably causes rotting to occur at the base of a resting Echinocactus grusonii.

Fertilising: Rather than providing regular applications of a liquid fertiliser, it is a better idea to incorporate a long term slow release fertiliser in the potting mixture.

Potting and repotting: Either soil based or peat based potting mixture is suitable, but make it more porous by the addition of a one-third portion of coarse sand. Plants about 8cm (3 inch) across can be accommodated for some years in pots. Remove an Echinocactus grusonii from its pot every spring to see whether it needs moving on. If it has grown so much that the roots fill the pot, move the plant into a pot one size larger. Otherwise, gently shake the old potting mixture from the roots and carefully replace the plant in the original pot after it has been thoroughly cleaned adding fresh potting mixture to the roots. After repotting, do not water for a week or more.

Gardening: Echinocactus grusonii are summer-growing and pretty easy plants to cultivate.

Light frost protection required for safe cultivation, but can tolerate sporadic light frost. Echinocactus grusonii are hardy to about -8ºC (15ºF) for brief periods.

Position: Outside they need a bright exposure, full sun or half shade in summer if the location is exceedingly hot or bright.
It can tolerate moderate shade. A plant that has been growing in shade should be slowly hardened off before placing it in full sun as the plant will be severely scorched if moved too suddenly from shade into sun.

Soil: They are suited for any rich, well drained soil such as clay, pumice, lava grit and only a little addition of peat or leaf-mould.

Water: Water regularly during the summer growth cycle (this plant need plenty of water, but do not overwater and let their soil dry out between waterings). Avoid wetting the body of this plant while it is in sunlight. A wet cactus in the sun light can cause sun burning which can lead to scares or even fungal infections and death. Keep the Echinocactus grusonii rather dry in winter. No water should ever be allowed to stand around the roots.

Fertilising: Feed with a high potassium fertilizer in summer.

Propagation: Potted Echinocactus grusonii can be propagated only from seed. Seedling can be raised easily. In their first few years they grow rapidly.
Sow the tiny seed of Echinocactus grusonii in trays filled with equal parts of peat moss and coarse sand potting mixture. Place then the trays in filtered sun, cover with a glass sheet and keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate in approximately 2 to 6 weeks. They will look like small spheres, red in colour, not green. Then gradually remove the glass cover. When the small cacti start to sprout tiny spines, use a pair of tweezers to transfer them from the propagation trays into 5cm (2 inch) pots filled with the same soil mix used in the germination trays. Allow the small cacti to grow for about one-two year and then move the cacti to 10cm (4 inch) pots and treat them as mature Echinocactus grusonii.

Problems: The most dangerous things for Echinocactus grusonii plants are: hypothermia of the ground clod; the lack of light; waterlogging of the soil, especially in the winter season, which leads to rotting.

Watch for infestations of mealybug, scale insects and spider mite.
Treatment: Use an appropriate pesticide to treat the plant.

Notes: The very young specimens of Echinocactus grusonii look much like cacti of the genus Mammillaria, with which they are sometimes confused.

Uses: Echinocactus grusonii is widely cultivated by specialty plant nurseries as an ornamental plant, for planting in containers, desert habitat gardens, rock gardens and in conservatories.

Unlike many plants, the Echinocactus grusonii get more and more beautiful as they grow. As old specimens they can be truly majestic. They are best planted close together among large rocks or boulders.

Being a drought-tolerant Echinocactus grusonii is suitable for xeriscaping


Foliage – green
Shape – globular
Height: 60-90cm (24-36 inch)

Watering in rest period – sparingly
Watering in active growth period – moderately
Light – direct
Temperature in rest period – min 4°C max 10°C (39-50°F)
Temperature in active growth period – min 16°C max 24°C (61-75°F)
Humidity – low

Hardiness zone: 9a-11

Flowers Lady Cactus, Garden Plants, Indoor Plants Echinocactus grusonii, Golden Ball, Golden Barrel Cactus, Mother-in-Laws Chair

Life Cycle of a Golden Barrel Cactus

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) is a spiny, ribbed cactus that grows in an unbranched spherical or cylindrical form. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11 or only in zones 9 and 10, depending on the source. Golden barrel cactus makes an effective focal point in a desert garden, although its slow growth calls for patience on the part of the gardener.


A golden barrel cactus produces seeds in papery seedpods that develop from flowers at the plant’s top. The seeds are sown in spring when the temperature is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sow the seeds on the surface of loose, sandy soil in a sunny location. Because the seeds need light to germinate, they shouldn’t be covered, and the soil needs to remain moist while the seedlings are small.

Young Plant

A golden barrel cactus seedling grows relatively quickly, within a few years, to about 4 inches in diameter. During this stage, the plant is a dense spiny ball. Its spines emerge from protruding tubercles so that the ribbed structure that will become apparent as the plant matures is mostly hidden. The young cactus needs careful watering to remain healthy. It needs plenty of water in summer and tolerates moisture better than most cacti, but excessive water in winter causes it to rot.

Mature Plant

As the plant matures, its growth rate slows markedly. At maturity, the specimen may be about 3 feet in diameter, but it requires decades to get that big. On the mature plant, the 20 to 40 ribs running from its top to its base are apparent. Its spines grow along the ribs from yellow areoles, which are small bumps common to all cacti that produce spines, flowers or offset shoots. The golden barrel cactus’ spines are also yellow. When they’re back-lit in brilliant sunlight, they produce the golden glow that gives the plant its name.


A healthy golden barrel cactus begins producing flowers when it is about 15 inches in diameter. The flowers emerge from a wooly patch at the cactus’ top in spring and bloom into summer. The flowers are bright yellow, but they’re small and not terribly conspicuous. By the end of summer, the flowers have produced seeds, completing the plant’s reproductive cycle. The cycle continues to the end of the cactus’ natural lifespan, which is usually fewer than 100 years.

Barrel cactus

Barrel cactus, name for a group of more or less barrel-shaped cacti (family Cactaceae) native to North and South America. It is most often used for two large-stemmed North American genera, Ferocactus and Echinocactus. Various other barrel cacti include members of the genera Astrophytum, Echinopsis, Neolloydia, Sclerocactus, and Thelocactus.

barrel cactusBarrel cactus (Ferocactus species) in Nevada.© Marketa Mark/.com

Echinocactus comprises six species native to Mexico. Plants are more or less globose, usually growing to about 60 cm (2 feet) high and about 30 cm (1 foot) in diameter. The genus is distinguished primarily by its numerous wavy ribs and elongated fruits. The golden barrel cactus (E. grusonii) is a common desert ornamental, noted for its striking golden spines; the plant is an endangered species in the wild.

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii).Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The nearly 30 species of the genus Ferocactus are found in dry environments of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. They can reach about 3 metres (10 feet) high and about 60 cm in diameter, and the stems generally have strong stiff spines and prominent ribs. The flowers, yellow to orange and purplish and sometimes fragrant, are up to 8 cm (3 inches) across. Spines in Ferocactus may be up to 10 cm (4 inches) long.

barrel cactusBarrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus).Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The 19 species of Sclerocactus, which are sometimes called little barrels, have at least one hooked central spine. (All cacti with such curved spines may be called fishhook cacti, including some species of Ferocactus.) The flowers are mainly pink, yellow, and cream. The Mojave fishhook cactus (S. polyancistrus) is a cylindroid cactus up to 40 cm (16 inches) in height and 13 cm (5.1 inches) in diameter and has showy red and white spines and large flowers. Almost as large is the small-flowered fishhook cactus (S. parviflorus) native to the Colorado Plateau. The remaining species of small cacti grow in widely scattered colonies.

Barrel cactus (Sclerocactus parviflorus)Dorothea W. Woodruff/Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today

Neolloydia, comprising about 14 species, is native to the southwestern United States and much of Mexico. Spiny and globose to cylindroid, these cacti reach 40 cm (1.3 feet) in height and 12 cm (4.7 inches) in diameter. The genus is related to Sclerocactus, Thelocactus, and Turbinicarpus, and its taxonomy is contentious.

Thelocactus is a genus of a few to 30 species (depending on the authority) of small to medium-sized more or less spiny plants with tubercles (protuberances) distinct or coalescent into ribs. Several species are known as miniature barrel cacti. T. hexaedrophorus, with large blue tubercles, is an unusual pot plant. Some species have showy white, pink, or purple flowers and colourful spines.

The Fish Hook Barrel Cactus is found throughout southern and central Arizona at elevations between 100 and 4500 feet along sandy desert and gravelly slopes. Smaller populations may also be found in southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. The cactus is easily identified by its thick (2 foot diameter), barrel shaped body (which usually reaches heights of 2 – 4 feet, but occasionally reaches over 10 feet), and long hooked spines. The cactus grows singly (as opposed to clusters, like the hedgehog cactus) and will have approximately 20 – 28 ribs. Two types of spines grow out of the ribs, the reddish, hooked spines (for which the cactus is named protrude outward from the body, while more slender, radial spines criss-cross flat along the body between the ribs.

Some species of barrel cactus lean to the southwest as they grow (possibly due to slower growth on the side of the plant that is exposed to the most sun). This has led to them also being called ‘compass cactus’.

Fish Hook Barrel Cacti typically bloom in late summer (July – September) and produce a cup shaped flower at the top of the plant. Flower color is usually some shade of orange, but is occasionally yellow or red. Cactus bees pollinate the flowers. The fruit remains on the cactus until it is removed by animals and may remain on the plant for more than a year. Birds, squirrels, deer and javalina are the main consumers of the fruit. The plants usually grow fairly slowly in the wild and live for about a 100 years. It is a myth that you can cut open a barrel cactus and water will pour out. While the plants do retain moisture, it is contained within a slimy alkaline pulp. Native Americans have used the juice as an emergency water source, but drinking this liquid can produce undesirable health effects such as diarrhea and joint pain. The sour rind and seeds are edible, as are the flowers and fruit.

Caring For Barrel Cactus In The Garden – How To Grow Barrel Cactus

Barrel cactus are the classic desert denizens of lore. There are a number of barrel cactus varieties within two genus types, the Echinocactus and the Ferrocactus. The Echinocactus has a fuzzy crown of fine spines, while the Ferrocactus are ferociously thorned. Each one can be grown as a houseplant or in less common situations the arid garden and are attractive additions to a succulent display. Growing barrel cactus requires a sunny location, well-drained potting soil and minimal watering.

How to Grow Barrel Cactus

Barrel cactus plants are characterized by their ribbed, cylindrical shape. The cacti come in many sizes and may be low and squat or as tall as 10 feet in height. The barrel cactus cares for lost travelers in the desert because it habitually grows tilted to the southwest. Caring for barrel cactus is quite easy and it makes a great plant for the beginning gardener. Site, water, soil and container are the key to how to grow barrel cactus.

Potted cactus should be kept in the warmest room of the home in a bright sunny location. Direct southern sunlight may burn the plant in the height of the summer, so you should move them back from the window or turn the slats on your blinds to diffuse the light.

Soil for barrel cactus is mostly sand with a little topsoil, perlite and compost. Prepared cactus mixes are suitable for growing barrel cactus. Unglazed pots are best for potted cactus because they allow the evaporation of excess water.

Water is a very important component to caring for barrel cactus. The plants are native to arid desert regions and usually have only rainfall to supply their moisture needs. Water your barrel cactus once per week in summer. The barrel cactus doesn’t need much water in winter when it is dormant. Water once between December and February. Adequate water in spring may cause the plant to produce a large yellow flower. Rarely the plant will then grow an edible fruit.

The cactus naturally grows in low fertility areas so their nutrient needs are low. Fertilize the barrel cactus once a year in spring when it leaves dormancy and begins growing again. A low nitrogen liquid fertilizer is a good formula for the barrel cactus. The amount of fertilizer will depend on the size of your container and plant. Consult the packaging for guidance on the exact amount.

Growing Barrel Cactus from Seed

Barrel cactus can be easily grown from seed. Fill a flat with commercial cactus mix and sow the seeds on the surface of the soil. Sprinkle a thin layer of sand on top of the seeds and then the soil needs to be evenly misted. Cover the flat with a lid or plastic wrap and keep it in a warm location. The seeds readily germinate and can be transplanted when they are big enough to a larger container. Always use gloves when handling barrel cactus, as their spines can be painful.

Scientific Name

Ferocactus wislizeni (Engelm.) Britton & Rose

Common Names

Fishhook Barrel Cactus, Fishhook Cactus, Arizona Barrel Cactus, Candy Barrel Cactus, Southwestern Barrel Cactus, Compass Barrel


Echinocactus wislizeni (basionym)

Scientific Classification

Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Cacteae
Genus: Ferocactus


Ferocactus wislizeni is a barrel shaped or columnar cactus with cylindrical stem, up to 30 inches (80 cm) in diameter and up to 6.5 feet (2 m) tall. The spines are thick and hooked. It has a leathery asparagus green skin with approximately 15-28 ribs per cactus. Its flowers are yellow to red-orange with reddish midribs and brown tips, up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and appear atop the cactus fruit during the summer months. The fruits are green when unripe, yellow after the flower dries up, and persist atop the cactus long after the flower is gone, sometimes for more than a year.

Photo via

How to Grow and Care

Choose a planting location that receives direct sun during all or most of the day. Water the cactus at the time of planting to anchor it into the soil. Plant your Barrel Cactus in early spring before new roots begin to form in late June and early July. The roots may appear dry, but that is typical before new growth begins. Dig a hole deep enough for the plant’s roots and amend it as needed to provide fast-draining soil. A good soil mixture includes 10 percent native soil, 45 percent washed sand or pumice and 45 percent compost. Ferocactus thrives in poor and arid soil. Water the cactus at the time of planting to anchor it into the soil. Water again only if the weather in your area is unseasonably dry and if normal spring or winter rainfall doesn’t occur… – See more at: How to Grow and Care for Ferocactus.


Native to southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.


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Ferocactus gracilis H. E. Gates

Fire Barrel Cactus

Ferocactus gracilis subsp. gracilis, Ferocactus gracilis var. gracilis, Ferocactus peninsulae var. gracilis

Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Cacteae
Genus: Ferocactus

Ferocactus gracilis is an attractive cactus with a solitary, globular to cylindrical stem that grows up to 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and up to 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. It has about 24 ribs, 7 to 13 reddish-brown, somewhat curved, up to 1.6 inches (4 cm) long central spines, and 8 to 12 whitish radial spines. Flowers are diurnal, golden yellow or reddish, and with a darker red stripe down the middle of each petal. They appear in summer. Fruits are cylindrical, yellowish, and up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long.

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USDA hardiness zones 9a to 11b: from 20 °F (−6.7 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).

Choose a location that receives direct sun during all or most of the day. Plant your Barrel Cactus in early spring before new roots begin to form. The roots may appear dry, but that is typical before new growth begins. Dig a hole deep enough for the plant’s roots and amend it as needed to provide fast-draining soil. A good soil mixture includes 10 percent native soil, 45 percent washed sand or pumice and 45 percent compost.

Water the cactus at the time of planting to anchor it into the soil. Water again only if the weather in your area is unseasonably dry and if normal spring or winter rainfall doesn’t occur. Ferocactus needs a dormant period with dry soil during the winter.

Learn more at How to Grow and Care for Ferocactus.

Ferocactus gracilis is native to Mexico (Baja California).

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Mexican Fire Barrel, Mexican Lime Cactus, Viznaga de Lima


Cactus and Succulents

Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun


Unknown – Tell us

Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us


8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)


24-36 in. (60-90 cm)

36-48 in. (90-120 cm)


USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual


Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:


Bright Yellow

Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Unknown – Tell us

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:

Allow unblemished fruit to ripen; clean and dry seeds

Unblemished fruit must be significantly overripe before harvesting seed; clean and dry seeds

Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Benson, Arizona

Green Valley, Arizona

Queen Creek, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

Hesperia, California

San Leandro, California

Grenoble, Rhône-Alpes

San Antonio, Texas

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