Latin Name: Cacti
Common Name: Cactus
Mature Height (ft): 1" - 4'
Mature Width: 2" - 3'

Mature Shape

Mulch: Inorganic.

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For more about cactus, check out the page under Plant Lists, Southwest Evergreens, Cactus.

Not all succulents are cacti, nearly all cacti are succulents (a few exceptions). The succulent stem, either globose or columnar are built for water storage and minimum evaporation, ribbed or tuberculate (with round nodule or small eminence, as in Mammillaria, and our Panhandle native, Coryphantha missouriensis, the nipple cactus). The ribs and tubercles expand and contract with water availability. The more pronounced the grooves and tubercles, the less water the stem is holding. Likewise, the ribs are well rounded with ample moisture.

Spines, always emerging from areoles, are modified leaves, providing protection from herbivores. Spines also provide shading from the sun and deflection of wind to reduce evaporation even further. Spines vary greatly in color, size and shape. Spines sometimes appear as woolly hair, offering the added protection against nighttime cold, or in combination with spines found in mostly columnar-shaped cacti found in high altitudes from Peru to Bolivia and Argentina, the Oreocereus genus.

If the shape and form doesn't attract, it is certainly their flowers. Cactus have the most beautiful flowers in the world. In some plants, the flowers are even bigger than the plant itself. Cacti flower every year, after reaching maturity, some species several times a year, including the Thelocactus bicolor, var. bicolor, the Glory of Texas native to Presidio, Brewster and Starr counties near Big Bend National Park. One enthusiastic reference mentioned the similarity of the cholla cactus to early roses in appeal – both have thorny canes and a single period of flowering. Driving a stretch of I-40 between Amarillo and Santa Fe one June, I noticed acres of cane cholla, Opuntia imbricata, in full rose-pink bloom – quite a sight.

Growing cactus is similar to growing agave, lean gritty mineralized soil with good drainage and 6 to 8 hours of sunlight for the best blooms. Afternoon shade benefits most plants, but is not required. Cacti prefer acidic water to our alkaline city water, rain water is the best. De-chlorinate a 5 gallon pail of city water by letting it sit in the sun for a day or two, adding one tablespoon of white vinegar or citrus acid to lower the pH if rainwater is not available. Spare the water in fall and winter for better survival or mound the plant to increase soil drainage.

Cactus are predominately pollinated by native bees, as well as honeybees. Many of the bees pollinate just one plant species and related species. A very few cacti are pollinated by small crawling insects, bats and hummingbirds.

Below is a list of cacti I believe are reliably cold hardy for Amarillo, or down to zero degrees F. Many of these will survive colder temperatures. Populations of Opuntia fragilis grow natively in several locations in Wisconsin on rock outcrops and sandy soils. I am sure this is not a complete list of cold hardy cacti for the Texas Panhandle.

Coryphantha missouriensis, nipple cactus

Coryphantha vivipara, pincushion or ball cactus

Cylindropuntia whipplei, dwarf pencil cholla, plateau cholla

Echinocactus horizonthalonius, Texas blue barrel cactus, perhaps only cold hardy to Zone 7, summer blooming

Echinocactus texensis, Horse crippler

Echinocereus coccineus, Texas claret cup cactus, very showy

Echinocereus coccineus x dasyacanthus Texas rainbow hedgehog

Echinicereus engelmannii, Strawberry hedgehop

Echinocereus fendlerii, Fendler's hedgehog

Echinocereus fendleri rectispinus, pink flowered Fendler's hedgehog cactus

Echinocereus melanacanthus, White spined claret cup

Echinicereus mojavensis

Echinicereus reichenbachii albispinus, white spined lace cactus

Echinocereus rigidissimus, New Mexico Rainbow cactus

Echinocereus triglochidiatus, claret cup cactus, large, very showy

Echinocereus triglochidiatus gonacanthus

Echinocereus viridiflorus, green flowered hedgehog

Escobaria vivipara, beehive cactus

Opuntia engelmannii, Engelmann's prickly pear

Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis, cow-tongue prickly pear

Opuntia fragilis, fragile or brittle prickly pear

Opuntia humifusa, devil's-tongue, a SE US cactus (also called O. compressa).

Opuntia imbricata, Cane cactus, tree cactus, cholla

Opuntia kleiniae, candle cholla

Opuntia leptocaulis, Tasajillo, pencil cactus

Opuntia macrorhiza, plains prickly pear

Opuntia phaeacantha major, Santa Fe prickly pear, brown spined prickly pear

Opuntia polyacantha, Hunger cactus, very spiny

Mammillaria heyderi, nipple cactus

Mammillaria meiacantha, pincussion cactus

Pediocactus simpsonii, mountain ball cactus

Use in Garden

Cactus gardens, rock gardens, native plant gardens, xeristrips, xeric and bee gardens are some of the uses for cactus. Large opuntia or cholla cactus can be focal points in xeric gardens. Cactus make excellent container and dish gardens, either solely, or with other succulents.


Remove leaves or other organic debris that blow into the cacti and get caught in the spines.