Cacti are fascinating plants. A predominant part of the plants occurs in warm, dry areas. Designed for life in extremes, the carnation plants defy even long-lasting heat and strong sunlight. In addition to the desert cacti, a large number of exotic plants can be found in tropical forests and on coasts. The species and hybrids differ not only in their habitat, but also in their care and location conditions. Around 125 different genera with well over 1000 species are known worldwide. A few of them are popular houseplants, others have nothing against a sunny location in the garden.

Popular and well-known species of cacti

There is a large selection of cacti in stores. No two types of succulent are alike. Some specimens of the carnation family are thornless, while others resemble a dense pincushion. From round, cylindrical to a creeping growth form, everything is available. It is not always easy for laypeople to distinguish cacti from one another. The plants are able to store water in their shoots for times of need. However, this fact says little about their care requirements and the individual requirements that the species place on the passionate hobby gardener. Various cacti are unsuitable for beginners, while others are ideal plants for beginners. Here is a brief overview of the best-known genera and species that are often found in gardens and living spaces:


The thorny scales of the flowers are characteristic of this genus of cacti. The Acanthocalycium species include:

  • Acanthocalycium thionanthum
  • Acanthocalycium spiniflorum
  • Acanthocalycium klimpelianum
  • Acanthocalycium ferrarii

Growth form: columnar to spherical Growth
height: up to 60 cm
Special feature: Can develop thorns up to 8 cm long.
Type species: Echinocactus spiniflorus


Also known under the term “wool fruit cactus”. The warts of this group of cacti have a woolly down. Ariocarpus spans a wide variety of species and hybrids. The best-known representatives include, for example:

  • Ariocarpus furfuraceus
  • Ariocarpus retusus
  • Ariocarpus trigonus
  • Ariocarpus fissuratus var. hintonii

Growth form: compact and small Growth
height: maximum 10 cm
Special feature: have no thorns; Beet rooters.
Type species: Ariocarpus retusus


The epithet “Bischofsmütze” describes the growth form of these cactus plants. Popular subspecies are:

  • Astrophytum myriostigma ssp
  • Astrophytum asterias

Growth form: spherical to columnar Growth
height: maximum 1.5 m
Special feature: cap-shaped seeds
Type species: Astrophytum myriostigma


The silver-white coat of these cacti gave them the nickname “Greisenhaupt”. The genus belongs to the desert cactus family. Popular subspecies are:

  • Cephalocereus senilis
  • Cephalocereus apicicephalium
  • Cephalocereus totolapensis

Growth form: upright, columnar Height
: between 10 and 12 m
Special feature: As a houseplant it reaches a maximum height of 40 cm.
Type species: Cactus senilis


Column or rock cacti with ribbed tripods. Quirky appearance with a partially gnarled shape. The following types are cultivated as indoor plants:

  • Cereus peruvianus
  • Cereus jamacar
  • Cereus peruvianus “Monstrosus”

Growth form: upright shrub-like
growth height: maximum 15 m
Special feature: rich in contrast; can develop flowers up to 35 cm long.
Type species: Cactus hexagonus


Better known under the trivial name “silver candle”. The trunk is covered with thin, silver-gray to white bristles. About 15 species belong to this genus:

  • Cleistocactus acanthurus
  • Cleistocactus baumannii
  • Cleistocactus hyalacanthus

Growth form: tight and slender.
Height: up to 3 m.
Special feature: some species have conspicuous flowers.
Type species: Cereus baumannii


The spherical growth of this slowly growing genus is striking. All “hedgehog column cacti” have a spiked surface. This genus can live for several centuries. Popular varieties include:

  • Echinocactus grusonii
  • Echinocactus texensis
  • Echinocactus horizonthalonius

Growth habit: spherical; Ribbed and hard-fleshed Growth
height: maximum 5 m
Special feature: slow growth
Type species: Echinocactus platyacanthus


The spherical growth in the youth phase gave these cacti the nickname “sea urchin cactus”. Well-known species include:

  • Echinopsis oxygona
  • Echinopsis spachiana
  • Echinopsis eyriesii

Growth form: shrub-like to tree-shaped.
Special feature: grows spherical at a young age; columnar with age.
Type species: Echinocactus eyriesii


The hook-shaped thorns of some species gave the genus the nickname “devil’s tongue”. Belongs to the desert cactus family. Preferred types are:

  • Ferocactus horridus
  • Ferocactus glaucescens
  • Ferocactus horridus
  • Ferocactus gracilis gatesii

Growth form: spherical to cylindrical
growth height: maximum 1.60 m
Special feature: strong thorns, yellow to strong red in color.
Type species: Echinocactus wislizeni


The botanical name of these desert cacti means “naked calyx”. The carnation plants have interesting, variable thorns. Well-known types of gymnocalycium are:

  • Gymnocalycium baldianum
  • Gymnocalycium bruchii
  • Gymnocalycium platense
  • Gymnocalycium saglione

Growth form: spherical to short cylindrical
Special feature: hairless flower buds; small cactus genus.
Type species: Cactus gibbosus


The thornless cactus genus is widespread in southern Brazil. Consists of multi-part shoot sections that can reach a length of up to 5 cm. Well-known types are:

  • Hatiora herminiae
  • Hatiora epiphylloides
  • Hatiora gaertneri
  • Hatiora rosea

Growth habit: shrubby; branched; growing upright when young.
Growth height: maximum 35 cm
Special feature: consists of individual shoot segments; Thorns are absent or only minimally developed.
Type species: Rhipsalis salicornoides


This genus, which comes from Bolivia, includes over 100 species of cacti. The tree-like growth of some representatives of this genus shows that it belongs to the desert cactus family. Popular types include:

  • Lobivia hertrichiana
  • Lobivia aguilari
  • Lobivia winteriana

Growth form: spherical to cylindrical
Special feature: small cacti; some species have brightly colored flowers.
Lophophora: Typical of this genus are the tufts of wool that sit on the areoles of the plants. Lophophora includes only two types:

  • Lophophora diffusa
  • Lophophora williamsii

Growth habit: group-forming; spherical with densely packed shoots
Height: maximum 7 cm
Special feature: thornless; form club-shaped fleshy fruits.
Type species: Echinocactus williamsii


Colloquially referred to as “wart cactus”. With 400 species, this genus is the largest cactus family. Diverse and brightly colored thorns are typical of the species. Popular types include, for example:

  • Mammillaria fraileana
  • Mammillaria gigantea
  • Mammillaria is contagious
  • Mammillaria mainiae
  • Mammillaria sheldonii

Growth form: elongated to spherical
Special feature: some species have colored thorns; forms bell-shaped flowers.
Type species: Mammillaria simplex


Some representatives of this genus resemble elongated melons, which is also where the botanical name can be traced back to. Widespread in South and West America. Representatives of these cacti can even be found in the Caribbean. Popular types are:

  • Melocactus glaucescens
  • Melocactus braunii
  • Melocactus zehntneri
  • Melocactus caroli-linnaei

Growth form: spherical to cylindrical Growth
height: maximum 1 m
Special feature: short-lived flowers; club-shaped fruits
type: Cactus melocactus


The 15 species of this genus are mainly cultivated because of their conspicuous thorns. The trivial nickname of Notocactus is “humpback cactus” and is due to its spherical growth. Popular species of this genus are:

  • Notocactus
  • Notocactus buiningii

Growth form: spherical to cylindrical Growth
height: maximum 25 cm
Special feature: radial thorns.
Type species: Echinocactus microspermus


The drooping, green-colored shoots are typical of this genus of cacti. Each Pfeiffera areole only flowers once in its life. The most popular ones include:

  • Pfeiffera monacanthum

Growth habit: elongated; drooping
specialty: slowly growing
Opuntia: this genus of desert cacti includes almost 190 species. Well over half of this cactus family can be found in Mexico. Very different in size and shape. Well-known representatives of this genus are, for example:

  • Opuntia polyacantha
  • Opuntia humifusa
  • Opuntia.picardoi

Growth habit: varies depending on the species; shrub-like to tree-like; creeping to upright Growth
height: well over 10 m
Special feature: individual shoots are connected to one another; does not form ribs.
Type species: Cactus ficus-indica


A slowly growing family of cacti that remains small. Grows predominantly in South America. Well-known types are:

  • Parody ritteri
  • parodia maassii
  • Parodia schwebsiana

Growth form: flat spherical to columnar Growth
height: maximum 20 cm
Special feature: low growing; differently colored and colored thorns.
Type species: Echinocactus microspermus


Very small genus with around 20 species. The plant forms numerous sprouts on the main stem. The original habitat of these cacti is in South America. Popular species of the dwarf carnation family:

  • Rebutia heliosa
  • Rebutia albiflora
  • Rebutia marsoneri

Growth form: spherical to cylindrical Growth
height: approx. 10 cm
Special feature: slowly growing; dwarf growth.
Type species: Rebutia minuscula


Leaf cacti with individual shoots. With age, the shoots droop. Well-known types are:

  • Rhipsalis rosea
  • Rhipsalis goebeliana

Growth habit: elongated; upright to drooping.
Height: approx. 10 cm
Special feature: leaf cacti do not tolerate direct sunlight.
Type species: Rhipsalis salicornoides


Better known under the trivial name “Christmas cacti”. This genus is widespread in the coastal regions of Brazil. The most famous species and hybrids include:

  • Schlumbergera × buckleyi
  • Schlumbergera russelliana
  • Schlumbergera opuntioides

Growth habit: shrubby; richly branched.
Special feature: berry-like fruits; varied flower
type: Schlumbergera epiphylloides


One of the most beautiful species, which was named after the Greek goddess of the moon. The flowers of these species only open at night. For this reason, Selenicereus grandiflorus was given the nickname “Queen of the Night”.

  • Selenicereus coniflorus
  • Selenicereus rubineus
  • Selenicereus murrillii

Growth habit: slender; hanging and climbing.
Height: well over 5 m
Special feature: forms aerial roots; only blooms at night.
Type species: Cactus grandiflorus

Cacti are different in their location and care requirements. The list shows how diverse the genera and the individual species of the carnation family are. While some specimens only thrive in sheltered living spaces, others prefer a permanent residence in the garden.

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