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8 Types of Cacti in California (with Pictures)

Mother of Hundreds Cactus_moorathenight_Shutterstock

Cacti are some of the most well-known plants in the world, and they’re best known for growing in deserts. With a high tolerance for both hot and cold temperatures, cacti typically don’t need much water to thrive. They come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and even colors that help to liven up the dry deserts of California and the Southwestern US. Let’s check out some of the most common cacti that grow in the Golden State.

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The 8 Common Types of Cacti in California

1. California Cholla

California Cholla
Image Credit: jackkeyz, Pixabay

This is one of the most common cacti in California, with a few distinct varieties. However, most of them share the intimidating and dense fur-like quills and straight profiles. Because both varieties look so similar, it’s difficult to tell them apart at a glance. Both varieties mainly grow in San Diego, trailing down into Baja California.

2. Barrel Cactus

Texas Blue Barrel Cactus
Image By: shihina, Shutterstock

The barrel cactus is a short, stout cactus with a huge variety of colorations. The species is endangered because of overharvesting, but it still thrives in the Mojave Desert of California. The cactus is covered in red, white, and yellow spines that give it an exotic look. As the cactus ages, these spines turn gray and wind around the cactus.

3. Teddy Bear Cholla

teddy bear cholla
Image Credit: MikeGoad, Pixabay

This is one of the most interesting cacti that grows in California, Arizona, and Nevada. Also called the jumping cholla, the teddy bear cholla gets its name from the dense covering of hair-thin spines that gives it a soft appearance. The stems of this cactus periodically detach and “jump” onto passersby and other plants to spread, hence the nickname.

4. Beavertail Cactus

beavertail cactus
Image Credit: amberdiehl, Pixabay

Beavertail cacti are a type of prickly pear cactus that only grows to about 23 inches. Instead of quill-type spines on its body like most cacti, the beavertail has short bristle-like protrusions called glochids. In the late spring to early summer, the cactus grows vibrant pink blossoms, so it’s no wonder it’s a garden favorite!

5. Coastal Prickly Pear

Coastal Prickly Pear Cactus
Image Credit: anmbph, Shutterstock

Known for its bright and tasty fruit, the prickly pear has a ton of nicknames: California prickly pear, western prickly pear, and coast prickly pear. Native to southern California and northern Baja California, the cactus’s fruit and pads are Latin American staples originating with Native Americans. Although many are low-lying, prickly pears have been known to grow as tall as 20 feet tall.

6. Pencil Cholla

Pencil Cholla Cactus
Image Credit: Anne Sholtz, Shutterstock

Also called the desert Christmas cholla and diamond cholla, the pencil cholla has very narrow stems with long spines. It’s one of the taller cacti, with an average height of 6 feet tall. Unlike other cacti, the pencil cholla can also thrive in grassland and chaparral habitats. In the winter, it grows red berries that are alleged to have intoxicating effects.

7. Silver Cholla

Silver Cholla Cactus
Image Credit: picchu productions, Shutterstock

Strangely, the silver cholla is also found in golden varieties that give it the nickname golden cholla. The cactus has thick, dense stems that stem off a large main trunk. The stems are covered in silver or gold spines that are easily detached, with about 30 spines per section. The silver cholla, and other types of chollas, are native to dry eastern California and Arizona.

8. Buckhorn Cholla

Buckhorn Cholla
Image Credit: Marin James, Shutterstock

The buckhorn cholla is one of the more atypical cacti, with a messy appearance derived from its uneven, random branch proliferation. Most specimens are relatively short, but some have grown up to 10 feet in height. This cactus is found in parts of Utah and Nevada, but is most commonly seen in the desertic regions of Arizona and California.

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Cacti are some of the most beautiful plants that get overlooked, but they have a stunning variety in California. From the distinct barrel cactus to the thin pencil cholla, there’s a huge landscape of plants even in the deserts of the Golden State.

Featured Image Credit: moorathenight, Shutterstock


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