10 Best Cactus Plants [Extensive Survey Results]


With their various shapes, textures, and colors, it’s no wonder why cacti are always on the list for most plant enthusiasts. However, which one is the best? To solve this problem, I surveyed 100+ cactus lovers and asked them what cactus they considered the best. I sorted the ten best cacti with the most votes.

According to most cactus enthusiasts, the ten best cactus plants are:

  1. Astrophytum asterias
  2. Gymnocalycium mihanovichii ‘Moon Cactus’
  3. Melocactus matanzanus
  4. Echinocactus grusonii
  5. Echinopsis subdenudata
  6. Echinocereus rigidissimus
  7. Acanthocereus tetragonus
  8. Mammillaria hahniana
  9. Opuntia microdasys
  10. Rebutia heliosa

Not only do these xerophytes have striking shapes and colors, but they are also easy to care for and don’t need a lot of tending to thrive. Are you curious about what makes them the best cactus? Well, continue reading to find out.

Our Survey Method

As part of my daily job in growing cactus and selling to my clients, I have a Facebook page with a large audience of cactus fans.

So I dropped there the question below:

I received 100+ replies, and I ordered them from the most common to the least one. Here are the results!

Me holding a Euphorbia Lactea ‘Cristata’ and some cacti I have inside the greenhouse.

10- Rebutia Heliosa

Rebutia heliosa is a small plant that resembles a globe clumped together. Even without blossoms, this plant has a striking appearance. Its small silver-white pectinate spines and brown areoles make it highly appealing.

Rebutia heliosa has a greyish-green body that measures up to 3-4 centimeters in diameter. It forms into a clump over time that measures 10 centimeters wide. The ribs are spiral with fine tubercules. When it blooms, expect orange to orange-red flowers with a yellow center that usually lasts for a couple of days.

This cactus requires little to no maintenance. It grows well when placed outdoors since it needs intense light to maintain its compact and spherical form. Allow the soil to dry completely before watering again. They are sensitive to excess water and prone to root rot.

9- Opuntia Microdasys Albata

Opuntia Microdasys Albata, commonly known as Bunny Ears or Angel Wings Cactus, is a cactus species that do not develop spines. Instead, the areoles feature tiny white dots of fine barbs called glochids that measure 2-3mm long.

The plant develops a cluster of small pads that resemble a bunny’s ear. The flowers are lemon yellow and reach up to 3cm in width. Indeed, any cactus enthusiast will be drawn to this plant’s appearance, but what makes this xerophyte more interesting is that it requires little to no maintenance.

Bunny ears are easy to grow. It requires full to partial sun exposure with a gritty potting mix. The plant is watered thoroughly and allowed to dry in between waterings. It can be grown indoors near the window sill or the balcony. As a mature plant, it will develop into a dense shrub that will reach a height of 60 -90 centimeters and a spread of 120-180 centimeters.

8- Mammillaria Hahniana

This mammillaria species is always notable due to its long, white, thin spines that resemble an old woman’s hair. Mammillaria hahniana or ‘Old Lady Cactus’ has a striking appearance, especially when it is mature.

Old Lady Cactus is greyish-green and spherical that measures up to 9 centimeters high and 10 centimeters wide. It is a fast-growing cactus that forms a large clump over time. It flaunts tiny flowers of pink and white hues that usually create a crown on the top of the plant. It blooms from late winter to spring and measures 1-1.5 centimeters.

Mammillaria hahniana can be grown indoors or outdoors and does not require much care in general. You can water regularly in summer. However, it is essential to give it good drainage when grown in a pot since too much moisture can lead to root rot.

7- Acanthocereus Tetragonus

Acanthocereus tetragonus is a columnar cactus that grows several branches that clump together, forming spires like a castle. It is also called ‘Fairy Castle Cactus’ because of its stems that grow like turrets.

The green stem has four to five edges with thin spines coming out from the woolly areoles. It grows as a columnar cactus, but the monstrous cultivar can only grow up to 1-2 meters when mature. When exposed to full sun, the green stem becomes stressed and turns reddish.

This cactus can be grown effortlessly and does well indoors too. It grows well enough in sunny areas and moist soil. It rarely produces flowers and can take several years before it is mature enough to bloom. It has yellow or white flowers with beautifully arranged petals.

Fairy Castle Cactus is a delightful plant that can grow for several years. It is one of the resilient cactus I have in my garden, among the first to be added to the collections. That is why cactus enthusiasts always have a weak soft for this species.

6- Echinocereus Rigidissimus

Echinocereus rigidissimus, also known as Arizona Rainbow Cactus or Rainbow Hedgehog Cactus, has short radial spines that are variously colored pink, white, and light brown, often in layering colors.

This Rainbow cactus has beautiful vibrant pink flowers that are larger than the plant itself. The plant stem is erect, and cylindrical covered with spines that get vibrant under full sun. As the plant matures, it will reach around 30 centimeters tall and 11 centimeters wide.

This rainbow cactus is not easy to grow but can be quite beautiful and give you its stunning bloom when grown under favorable conditions. In the summer, they need a sunny location and the proper watering schedule to avoid root rot. It is sensitive to excess water, so I recommend doing the soak and dry method.

Cactus collectors are attracted to this plant because of its notable spines that sometimes form a layer of colors when sun stressed. When it blooms in the spring, you will be amazed by its beauty.

5- Echinopsis Subdenudata

Echinopsis subdenudata have familiar names like Easter Lily Cactus, Domino Cactus, and Night-blooming hedgehogs. It is appreciated by cactus collectors, both newbies, and veterans because it can thrive with no fuss. It shows off a large gorgeous night-blooming white flower.

An easter lily cactus is spherical with short spines. It has fuzzy areoles that make it stunning and unique. It grows up to 9 centimeters in diameter with 8-10 ribs around its body. Like a typical cactus, this species also likes a gritty soil mix and enough sunlight to maintain its shape. However, unlike some cacti, subdenudata prefers moist soil and requires regular watering.

Once they mature, offsets form around the base. Some give off pups abundantly, and while you can leave them stuck on their mother, it is best to separate and replant them. Easter lily is a resilient species with a long life span of up to 20 -25 years, forming a clump as it grows.

4- Echinocactus Grusonii

Echinocactus grusonii is native to the southwestern U.S and Mexico, best distinguished with its bright golden yellow spines. Echinocactus grusonii are barrel-type cactus, with deep ribs bearing rigid spines that protect the plant from the intense sun.

Echinocactus grusonii is also named as Golden Barrel Cactus, Mother In-laws Seat, and Golden Ball Cactus. It is slow-growing and grows up to 60cm tall and 90cm wide. This barrel cactus has a greenish-yellow body covered with golden spines. Mature plants take on oblong shapes as they grow.

During summer, larger matured species flaunts its yellow bell-shaped flower. The blooms open only during the day and form a discreet ring at the top of the plant.

Golden barrels are an excellent addition to landscape gardens. They add texture, shape, and color to rock gardens and in decorative pots too. They are drought-tolerant, so there’s no problem when you water them sparingly, especially in winter.

3- Melocactus Matanzanus

Melocactus matanzanus is a commonly grown species in the genus Melocactus. The color differs from pale to dark green. It has prominent curved spines that are about 2 centimeters long, protruding from its areoles.

This species reaches a size of 15-18 centimeters in diameter. They start to produce small pink flowers emerging on the top center of the plant, usually when they are 3-4 years of age. The flowers are self-pollinating and produce pink seed pods with tiny black seeds. When the plant reaches maturity between 5-6 years, it grows a cap on top called a cephalium.

The cephalium of a Melocactus is a densely spined, wooly structure that develops on the apex, forming like a crown. A cephalium begins to grow when the plant is in a mature stage and stops growing. On the other hand, while the growth of its spherical body halts, the cephalium continues to grow for many years.

This crowning glory makes the plant unique and attracts more attention because it comes in several colors like white, pink, red, and orange. Melocactus matanzanus is also known as the ‘Turkish Cap’ because of its cap-like cephalium.

Melocactus likes moist soil but does not like sitting on the water. A regular watering schedule is required when growing this species so the potting mix won’t dry out completely.

2- Gymnocalycium Mihanovichii ‘Moon Cactus’

Gymnocalycium mihanovichii ‘Moon Cactus’ is a lollipop-like plant with a vibrant round crown sitting on a green base. Moon cactus is a 2-in-1 plant composed of two different cactus species grafted together to make one new plant.

The colorful head is a Gymnocalycium mihanovichii mutant cactus, while the bottom is another cactus such as Hylocereus undatus. The top comes in various colors like yellow, orange, pink, and red lacks chlorophyll. It needs a rootstock (the bottom cactus) to produce chemicals it needs to survive.

The head of a moon cactus can grow up to 7 centimeters in diameter, with soft spines coming out from its areole. It can produce offsets around its body that can be propagated by grafting too. The life span of a moon cactus is short, between 1 to 4 years maximum.

Moon cactus can do well in a bright indoor setup like beside the window sill or the balcony. They will be happy if you water them generously once a week and cut back from watering during winter. They can survive with just a little attention as long as the condition is favorable to them.

One can easily spot a Gymnocalycium mihanovichii. Plant lovers find the moon cactus as eye candy because its neon colors are pleasing to the eyes. The vibrant hues are so attractive that it will make you feel happier (at least does to me!). Based on the survey, 13% find moon cactus as the best cactus plant.

1- Astrophytum Asterias

Astrophytum asterias garnered first place as best cactus with 15% overall votes. I do not wonder why many enthusiasts cherish this cactus. Its ability to thrive with minimal care is phenomenal, making it an easy cactus to maintain.

Astrophytum asterias is a spherical, spineless type of cactus with prominent wooly areoles. It is greyish-green with white freckles around its body. It is also called sea urchin cactus or sand dollar.

It flaunts beautiful yellow flowers with orange to red centers that open wide in the daytime and closes at night during spring. The blooms are easy to cross-pollinate to produce viable seeds that lead to notable cultivars.

Asterias grow up to 7 cm tall and 15 cm in diameter, with narrow vertical ridges forming eight and sometimes ten rib structures. Place this little gem in a bright spot where it can receive one or two hours of direct morning sunlight, and it will smile.

Like most cacti, asterias prefer coarse and gritty soil for water to drain well. Give them a good drink once or twice a week, depending on your environmental condition. You can tell if they need watering when the topsoil is bone dry to the touch. For fertilizer, feed them during the growing season between June to September, then cut back during winter.

Takeaway

1) Majority of cactus enthusiasts considered Astrophytum Asterias as one of the best cactus.

2) Aside from their striking features, cacti attract collectors because they don’t need a lot of tending.

3) When growing cactus for the first time, it is essential to know the tips on caring for these drought-tolerant plants.

Sources

“A Tale Of Two Cacti: Studies In Astrophytum Asterias And Lophophora Williamsii,” Martin Kilman Terry, Texas A&M University

“Cephalium,” Dictionary of Botanic Terminology, Cactus Art Nursery

“Opuntia Microdasys,” North Carolina Extension Gardener, North Carolina State University

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Esther

Esther is the self-proclaimed cactusholic :D of the team. She owns a cacti shop with hundreds of plants that she takes care of. Esther has many years of experience in growing and caring for drought-resistant plants like cacti and succulents.

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