Do you have a huge front yard space that looks bare and flat? Take a look at this list of the biggest cacti species that will make a massive (literally) impact on your landscape.
The 15 biggest cacti are:
- Mexican giant cardon (Pachycereus pringlei),
- Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica),
- Fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii),
- Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii),
- Blue myrtle cactus (Myrtillocactus geometrizans),
- Sagauro cactus (Carnegia gigantea),
- Totem pole cactus (Pachycereus schottii monstrous),
- Cereus forbesii,
- Blue torch cactus (Pilocereus pachycladus),
- Candelabra cactus (Myrtillocactus cochal),
- Jumping cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida),
- Mexican fencepost cactus (Pachycereus marginatus),
- Old man cactus(Cephalocereus senilis),
- Organ pipe cactus (Pachycereus thurberii), and
- Eve’s needle cactus (Asterocylindropuntia subulata).
Because of their unique appearance, large cacti can provide a desert vibe in your garden or make an impressive fence post in your yard. To guide you on what to include in your next plant haul, I made a compilation of large cacti with photos.
Here are the gigantic cacti that will make you small standing next to them.
The Mexican giant cardon is spectacular cactus that can grow over 65 feet tall, 16 feet wide, with a trunk diameter of 6 feet and a weight of several tons. It grows abundantly in a coastal belt in Sonora and Baja, California, Mexico.
Pachycereus pringlei features a solitary vertical huge trunk with several secondary branches that sprout near the base and may exceed the height of the main stem. This cactus grows extremely slowly and can take decades to mature. The oldest of this species was recorded to live over 300 years.
In late March, the mature stems display yellow buds that later bloom at nighttime into white 8 cm flowers and only persist for 24 hours. Nocturnal pollinators fertilize the flowers and later develop into edible dark red fruits. The sweet smell of flowers attracts birds, bats and insects.
Endemic to desert climates, the Mexican cardon requires full sun and well-drained soil. In the autumn, winter, and spring season, water immature plants rarely. However, during the warm months, water regularly but avoid the soil from being wet all the time.
Another very large cactus is the Opuntia ficus-indica. It can reach a height of 16 -20 feet after 10 or 20 years. It is said to be one of the biggest Opuntia species that have originated in central Mexico, although it is now found all over the world.
The prickly pear is a popular food crop in many countries because of its edible fruits, pads, and flowers. Because it lacks the usual prominent spines and glochids, it becomes a typical garden accent and landscape element.
In mid-spring, a burst of yellow flowers 3-4 inches broad appear that develop into an oblong, yellow-orange to reddish-purple edible fruits in summer. It grows a woody trunk and readily forms flattened greenish-grey branches called cladodes.
As a hardy species, it can weather extreme hot and cold temperatures. However, full sunlight is crucial in achieving optimum growth and maintaining a compact shape. It can survive periodic drought, and mature species may not need regular watering.
The Fishhook Barrel Cactus is a very large cactus, towering at 6-10 feet tall and 2 feet thick. This large cylindrical cactus was named after its stout, reddish, flat curvy spines that look like hooks. This species is native to Texas and scattered sparingly into Arizona and Mexico.
According to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the fishhook barrel cactus can live 50-100 years. It is a slow grower that, at 50 years old, can only reach a height of 3 feet. Young species are globose and become barrel-like as they age. It is solitary and rarely produces offsets during its lifespan.
Yellow-orange 7 cm broad flowers adorn the crown of the mature species occasionally in spring but profusely throughout summer and fall. After the flowers are gone, edible, fleshy cylindrical fruits that look like green mini pineapples form on the top. Ripe fruits are yellow with a tangy taste.
The fishhook barrel cannot tolerate overwatering and poor drainage. Young species need gritty porous soil, deep watering once a month, and lots of direct sunlight. However, mature species may not need regular watering; they can go several months without rehydrating.
The big Golden Barrel is among the top 10 large cacti. This specie, one among 15 in this genus, is by far the most iconic, widespread, and well-known. This spherical cactus can grow to a height and diameter of 3 ft in its natural habitat.
The Golden barrel cactus is usually single at first but may naturally grow several offsets in the mature stage. Dense, sturdy golden-yellow spines serve as protection against the harsh condition. Some of the common names include Mother-in-law’s cushion and California barrel.
The number of prominent ribs is one way to tell the age of a cactus. During spring to summer, bell-shaped, bright yellow 5 cm wide flowers bloom in the daytime and develop into yellow fruits full of seeds later on. They persist in the apex of the mature plant, arranged like a crown.
Echinocactus grusonii thrives in any rich, well-drained soil type. Water regularly during the growing season, and make sure to water deeply for excellent absorption. It prefers direct sunlight or partial shade outside during the hot season or a bright light if grown indoors.
The blue myrtle cactus is one of the biggest cacti endemic in Mexico. This erect columnar cactus have bluish-grey stems and can grow to about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide in its native habitat.
The Myrtillocactus geometrizans is sometimes referred to as a tree cactus because it develops side branches as it matures, giving it the appearance of a tree. Some people call this species blue candle cactus because the stems resemble erect candelabra.
When it reaches the height of 3 to 5 feet, it starts to bloom stunning greenish-white flowers 3-4 cm in diameter that lasts only for a day. The blooming season may happen between February and April and is usually followed by fruit formation.
Edible fruits are deep red, oval, 10-20 mm across, and very sweet. Blue myrtle cactus is commonly used as a grafting stock to propagate other cactus species. It prefers once a week watering in the summer and non at all in winter. Direct or partial sunlight encourages growth and beautiful color.
The Saguaro cactus is one of the biggest cacti native to the Sonoran Desert that spans Arizona, Mexico, and California. It forms tall columns that can reach an average height of about 48 feet and a thickness of 2 feet. Arms or branches may develop when a cactus matures around 50-70 years old.
According to the University of Arizona, the average life span of a saguaro cactus is 125-175 years but can potentially reach 300 years old, just like the oldest saguaro cactus in Tucson, Arizona. It was also the tallest saguaro cactus recorded, reaching over 60 feet tall.
Saguaros have nocturnal, trumpet-like white flowers that bloom in spring and measure about 8 cm broad. Nighttime pollinators like bats feed on the nectar and fertilize the blossoms, resulting in fruit formation. The edible fruit changes color from green to red and bursts open when ripe.
Immature saguaro needs regular watering and ample direct sunlight during its active growth. However, mature saguaros can endure long months of drought because they can store thousands of gallons of water in their thick stems.
The big Totem pole cactus usually grows an average height of 7-9 feet but can reach 12-15 feet tall and 12- 15 cm thick under a favorable growing environment. In their native habitat in the desert regions of Mexico, they grow in clusters like tall poles coming out from the rocky hillsides.
Few populations of totem pole cactus found in the southernmost part of Arizona grow huge and upright, thriving mainly in the dry, grave ground. Other Totem pole cacti that grow in regions where it gets frost are smaller than those growing in arid lands.
It has a smooth stem with no visible spines except the tiny bristles on the tip, which fall off with growth. The irregular chunky ribs, like a totem pole, have inconspicuous areoles that rarely give off night-blooming pink flowers in summer. Stem cutting is usually the fastest way of propagation.
Clustered totem pole cactus can tolerate seasonal drought, but solitary specimens need regular irrigation every 14-21 days in summer. Immature specimens require frequent watering as they use more of it for their development. Ensure sufficient direct sunlight to achieve optimum growth.
The tree-like Cereus forbesii is another very large cacti with a branched shrubby appearance with bluish-green cylindrical stems reaching about 20 feet tall and 10 cm thick. It has a distinct woody trunk that is 1.5 feet in diameter and is sturdy enough to support heavy branches. They are endemic to Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay.
Botanists developed a hybrid by cross-pollinating with a Cereus peruvianus, resulting in a unique cultivar called ‘Spiralis.’ It has bluish-grey stems with beautiful ribs circling upward in spirals. This new variety is prized for its distinct form, where branches tend to curl or twist as the plant matures.
Cereus forbesii species are summer growers. Mature specimens produce profuse self-sterile flowers during this season. Large, reddish to white flowers, 8-12 cm broad, diffuse a sweet-smelling aroma at night. After the blooming season, red-skinned fleshy fruits are formed.
Although they can tolerate drought, they are sensitive to overwatering and frost. During summer, younger species need regular watering but keep them dry throughout the cold winter months to avoid root rot. Mature cloned specimens grow beautiful spirals with sufficient sunlight.
Blue Torch cacti are extremely large, and they can reach an astounding 30 feet tall and 10-15 cm thick after several years of growth. One of Brazil’s most impressive big columnar cacti is the Pachycereus pachycladus. It develops a solid trunk at the base, where dozens of erect bluish-silver stems are formed.
Young blue torch cactus shows an interesting color combination with olive stems and coppery yellow sturdy spines. However, mature specimens have bluer stems and long greyish spines. They also have several branches that are firm at the base.
But the most distinct characteristic of an adult blue torch cactus is the formation of the thick, soft, cream-colored hair like tufts. Species at least 3 feet tall start to produce spectacular large white flowers, about 5 cm wide. Flowering occurs in summer and blooms only at night and continues the next day.
Once every 14 days during the active season, provide adequate water to encourage growth. Adult blue torch cactus requires full sun exposure to maintain its color and firm shape. Bring the plant indoors or provide cover to prevent stem damage in case of frost.
The Myrtillocactus cochal is a big sprawling tree-like cactus that grows over 13 feet high. It has several compact, candle-like branches growing from a thick woody base 1 foot in diameter. This species originates from Baja, California, Mexico.
It is commonly called Candelabra cactus because of the orientation and shape of the branches of adult specimens. They are slender, relatively uniform in size, about 9 cm thick, and slightly arc inward like candlesticks. Short, black spines line the bluish-green stems that turn deep blue with age.
Specimens in their natural habitat flower all year, while species cultivated in colder climates bloom only during their growing season, usually in summer. Tiny, greenish-white scented flower, 2.5 cm in wide, open at night and closes late morning. It attracts hummingbirds and insects as pollinators.
Cochal is prized for its edible berry-like fruits. They are red having an acidic taste with several uses, such as in beverages and pastries. Candelabra cactus is not hard, so avoid exposure to cooler temperatures below 10C. Water once every week in summer and provide full to partial sunlight.
The widespread species of Cylindropuntia fulgida has very long cylindrical stem segments reaching 10-12 feet high and wide. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora. It is also called Jumping cholla cactus, characterized by dense spines, tree-like.
The spreading segmented branches are borne in a low-growing woody trunk that becomes scaly and blackish with age. Each stem joint is covered with sharp solid spines. Younger segments are easily dislodged and can stick through anything with just a slight touch.
In mid-summer, mature species show white to pink flowers about 25 mm wide, opening during the daytime. When the flowers wilt, fleshy oval green fruits form that turn dark when ripe. Unpicked fruits stay on the plant, and the areoles on the fruits continue to produce new blooms the following year.
Hence, fruiting results in a growing chain of fruits that gets longer each year, reaching up to 60 cm in length. This leads to another common name, ‘chain fruit cholla.’ Established specimens need very little irrigation but require full sun exposure. It can make a good barrier against herbivores.
In nature, the big and upright Pachycereus marginatus can grow to an average height of about 50 feet. Typically, it grows dark green basal branches, 10-20 cm thick, with a slightly rough epidermis. This tall columnar cactus is endemic to central Mexico.
The common name Mexican fencepost comes from the fact that Mexican villages and towns used this cactus to create barriers and fences, primarily along highways. Offsets form only when the plant reaches maturity. Younger specimens have longer yellow spines, while adults have short and brownish.
The mature cactus produces tubular, reddish-pink flowers that are highly striking in the spring. After the bloom cycle, it forms spiky, reddish-yellow fruit with shiny black seeds. You can propagate through seed sowing, but the easiest reproduction method is via stem cuttings.
Full sunlight and adequate irrigation in the active season are crucial to achieving a plump and lush cluster of Mexican fencepost cactus. Place frost clothe or styrofoam cups to protect the tips from cold damage when the temperature drops below 20F.
The Cephalocereus Senilis is an upright, slender, and big cactus that can grow about 50 feet tall and 30 cm thick after several decades in the wild. This cacti, endemic to Mexico, has a peculiar look because of the dense white silky wool covering the whole stem, like an old man’s hair.
The silvery-white hairs are modified spines that help protect the plant from intense sunlight or frost. They are most noticeable in young plants, but they progressively fade away as they age. However, a dense tuft of wools may start to form on the tip of a mature 20 feet stem.
Aside from the fine white hairs and yellow to grey spines growing from the top areoles, nocturnal 8 cm, rose-colored flowers emerge one by one. Only mature specimens aging 20 years old above can bear flowers and fruit in spring or summer.
If kept sufficiently watered throughout the summer, it may attain substantial growth each year, especially if acclimatized to tolerate full light. This species is among the cacti that can survive cold temperatures down to 30F for a short period and should be kept dry throughout the cold season.
The Organ pipe cactus is originally from southwestern Arizona, growing abundantly on the rocky slopes. It is big, reaching 25 feet in arid habitats to a 30 feet tree-like cactus in tropical regions. Although having no definite trunk, this species readily branches out from the base.
Erect, 15-20 cm thick green stems do not branch naturally above the ground, but sometimes lateral stems emerge when the growing tip is damaged. The adult plant produces white to light lavender flowers, 7 cm wide. It blooms at night but remains open throughout the following day and fades away.
The flowers start to appear from March to August, followed by the large fruit known as pitahaya dulce by the indigenous people. Although it seems undesirable because of the long spines, Organ pipe cactus fruit is one of the most prized among edible cacti fruits.
Younger species are more prone to rot with too much water and poor soil quality. It would be best to allow the soil to dry out between watering, as overwatering can easily kill a cactus. It tends to thrive very well in regions with long warm, and hot summer periods.
Austrocylindropuntia subulata cacti can grow up to 16 feet under favorable conditions. This cacti, probably native to Peru is currently one of the most distributed in South America, especially in Argentina and Bolivia where it is commonly grown as a natural barrier.
Eve’s needle cactus is a branching opuntia, with stem segments about 30-50 cm long, 7 cm thick, and an erect trunk over 10 cm in diameter. Young specimens have tiny green succulent leaves that last barely a year or two before fading away and being replaced by pointed spines as they age.
Daytime blooming red-orange flowers are produced from the tip of the stem during summer. They do not open fully but remain slightly closed at 5-7 cm wide. Oblong fruit follows after the blooming season. Avoid exposure to temperatures below 20F to prevent epidermal damage.
Adult plants do well with direct sunlight and sufficient regular watering. The southeast Queensland government considered possession and propagation of eve’s needle cactus illegal. The locality considers them invasive and poses a risk to vegetation, humans, and animals.
Cacti that grow big with age include Mexican giant cardon, Prickly pear cactus, Fishhook barrel cactus, Golden barrel cactus, and Blue myrtle cactus. The unique Saguaro cactus, Totem pole cactus, Cereus forbesii, Blue torch cactus, and Candelabra cactus can grow to a height above 15 feet.
Furthermore, Jumping cholla, Mexican fencepost cactus, Old man cactus, Organ pipe cactus, and Eve’s needle cactus are branching cacti that form into big tree-like plants. They are widely used as fences, borders, and barriers in many gardens.
- “Pachycereus pringlei,” University of Arizona
- “Biomechanics of the Columnar Cactus Pachycereus pringlei,” by Karl Niklas, Cornell University
- “Opuntia ficus-indica,” Arizona State University
- “Plant Fact Sheet: Fishhook Barrel Cactus,” Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
- “Echinocactus grusonii,” University of Vermont
- “Myrtillocactus geometrizans,” University of Arizona
- “Desert Giants: Life and Death Among the Saguaros,” by Lori Stiles, University of Arizona
- “Pachycereus schotii,” University of Arizona
- “Myrtillocactus cochal,” University of Arizona
- “Cylindropuntia fulgida,” Arizona State University
- “Eve’s pin cactus ,” Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland Australia
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