The 15 Smallest Cacti [With Photos]

Are you looking for small cacti to adorn your small apartment? Or are you in search of tiny plants for your dish garden? Here, I’ve put up a list of 15 small cacti with images for your convenience.

The 15 smallest cacti are:

  1. Frailea ‘phaeodisca’,
  2. Blossfeldia ‘liliputana’,
  3. Rebutia ‘krainziana’,
  4. Nuevo leon living rock cactus (Ariocarpus ‘scapharostris’),
  5. Carmine Cob (Echinopsis ‘backebergii’),
  6. Mammillaria ‘duwei’,
  7. Gymnocalycium ‘mesopotanicum’,
  8. Discocactus ‘horstii’,
  9. Turbinicarpus ‘pseudopectinatus’,
  10. Paper-spined Cactus (Sclerocactus ‘papyracanthus’),
  11. Aztekium ‘ritterii’,
  12. Lizard Skin Cactus (Copiapoa ‘hypogaea’),
  13. San Rafael Cactus (Pediocactus ‘despainii’),
  14. Coryphantha ‘sulcata’, and
  15. Grusonia ‘pulchella’.

At home or in the greenhouse, small cacti don’t take up much space. Aside from their unusual appearance, most small cacti are slow growers that require little attention. The cacti listed below are species that stay small even when fully grown.

1- Frailea ‘phaeodisca’

Frailea phaeodisca on the left has seed pods, on the right is sun stressed

Among the smallest cacti is the Frailea phaeodisca, native to Brazil and Uruguay. It is a miniature cactus growing 3 cm tall and 5 cm wide, with a unique disk-like, globular to spherical stem that doesn’t branch naturally. Even in maturity, this plant stays small.

Frailea phaeodisca usually thrives on the dry, rocky fields in Uruguay, retracted deep and flat. But in cultivation, phaeodisca grows a spherical or columnar form if kept fairly moist. Its dull greenish-grey body has more than 20 flat ribs lined with tiny purplish-black areoles and spines.

Its tuberous roots enable the cacti to store water and adapt to their constantly dry habitat. Phaeodisca’s summer buds may or may not open but set seeds readily because it is self-pollinating. It gives off a sweet-smelling 2-3 cm pale yellow flower that opens only in the daytime when it blooms.

The plant turns richer and fuller with partial to full sun. It can tolerate shade, but it will lose its dark color and grow elongated. This miniature cactus requires watering once every 7-10 days in the growing season to keep it compact. When the temperature drops in the winter, refrain from watering.

2- Blossfeldia ‘liliputana’

The Blossfeldia liliputana, known as the world’s tiniest cactus, has a mature specimen measuring 10-12 mm in solitary or clumping form. It grows between stones on rocky slopes and between gaps in the walls of steep stone cliffs with a bit of fine soil in Southern Bolivia and Northwestern Argentina.

Blossfeldia’s deep grey-green flattened, spineless, ribless body barely exceeds 2 cm and rarely branches naturally. Because it is slow-growing, Blossfeldia in cultivation is often grafted to boost growth and form clusters of offsets. The spiraling wooly areole makes this cactus look appealing.

Its tuberous roots are packed with water to survive several months of dry climate. In fact, it is regarded as a peculiar cactus because its cells can tolerate complete periodic dehydration but can still recover when watered, just like mosses. On the flip side, it is sensitive to too much moisture.

I recommend watering it once every 14 days in the summer months and none at all during winter. Full sun to partial shade exposure will keep the plant’s natural shape and color. In spring or summer, it gives off tiny white or pink blossoms that are 5-7 mm wide, self-pollinating, and open only in the daytime.

3- Rebutia ‘krainziana’

Native to the highlands of Argentina, this small, low-growing Rebutia krainziana has a spherical shape, 5 cm wide, and is solitary in the early stage. This cactus is distinguished by its deep green color, enhanced by the tiny, white areoles and big, bright red or yellow flowers, like daisies.

The mature plant forms a tight cluster of offsets around its stem after 3- 4 years, reaching a size of 15 cm wide. Soft and short spines emerge from the areoles set on the protruding and spiraling tubercules. Daytime flowers of red-orange, yellow, or white (seldom) bloom in the spring months.

Rebutia krainziana is among the beginner-friendly cacti species. It can withstand drought but needs twice a month watering in spring or summer to maintain its appearance. This species is sensitive to excess moisture, so always remember to water only once the medium is almost dry to avoid overwatering.

It requires 6-10 hours of ample sunlight as it is prone to elongate with a lack of light. I recommend setting in a south-facing position for extended exposure when grown indoors.

4- Nuevo Leon Living Rock Cactus (Ariocarpus ‘scapharostris’)

An ariocarpus in bloom

This Ariocarpus ‘scapharostris’ was first discovered growing on the low hills of Nuevo Leon, Mexico; hence the given common name. Nuevo leon living rock cactus is a small solitary species with a dull green body, 5-6 cm wide and 4-6 cm tall.

Ariocarpus scapharostris is a slow grower in nature, usually found slightly buried on rocky terrains, rising only a few centimeters above the ground. Cacti growers usually graft Ariocarpus to encourage growth, and most of the time, they find it hard to root the plant.

This cactus is spineless, with flattened, upright blunt tubercules growing from the base, making a rosette. Each tubercule is around 1-3 cm tall and up to 8 mm broad, growing greyish white wools in between. It flowers profusely after 10 years, flaunting vivid reddish-purple blossoms, 4cm across.

Grow Ariocarpus under strong sunlight to keep its form and vivid color. Its carrot-like roots are rot-prone and prefer drier conditions, especially in winter. Older Ariocarpus tends to die suddenly because its roots become weak.

5- Carmine Cob (Echinopsis ‘backebergii’)

Echinopsis’ backebergii’ is a small cactus species found growing in higher elevations in southeast Bolivia and Peru. It is a perennial succulent, growing individual globular to spherical pale green stem, 5-6 cm in diameter. The drought climate causes this cactus to retract slightly to the ground.

The carmine cob cactus is initially solitary, but it grows offsets at the base as the plant matures. It has 15-20 ribs, with 1-2 mm felt areoles bearing rigid yellow to brown spines. The crown is slightly recessed and bears clusters of 6-7 cm diurnal bright carmine red to purple flowers.

In order to produce blooms, it requires more moisture during the growing season. However, utmost care is needed to avoid overwatering. Water only when the substrate is approaching dryness during summer, but keep it dry to stimulate healthy growth throughout the winter.

Mature carmine cob enjoys direct sunlight. So, position the plant in a sunny location but provide shade when the sun gets intense. The stem gets stressed, and new spines grow with extended exposure to strong sunlight.

6- Mammillaria ‘duwei’

Mammillaria duwei blooming in solitary state

One of the smallest varieties in Mammillaria species is Mammillaria’ duwei’, growing at 3-6 cm in diameter. It is native to Guanajuato, Mexico, often found thriving in dry volcanic rock where rain is scarce. It is solitary and rarely produces offsets that form into clusters.

Its dark green soft body is spherical to globose, concealed in thin hairy white spines set in wooly nipple-like tubercules. Some species have 1-2 yellow long central spines, while others don’t. Like all other mammillarias, it sets tiny white to pale yellow funnel-like flowers, 10-15 mm wide.

Duwei is not a beginner-friendly cactus because it is more prone to rot, requiring specific soil conditions. In summer, when it’s active, water the plant once every 14 days, making sure not to wet the stem. Keep the plant in a dry, well-ventilated spot during winter as it is sensitive to frost.

It enjoys full direct sunlight outside, keeping the tubercules and shape compact. However, the intense, prolonged sunlight exposure damages the thin spines and burns the stem. If grown indoors, keep it near the south-facing window with bright light for 6-8 hours.

7- Gymnocalycium ‘mesopotanicum’

Mesopotanicum thriving in full sunlight

This small Gymnocalycium species is a native in Argentina, where it grows in grassy areas with gravel and thin soil. In nature, a mature Gymnocalycium’ mesopotanicum’ can reach 4 cm in diameter, flattened, and is solitary.

However, mesopotanicum can grow globular to 7 cm in diameter and freely offsets in cultivation. Its distinct round ribs are grooved beautifully, bearing sunken elongated areoles with bristle-like 9 mm long spines. Younger spines near the crown are red, while older spines are greyish.

It generously gives off 4-5 cm wide pure white multi-petaled flowers that emerge near the crown in summer under favorable growing conditions. Mesopotanicum thrives in a very gritty soil mix on a container with enough space to hold its fast-growing roots.

Indeed, it requires copious watering during its growing season to encourage blooming. However, you should avoid excess moisture as it can cause the plant to rot quickly. The plant can withstand intense light but prefers filtered sunlight.

8- Discocactus ‘horstii’

Another famous and one of the most sought-after cactus species is the Discocactus horstii, which comes from Brazil. It is a small, cylindrical cactus that can reach 5 cm tall and 6 cm across. The plant’s color changes as it matures, starting from green and then turning dark red or brown.

This cactus species is not an easy type to cultivate. But still, collectors are smitten with this plant because of its unique appearance and inflorescence. It has 10 -20 straight, prominent ribs, designed with cottony areoles and short recurved white spines.

Discocactus horstii does not branch and remains singular throughout its life. When it reaches maturity, wooly cephalium starts to appear on the apex, where the fragrant nocturnal white flower up to 6 cm wide emerges during the summer season. It favors full sun but provides shade when it gets intense.

It is usually seen as a grafted plant in cultivation because it is challenging to grow on its own roots. If you choose to grow it rooted, make sure the soil is porous and well-draining. The roots are sensitive to too much moisture and rot quickly. So only water when the soil is absolutely dry.

9- Turbinicarpus ‘pseudopectinatus’

Turbinicarpus pseudopectinatus is a pleasant addition to any greenhouse because of its small size, perfectly rounded stem, gorgeous comb-like spines, and easy growing requirements. This plant has a deep green stem and grows to be 3 cm tall and 4 cm wide. It is native to Mexico.

Usually, it thrives in a solitary state, but rarely forms offsets near the base. The plant is even more attractive because of the spiral tubercules tipped with numerous white spines. The root structures are tuberose and are usually more extensive than the stem. It helps the plant survive drought.

Close to the start of spring, wait for pinkish white to hot pink 4 cm, wide blooms to emerge from the central tip. It will eventually set tannish green fruit filled with seeds if pollinated. Although it is easy to cultivate, Turbinicarpus pseudopectinatus is typically a slow grower.

It requires well-drained soil and full sun to partial sun to achieve a flat globular natural appearance and maintain a compact shape. The plant can tolerate periodic drought because of its enlarged taproot that stores water. Hence, watering should be infrequent, or the roots will crack and rot.

10- Paper-spined Cactus (Sclerocactus ‘papyracanthus’)

Sclerocactus papyracanthus is native and widespread in various desert lands in Arizona and Mexico. It is commonly called paper-spined or grama grass cactus because of the flat spines like thin paper strips or dried grass concealing the cylindrical stem.

The paper-spine cactus can reach a height of 7 cm and a diameter of 2-3 cm. It is normally single but can grow offsets from the base in mature age. Its elliptical stem is deep greyish green, without ribs, but elongated tubercules bear areoles with yellowish wools.

The attractive papery textured spines, 2-3cm long are pale red from the base and tan on the tip that curls upwards. White clusters of bell-shaped flowers, 2.5 cm long and 5 cm wide, emerge near the apex in April and May. It blooms in the afternoon and closes late at night, lasting 5 to 6 days.

Water the paper-spined cactus once a week during the hot, sunny season. But as the cold season approaches, cut back on the watering, making sure not to overwater the plant, as it will rot easily. To keep its shape and spine formation, provide full or partial sun exposure.

11- Aztekium ‘ritterii’

(Left) Mature aztekium, (right) grafted aztekium from seed

Aztekium ritterii is endemic to Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and prefers the dry north facing sheer cliffs and steep stone formations to the sunnier places. The diameter of this small spherical cactus rarely exceeds 5 cm. Younger growth is pale yellowish-green, which fades to grey-green as it becomes older.

Aztekium ritterii contains 10 to 11 convex ribs with horizontal grooves. In between the primary ribs are small vertical corrugated ribs reaching upward the stem. Areoles are not so prominent in younger plants, while mature ones have a bunch of white wools on the apex where flowers are formed.

Throughout the summer, tiny white to pink blooms with a diameter of less than 10 mm bloom profusely. When a plant reaches maturity, it develops offsets that clump together at the base. Indeed, a grafted clumping aztekium can grow up to 10 -15 cm broad under cultivation.

Aztekium is perhaps the trickiest cactus to cultivate, as it is a slow grower and often demands specific conditions. In the summer, they require good drainage, regular watering, under partial shade. They should be entirely dry before going into their winter dormancy.

12- Lizard Skin Cactus (Copiapoa ‘hypogaea’)

Copiapoa hypogea is primarily found in Chile. It’s known as the Lizard Skin cactus because the rough texture of the small greyish-brown stem resembles a lizard. The globose stem has a 3-4 cm diameter in nature but can grow a bit larger under cultivation.

Copiapoa hypogea is normally solitary, however, it occasionally develops a cluster of offsets at the base. It contains 10 to 15 ribs separated into low spiraling tubercules with tiny white sunken areoles and minute brown spines at the tip. White wools are present on the flattened and recessed central apex.

It’s a daytime blooming cactus with 4 cm wide yellow and pink flowers that bloom during the hotter summer days. Copiapoa is a simple plant to grow, despite its slow growth. It has adapted well to dry environments, however, it is prone to overwatering. Water only when the substrate is dry.

It prefers bright sunlight but may also tolerate light shade. However, it will only thrive if there is plenty of sunshine, and will become stressed if there isn’t enough, resulting in poor growth and irregular shape.

13- San Rafael Cactus (Pediocactus ‘despainii’)

Pediocactus despainii is a small cactus growing on clayish hilltops and pebbled desert pavements near San Rafael, Utah. It is pale green, spherical to columnar, with a maximum height of 9 cm and a diameter of 6 cm.

This cactus is not self-branching in nature, although it can easily produce offsets in cultivation, especially when grafted. Low tubercules spiral up the stem, each with a white, yellow, or brown oval areole with short rigid white spines.

Every April and May, a dainty white, yellow to peach flower, 2.5 cm wide, is set on the apex of the stem. Water it regularly in the spring and autumn, but wait until the soil is nearly dry before watering again. The thick tuberous roots are prone to rot when exposed to too much moisture.

To keep the compact form and set the blossoms, position the plant in a bright sunny spot. Don’t allow the blooming cactus to dry out completely as the flowers may die due to lack of water. During harsh temperatures, this cactus has the characteristic to retract completely to the ground.

14- Nickels’ Cactus (Coryphantha ‘nickelsiae’)

Clumping Nickels’ cactus by wollemia (cc-by-sa)

Nickles’ cactus is a small cactus species with globose pale to deep greenish stem growing to a height of 11 cm and diameter of 7 cm. It grows solitary or branches near the base forming low mats on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental and other parts of Mexico.

The deep buried blunt tubercules of Corypantha nickelsiae are covered by the interlacing erect greyish spines. The upper tubercules of older specimens feature a single 20 mm central spine. As the plant matures, its spines can change from yellow to reddish-brown, then greyish to black.

This cactus species displays clusters of white to pale yellow petaled flowers with gorgeous orange-yellow anthers during the summer. This species is easy to cultivate and propagate. Just be mindful of overwatering and pest infestation. Sandy-gritty cactus soil is ideal to avoid waterlogging.

I recommend watering once every 10-14 days in the spring and summer, allowing the soil to drain out between watering. It is crucial to keep the plant dry by providing strong sunlight and appropriate ventilation when the temperature drops in the winter.

15- Dwarf Cholla (Grusonia ‘pulchella’)

This attractive small Grusonia pulchella has a segmented cylindrical stem, 4 cm long and 2 cm thick. It forms low upright shrubs in California and Arizona deserts’ dunes and rocky slopes. Its greenish stems turn red with prolonged sun exposure.

Dwarf cholla is the common name for the plant because it resembles a smaller form of the cholla cactus. It is, in fact, a little Opuntia that grows low and dense, concealing its huge tuber beneath the surface. The reddish-brown or white wooly areoles have contrasting spines.

Young specimens have a fibrous root system that will gradually expand into developing a caudex with small tuberose roots. In the late spring, a burst of large pink to magenta blooms adds color to the garden. Dwarf cholla can tolerate cold but not high humidity.

This species is prone to root damage and is susceptible to overwatering. Because it has delicate roots, keep the plant away from areas where the humidity is high. Basic growing requirements like well-ventilated, dry area in full sunlight will make this pretty cactus thrive longer.

Summary Of The 15 Smallest Cacti

The distinctive shapes and sizes of cacti species are what make them unique and attractive. Cacti species that remain small even fully grown include Frailea ‘phaeodisca’, Blossfeldia ‘liliputana’, Rebutia ‘krainziana’, Ariocarpus ‘scaphastrosis’, Echinopsis ‘backebergii’, and Mammillaria ‘duwei’.

Some are beginner-friendly like Gymnocalycium ‘mesopotanicum’, Turbinicarpus ‘pseudopectinatus’, Paper-spined cactus, Lizard skin cactus, San rafael cactus and Nickels’ cactus. Other small species like Discocactus ‘horstii’, Aztekium ‘ritterii’, and Dwarf cholla are challenging to grow.


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