Cacti in Utah

Written by Larissa Smith
Updated: July 19, 2023
© MNStudio/
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There are a lot of cacti in Utah. To be honest, they’re everywhere! If you’ve ever visited Utah, you know what I’m talking about — It’s like the desert has gotten replaced with spiny camouflaged plants among the rocks and sandy soil.

Cacti are great for Utah because they’re a plant that can thrive in a wide range of conditions. They aren’t picky about whether or not there is enough water for them or if the soil is too rocky or too sandy. They just grow!

But what cacti grow in Utah? Whether you come across a native Pariette cactus or desert valley fishhook cactus, there is much to discover in the Beehive State. So let’s find out some of the most common types of cacti that you might spot on your next trip to the desert.

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1. Engelmann’s Prickly Pear

Opuntia engelmannii is a prickly pear cactus found throughout the Southwestern United States and Mexico. The species consist of a few varieties with notable differences, such as the spines’ length, size, and color. In addition, you can find varieties native to desert areas throughout Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico.

You can identify Engelmann’s prickly pear by its dark green, bluish pads and juicy purple or red fruit. They have sharp 1-inch spines in various shades of white, tan, and brown that grow in clusters. Once spring comes along, Engelmann prickly pears will grow gorgeous yellow and orange flowers.

Engelmann's Prickly Pear (Opunita engelmannii), Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, USA
Engelmann’s prickly pear has notable, bluish-colored pads and long, 1-inch spines.

©Kevin Oke Photo/

2. Sagebrush Cholla

Grusonia pulchella, sagebrush cholla, is a perennial bush native to western Utah and parts of Nevada, Arizona, and eastern California. You might find it difficult to spot in nature because they grow under other bushes and shrubs. They are small cacti with globular stems and clumps of long, white spines that grow in clusters.

One distinct characteristic of the sagebrush cholla is its bright pink flower with a yellow center that grows in the spring and summer.

Cholla Cactus in backdrop of White Rocks Amphitheater, Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.
Cylindropuntia is a genus of various cacti known as chollas.


3. Wright’s Fishhook Cactus 

The Wright’s fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus wrightiae) is endemic to the Wayne and Emery counties in Utah and listed as an endangered species due to its habitat getting destroyed by livestock activity and mining. While illegal collecting of Wright’s fishhook cacti does occur, small populations grow over large portions of land, making it difficult to collect on a large scale.

Wright’s fishhook cacti develop into multiple unbranched stems that grow 2-3 inches in diameter and 4.5 inches tall. There are clusters of spines with four in the center. The flowers are pink or yellow to white with lavender or reddish brown centers.

The Wright’s fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus wrightiae) is endemic to Utah’s Wayne and Emery counties.

©RRP Cactus, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

4. Plains Pricklypear

The plains prickly pear (Opuntia macrorhiza), also known as western prickly pear, grows widely throughout the US Great Plains and Midwest, including Texas, Utah, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Plains prickly pear has a sprawling type of growth and can reach 1 foot tall and 4 inches wide. They produce beautiful yellow flowers with prominent red or orange centers. A few varieties exist, but more studies must be conducted for confirmation. Some garden varieties can grow bright pink or red flowers.

5. Winkler’s Pincushion Cactus

Endemic to Utah, Winkler’s cactus (Pediocactus winkleri) are hardy cacti, and you can find them on sandy slopes. Mrs. Agnes Winkler first discovered the species while traveling through the San Rafael Swell in Utah with her son in the early 1960s.

Winkler’s cactus grow in smaller populations in isolated areas in Utah, specifically Wayne and Emery County. They are globular-shaped cacti and often get described as ribbed balls. The white to tan erect spines develop in clusters of 8 to 14. They are small cacti that grow 1-2.5 inches tall and bloom small and bright peach to pink flowers.

Since 1998, the Winkler’s pincushion cactus has been listed as an endangered species by the USDI Fish and Wildlife Service.

Cactus Pediocactus winkleri with flower isolated on Black.
Endemic to Wayne and Emery County in Utah, the small Winkler’s pincushion cactus is a cold-hardy cactus that thrives in sandy hilltops.


6. Whipple’s Fishhook Cactus 

The whipple fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus whipplei) is an interesting plant found in southeastern Utah and desert grasslands, sandy hills, and saltbush flats. Other common names include whipple’s devil’s-claw cactus and rose devil’s-claw cactus, among others.

This hardy cactus has spectacular purple or pink flowers that grow in the center of the plant and bloom in the spring. There are dense clusters of spines on the bulbous stem with a fibrous and shallow root system. They can also produce a fleshy tan-colored berry that can turn red when mature.

Cactus Sclerocactus whipplei with pink flower isolated on black background.
The Whipple fishhook cactus has a dramatic-looking pink or purple flower that grows on the top of the cactus.


Final Thoughts

Whether taking a stroll through the Mojave desert or climbing the Utah mountains, the unique cacti throughout the landscapes are a beauty on their own in the wilderness. These one-of-a-kind cacti thrive in sandy, rocky soil and make it easy for just about anyone in Utah to grow in their garden.

The Featured Image

Blossoming cacti in Dixie National Forest near Yant Flat sandstone formations in Utah, USA. Exploring the American Southwest.
Cacti thrive in the sandy, rocky soil of Utah.
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About the Author

The natural world is one of the most beautiful things, and I believe we should all do our part to protect it. After years spent in the South African bush, I found my way to writing about animals and nature in my work. My hope is to inspire others to appreciate and care for the world around them.

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