4 Types of Indoor Cacti

Blooming rat tail cactus with pink flowers

Written by Cammi Morgan

Updated: May 20, 2023

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Are you looking for low-maintenance houseplants? Well, step right up to the wonderful world of indoor cacti. These unique and beautiful plants are an excellent choice for beginner gardeners, folks who need hardy, low-maintenance plants, or simply for people who adore cactus plants!

In this guide, we’ll cover four species of cacti that are excellent candidates for indoor growing. We’ll describe their botanical classifications, native growing range, characteristics, and what they need to thrive. Alright, let’s get to it!

Types of Indoor Cacti: Botanical Classification and a Brief Introduction

All cacti, including those that make excellent houseplants, belong to the Cactaceae family of perennial, flowering, succulent plants. Within the Cactaceae family, there are roughly 130 genera and over 1,500 species. Native to mostly arid regions of the Americas, many species of cacti are now naturalized in other areas of the world, such as Australia and South Africa.

These plants have evolved to be masters of living in extremely arid regions where the majority of other plants could not survive. The main mechanism for their success in such dry climates is their modified stems that maximize their ability to store water. Additionally, cacti have evolved modified leaves that emerge as spines rather than the typical foliage, which helps prevent water transpiration. Their spines also protect them from predation by herbivores and provide some shade from the intense desert sun. You’ll notice, however, that not all cacti have long spines. Instead, some cactus plants develop tiny hairs called glochidia that serve the same purpose. Some develop both these tiny hairs and longer spines, and other species actually feature neither and instead develop other strategies for protection.

What all cacti do develop, and is a defining characteristic of the Cactaceae family, is areoles. These small nodes cover cacti and are the structures from which flowers, new stems, branches, spines, and glochidia emerge.

4 Types of Indoor Cacti: Native Ranges, Characteristics, and How to Grow

Growing cacti as houseplants is a totally achievable endeavor for gardeners of all levels. So if you’ve never grown a houseplant before, please don’t hesitate to try your hand at growing one or more of the below species! Most cacti need bright, direct sunlight, very well-draining soil, and restricted watering to thrive. Of course, you’ll find that some species deviate from this general growing culture, but it’s important to know that overwatering is the easiest way to kill any succulent plant, including cacti.

Below we’ll cover the characteristics and growing requirements for the following types of indoor cacti.

1. Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia microdasys)

Native to the desert climates of Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona, the bunny ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys) is a popular houseplant due to its low-maintenance care requirements and whimsical growing pattern. As its common name suggests, this plant produces clusters of rabbit ear-shaped light green stems. These stems, or pads, are covered in glochidia that emerge from white areoles. Don’t be fooled, however, by its tiny hairs into thinking you can handle this plant without thick gloves on. Glochidia cause a lot of irritation when they come into contact with your skin. Over a period of 10-20 years, this slow-growing cactus can reach 2-3 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide, making it an excellent candidate for a smaller houseplant. In the early spring, you may see your bunny ears cactus bloom lovely, yellow, cup-shaped flowers, but they rarely bloom. Instead, people grow these plants for their beautiful stems. When they do bloom, the flowers develop into dark red fruit that are edible and delicious.

To thrive, bunny ears cacti need:

  • A sandy cactus potting mix with excellent drainage
  • At least 6 hours daily of full sunlight
  • Thorough watering throughout spring and summer, with time for the soil to completely dry out between watering. Water in the fall-winter once a month.
  • Temperatures that don’t fall below 50°F. Ideal temps are at least 70°F.
  • A humidity range between 10-30%.
Close-up of a bunny ear cactus

As its common name suggests, the bunny ear cactus produces clusters of rabbit ear-shaped light green stems.

2. Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

When considering types of indoor cacti to grow, the golden barrel cactus should definitely be on your list. This lovely species produces globe-shaped stems that are popularly grown for their attractive golden, vertical ribs that encircle the plant. Along the ribs, yellow areoles produce clusters of spines. As this plant matures, its growth rate significantly slows down, and it grows about an inch in diameter a year. In 20 years, they can reach about 3 feet tall. In mid-summer, this species produces a ring of flowers at its head, but they rarely bloom indoors unless they receive constant, strong direct sunlight. The blooms can be yellow, pink, orange, or red.

To thrive, the golden barrel cactus needs the following:

  • An extremely well-draining cactus or succulent potting mix with perlite.
  • Ideally, 6 hours of bright, full sunlight, but this species can handle periods of bright, indirect sunlight as well.
  • Water about once per week during its growth phase, allowing the soil to dry out in between watering.
  • Water only once per month with a thorough soaking from fall-winter.
  • Temperatures that don’t drop below 32°F. Ideal temps are at least 50°F.
  • Less than 50% humidity.

The golden barrel cactus produces globe-shaped stems that are popularly grown for their attractive golden, vertical ribs that encircle the plant.

3. The Feather Cactus (Mammillaria plumosa)

This adorable, little cactus is an excellent choice for someone who is space limited but wants to grow a houseplant with eye-catching visual interest. Only growing up to about 5 inches high, this little plant is perfect for small spaces and miniature displays. Entirely covered in white, feathery spines that emerge from the areoles in a starburst pattern, the feather cactus looks like a baby bird covered in soft, downy feathers. Of course, touching this plant would not be an enjoyable experience as these “feathers” are highly irritating to the skin. For the cactus, however, they provide protection from the sun and predators.

To thrive, the feather cactus needs:

  • A cactus potting mix or mix of well-draining houseplant potting soil and sand.
  • 6 hours of direct sunlight per day with some light afternoon shade in hot climates.
  • Water throughout its growing season, allowing the soil to dry between waterings. Ideally, water from below to avoid getting the spines wet.
  • Water once per month from fall-winter.
  • Temperatures rarely drop below 32°F. Ideal temps are at least 53°F.
  • A humidity range below 50%
Close-up of a feather cactus with white bloom

Entirely covered in white, feathery spines that emerge from the areoles in a starburst pattern, the feather cactus looks like a baby bird.

4. Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis)

Love hanging plants and cacti? You may not expect these two to go together, but you can actually find some trailing species of cacti that are perfect choices for eye-catching hanging plants. The rat tail cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis), native to semi-arid regions of Southwestern Mexico and Central America, is one such species. It naturally grows as an epiphyte (growing non-parasitically on another plant) or as a lithophyte (growing attached to rocks). This fascinating plant produces long, tendril-like stems that gracefully cascade over the sides of its pot. At maturity, these stems can reach 4 feet long. In addition to their gorgeous tendrils, this plant also produces stunning violet-red, orange, or pink tubular blooms that emerge mostly at the base of the plant but can also extend down the stems.

To thrive, the rat tail cactus needs:

  • A cactus or succulent potting mix amended with perlite for excellent drainage
  • Year-round bright, direct sunlight,
  • Water regularly during its growing season, allowing the top 2 inches of the soil to dry completely before watering again. Water about once per month from fall-winter, allowing the soil to dry out between watering.
  • Temperatures that don’t fall below 45°F. Ideal temps are between 60-80°F.
  • A humidity range between 30-50%.
Close-up of a rat tail cactus

The rat-tail cactus produces long, tendril-like stems that gracefully cascade over the sides of its pot.

Summary of 4 Types of Indoor Cacti

#CactusNative Range
1Bunny Ears CactusNorthern Mexico and Southern Arizona
2Golden Barrel CactusCentral Mexico
3The Feather CactusNortheastern Mexico
4Rat Tail CactusSouthwestern Mexico and Central America

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About the Author

Cammi Morgan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on mycology, marine animals, forest and river ecology, and dogs. Cammi has been volunteering in animal rescue for over 10 years, and has been studying mycology and field-researching mushrooms for the past 3 years. A resident of Southeast Appalachia, Cammi loves her off-grid life where she shares 20 acres with her landmates, foster dogs, and all the plants, fungi, and critters of the forest.

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