Desert Cacti

When you visit Arizona or decide to make it your permanent home, you will undoubtedly be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of foliage in the state. We cannot name everything that grows in this state, but we can breakdown the various types of cacti that decorate our lovely state. Cacti being the plural of cactus, which is the overarching name for the various spiny plants that dot the desert. In this blogpost we will name some of the most abundant types of cacti you’ll see in Arizona and what makes them each so special.

There are 51 species of cacti in Arizona; the most located in Pima County. Cactus are prone to living in dry places and are Native to the Americas. Cacti store water in their stems for when water is scarce, which happens a lot in the desert. If you cut a cactus open, water does not pour out, instead it has a viscous liquid that can be drunk if you’re in a pinch. Cacti have spines coming out of them that protect them from animals that would want their inner liquid. These spines take the place of leaves, which cacti do not have. Here are a few of the most popular cacti in the state.


The saguaro is probably the most well-known cactus in Arizona. In some places, they are so abundant it’s like you’re in a forest of them. These tall tree-like cacti can be 40-60 feet tall, weigh thousands of pounds, and live over 100 years. They have gorgeous white flowers that bloom in late Spring and bright red fruit that grows in the summer. They grow exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and while they are not endangered or threatened, Arizona has very strict regulations about moving them.

Prickly Pear

Another well-known cactus in the Southwestern U.S. is the prickly pear. These plants can grow up to five feet tall and are about 10 feet wide. They are known for their flat pads, which can be eaten and are known as nopales in Spanish. In the spring, prickly pears get vibrant pink or yellow flowers and in the summer, are adorned with red fruit. Fun fact about prickly pear is that you can take the pads and plant them and a completely new plant will grow; these plants grow quickly.


This cactus may be the most nefarious plant, even though one variety of the plant is actually called the Teddy Bear Cholla. There are many varieties of cholla, but most of them have cylindrical stems that are covered in spines. In the case of the jumping cholla, the spines detach very easily to whatever passes by, giving the allusion of jumping. Teddy bear cholla looks soft and fuzzy from afar, but don’t get too close or you’ll regret it. As with most cacti, they bloom in the spring mostly with yellow flowers.


This is a versatile plant that looks like a shrub and can grow up to 20 feet tall. In the spring, they get red flowers on the top that look like little flags. Not only is this plant magnificent in the wild, it can be used around your home to block views or as fencing, as the spines keep out unwanted guests.

We have only scratched the surface of identifying various types of cactus, but this will get you started the next time you’re out in the desert. There are literally hundreds of types of cactus that grow in this area, all beautiful in their own way. They can be prickly to touch but wonderful to gaze upon!

– by Cameron Vines