Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus)

The Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) is a commonly seen resident of the desert southwest and its range includes California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. The Barrel cactus gets its name from its short stocky appearance which is said to resemble a barrel. Despite its name, this succulent can grow over 6 feet tall and thrives in gravelly, rocky and / or sandy soils and are typically seen below 5000 feet in elevation.

A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.
A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.

The Barrel Cactus is covered in spines which when new, are straight and red in appearance, and will turn gray in color and curve as they age. This species blooms yellow or red flowers on the top of the plant, which typically happens in the spring. Like its name sake, this desert nomad will swell with fluid during the monsoons to survive the long dry periods of the desert heat.

Some Native Americans utilized this plant as a cooking vessel. It is said that they would remove the top of the plant and remove the pulp from the interior. Hot stones were place inside along with the food. Additionally, the long heavy spins were utilized as needles.

There are fifteen different species of this cactus.

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