Skip Navigation

Species Search:
FieldGuidesthreatened and/or endangered search resultsthreatened and/or endangered

previous  | next

California Barrel Cactus Ferocactus cylindraceus (Ferocactus acanthodes)


enlarge +

California Barrel Cactus - habit
credit: Charles Webber, California Academy of Science for US Forest Service

All Images


Get Our Newsletters


Advanced Search

Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family

Description A single large columnar or barrel-shaped stem gives this cactus the appearance of a very spiky ribbed barrel.
Habit: native perennial shrub; spherical in youth; 18-31 ribs along height of plant.
Height: 1.5-10 ft (0.45-3 m) tall, 8-20 in (20-50 cm) diameter.
Leaf: spine, straight and bright red when new, becoming curved and gray, of uneven length, to 6.5 in (170 mm) long, 0.1-0.2 in (2-5 mm) diameter; in radial clusters of 12-32 spines per areole, densely covering the stem; 4 spines form a cross at the center of each areole.
Flower: yellow to gold (rarely red), 1.5-2.5 in (3-6 cm) wide, sometimes tinged with red at base; held in ring at the top of the stem.
Fruit: bright yellow barrel, drying to brown pineapple shape, hollow, to 2 in (5 cm) long, to 0.8 in (2 cm) diameter.

Warning This cactus has very sharp spines.

Flower March to September, depending on location.

Habitat Interior chaparral, Mojave desert scrub, Sonoran desert scrub, washes, gravelly slopes, canyon walls, igneous and limestone substrates; 1000-5000 ft (300-1500 m); also cultivated ornamentally.

Range Southern California to Utah and south-central Arizona.

Discussion Also known as barrel cactus, desert barrel cactus, Mojave barrel cactus, red barrel cactus, miners compass, compass cactus. Two varieties are recognized. This plant is protected in Arizona and Nevada. It is very slow-growing and long-lived, tending to lean south with age.

The genus name comes from the Latin ferox (fierce), commonly applied to very spiny plants. The larger spines keep away thirsty desert creatures, and the smaller spines help prevent water loss and scorching by reflecting away some of the intense desert sunlight.

Candy Barrel Cactus or Fishhook Barrel Cactus (F. wislizenii), which grows from southern Arizona to western Texas and northern Mexico, is used for making cactus candy. It has in each cluster a large spine oriented upward, then sharply curved downward at the tip, and other central spines much stouter than the slender surrounding spines.