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Ferocactus cylindraceus (California barrel cactus)
Cox, Fran

Ferocactus cylindraceus

Ferocactus cylindraceus (Engelm.) Orcutt

California Barrel Cactus, Compass Barrel, Visnaga

Cactaceae (Cactus Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

Ferocactus cylindraceus is by far the most widespread of the giant barrel cacti, and is quite variable in spine color - deep red, whitish, yellow, or intermediate shades, but characterized by a long (up to 5 inches), curved central spine that points outwards and downwards and is covered by tiny ridges. Close by are 3 more outward-pointing spines, slightly shorter, and 8 to 28 smaller, lighter colored radial spines, all contributing to a dense lattice that mostly obscures the green stem and its pronounced ribs, numbering 18 to 31. Flowers are yellow, appearing in spring and early summer, while the fruits are bright yellow.

There are no other barrel cacti for most of its range - California, Nevada, Utah, northwest and southwest Arizona; only in central and south Arizona does it overlap with the other two large barrels, Ferocactus wislizeni and Ferocactus emoryi, but the California barrel can be distinguished because the former has fewer and smaller radial spines, while the latter has no radial spines at all.

Aged California barrel cacti may lean towards the southwest, a trait more often noticed in the similar Ferocactus wislizeni. The cactus favours rocky locations, especially the sides of canyons, but is found in a variety of situations. Young plants are spherical and tend to have deep red spines, taking on the familiar upright shape, and lighter spines, after a few decades. The species is also known as ferocactus acanthodes.

The genus name comes from the Latin ferox ("fierce"), commonly applied to very spiny plants. 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.

Description provided courtesy of The American Southwest.


From the Image Gallery

2 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Cactus/Succulent
Fruit Type: Berry
Size Notes: Up to about 10 feet tall.
Fruit: Fruits are bright yellow.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red , Yellow , Green
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Maroon outside, yellow to yellowish green inside, rarely with reddish midstripe.


USA: AZ , CA , NV , UT
Native Distribution: California deserts, southeast Nevada, far southwest Utah and low elevation regions of Arizona, including much of the Colorado River corridor.
Native Habitat: Varied desert and chaparral environments, up to 4,500 feet.


Use Food: Native Americans obtained water from barrel cacti by cutting the top off, making a bowl-shaped depression in the cut surface, and squeezing the surrounding tissue until the depression filled with water.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter
Webref 15 - The American Southwest (1994) John Crossley

Additional resources

USDA: Find Ferocactus cylindraceus in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Ferocactus cylindraceus in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Ferocactus cylindraceus


Record Modified: 2023-02-10
Research By: TWC Staff

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