The cactus is a succulent plant that stores water so that it can live in exceedingly dry conditions. Besides growing in distinctive shapes and sizes, many cacti produce striking flowers that make them popular in homes and gardens.
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As its name suggests, the barrel cactus is shaped like a cylinder and is found throughout the southwestern United States, including the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. The flowers, located on the top of the cactus needles, range from bright red to yellow. The flowers were used by the Native Americans as ingredients in stews and were also boiled for drinking. The barrel cactus typically blooms from April to June.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly pear cacti grow throughout the deserts of the American Southwest. The blossom colors differ according to the species, ranging from purple and red to yellow. Prickly pears bear large, flat branches that are eaten as "nopalitos."
The hedgehog cactus, named for its resemblance to the animal, is a smaller barrel-shaped plant that produces deep red flowers. The 1- to 2-inch concave blossoms, which stay open at night, attract hummingbirds and produce edible fruits. This succulent is the first to bloom in the spring (from April to June).
The beavertail cactus is another succulent named for its similarity to a creature. This cacti species has wide, oval stems and is found throughout the deserts of California, Utah and Arizona. Three-inch-wide flowers in shades of red and lavender emerge from this low-to-the-ground plant until June.
The pincushion cactus (ball cactus) is a smaller succulent found throughout the West from Alberta, Canada to Texas. These leafless plants grow no more than 6 inches tall and often found under shrubs, which protect them from natural conditions like frost. The red and purple blossoms appear shortly after the first summer rains and grow to be 2 inches wide. They evolve into fruit during the next spring.