Five Fascinating Species of Cactus

I think for many of us, the first image that comes to mind when we think about cacti is a tall and spiky cactus with two arms silhouetted against a bright blue sky. As lovely as those cacti are, the cactus family is incredibly diverse and filled with many other very fascinating species. So in honor of our spirit week theme, here are just a few of the many unique cacti that deserve attention!

Bishop’s Cap

Photo from

The Astrophytum myriostigma, also known as the bishop’s cap, is a star shaped cactus typically found in the central and northern highlands of Mexico. It has three to seven (but usually five) ribs, and it flowers once a year in the early spring. It’s named for its distinctive shape, which resembles the mitre hats worn by some bishops.

Old Man

FormCliff CC BY 2.0

The Cephalocereus senilis, also called the old man cactus, is known for its shaggy appearance. The wooly hairs are actually spines that are meant to protect the plant from weather and severe temperatures. Ironically, despite its name, as this cactus ages it loses a lot of this protective hairy layer. They can also reach heights of up to 50 feet in the wild!

Organ Pipe

Photo by Natalie Ockey from Utah’s Adventure Family

The Stenocereus thurberi, or organ pipe cactus, typically grows on south-facing slopes because of its need for sunlight. It’s known for its many arms or “pipes”. It can grow to be 23 feet tall. Organ pipe cacti don’t flower until they’re around 35 years old. Their flowers only open at night, and they’re an important source of food for lesser long nosed bats.


Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman

The Gymnocalycium mihanovichii produces very little chlorophyll on its own, so it has to be grafted onto a different plant in order to thrive. When grafted onto a hylocereus cactus, this plant is referred to as the moon cactus. Many variants are bright red, yellow, or orange in color due to a complete lack of chlorophyll. Interestingly, it prefers indirect sunlight.

Cristate Saguaro

The Carnegia gigantea, or saguaro cactus, is an iconic symbol of the southwest. It’s majestic and grows to be absolutely massive, with many living over 200 years. However, a very rare amount of saguaros form strange fan-like crests and abnormal growths. These are known as crested or “cristate” saguaros. The reason why they do this is still unknown. There are currently only a few thousand documented crested saguaros. A mysterious group called the Crested Saguaro Society dedicated to their preservation has been responsible for locating the majority of them.


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