Cacti come in all shapes and sizes. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the barrel cactus, which, as the name suggests, is usually round. All types of barrel cacti belong to two genera in the cactus family: Echinocactus and Ferocactus. They are exclusively found in the deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico. The golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) is a barrel cactus from central Mexico. An older specimen resembles a large, round footstool filled with spines. In Dutch, this cactus is known as ‘mother-in-law’s chair’—possibly nicknamed by someone who wasn’t particularly fond of their mother-in-law. This cactus is endangered in the wild. Fortunately, you can still enjoy this beautiful plant in the Desert.
The golden barrel cactus owes its English name to the large light-yellow spines arranged in rows around the thick ridges. As you move further up, the spines become denser, giving the plant a golden glow from above. A mature specimen can reach a diameter of up to 130 centimetres. Only older plants, typically around twenty years or older, bloom. The yellow flowers form at the top. A fertilised flower produces edible fruits with many small black seeds. These fruits have a sharp, sweet-sour taste and are rich in vitamins A and C. Small mammals and birds eat the fruits, contributing to seed dispersal. As far as we know, this cactus can live up to around 100 years.
In its natural habitat, this cactus is in dire straits. One of the reasons is the construction of the Zimapán Dam in the Hidalgo Reserve around 1990, which flooded a significant portion of its already limited range. Today, only about 250 wild specimens are remaining. However, this cactus is widely cultivated and maintained by humans, both in its original form in botanical gardens and in cultivated forms as houseplants. The appeal of the golden barrel cactus lies mainly in its compact, round shape, making it suitable as a houseplant in many locations. The plant is low maintenance: not too much water, plenty of sunlight, and minimal fuss. It’s also a slow grower, making it ideal if you have limited space for a plant.
For several years, a thematic park called CactusOase was located in a vast greenhouse complex in Ruurlo, the Netherlands, run by Bert and Anny van der Meer. When the park permanently closed its doors at the end of last year, many different cacti were collected by our plant service employees and planted in the Desert. One of those species was the golden barrel cactus. The oldest specimen was seeded by Anny in a small hobby greenhouse in 1979. Thankfully, these beautiful plants found a new home in the Desert!
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