March 6th, 2008
Golden Barrel Cactus

golden barrel cactus

My brother, MJN, introduced me to the gorgeously planted Springs Preserve in Las Vegas and there I fell in love with golden barrel cactus, Echinocactus grusonii. Although it is an endangered species in its native Mexico habitat, it is one of the most popular landscape cacti in the American Southwest. Apparently this cactus can reach a size four feet tall and three feet tall. However, in the many display gardens of the Springs Preserve, it was used as the desert equivalent of a small globe shaped boxwood.

golden barrel cactus
In another display bed, colorful recycled glass chips were used as a mulch. The resulting jewel like beds glittered in the desert sun, but like many rock/gravel/shell mulches, the glass chips ended up being strewn in the paths. Recycled glass is definitely not a mulch to use if you have lots of trees and leaf litter.

golden barrel cactus
Golden barrel cactus also filled planters lining the parking area at the entrance to the Springs Preserve. My mother fell in love with them, too, and so I bought her one for $20 at Lowe’s. Then I saw a little golden barrel cactus in a paper cup on the clearance table for $2. I had to have it even though everyone wondered how I’d get it home. (I put it in my carryon luggage. No problem.) The silly thing about my $2 cactus is that someone glued plastic eyes on it and the cup said, “My Peeps, Cactus Buddies”. Ugh! I’ll figure out how to cut off those cutesy plastic eyes and restore some dignity to my beautiful golden barrel cactus.

by M Sinclair Stevens

19 Responses to post “Golden Barrel Cactus”

  1. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Could you leave those little plastic eyes on the cactus until after I visit for the spring fling. I’d like to see that!

    You’ll have to let us know if you did anything special to carry the plant in your luggage like that, just in case some of us visitors end up with a few plants we want to carry home from Austin.

    Well…okay. Just for you. As for packing, I didn’t do anything special. I have a canvas bag that I use as my purse (personal luggage as the airport authorities say). I put some tissue and then bubble wrap around the cactus so the spines wouldn’t get broken and put the paper cup in my canvas bag. The planting medium was fairly dry. I stuck the bag through X-ray and they didn’t stop it or question me. Whew! I couldn’t have done it with a larger plant. — mss

  2. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    Those golden globes are quite something with the sun shining on them. I can see why you troubled to bring one home. Where will you put it?

    I don’t know. You know me, Pam. Acquire plant. Worry about where it goes later. I will probably keep it in a pot as it doesn’t really go with anything else in my garden. — mss

  3. From Joy, Kingston, Ontario .. Canada:

    If ever I had a second type of garden to choose from, it would surely be a “Southwestern” one–with cactus and succulents. I fantasize about these looks for a garden all the time. I love it!

    Beautiful shots of those amazing cacti!

    I have never been particularly attracted to desert landscaping until I visited the Springs Preserve. The gardens there are among the best designed and most inspiring I’ve ever seen — mss

  4. From linda:

    Very pretty cactus! I love the color, texture, and shape of it.

    I love this: Acquire plant. Worry about where it goes later.” That is my mantra!

    Mine, too! as anyone visiting my garden will attest. — mss

  5. From Jenny - Las Vegas:

    I went to the Springs Preserve again yesterday with Grace and Cason, and this time I went into the area that requires an entry fee. We had so much fun watching the “flash flood” exhibit. They actually have thousands of gallons of water come crashing down a faux canyon and sweep under your feet (you stand on a metal grid). Grace thought she was going to get swept away, but she still liked it. She didn’t want to leave when it was over. I STILL haven’t seen everything yet. Getting lots of ideas for my rammed-earth house, though.

    MJN also told me how impressive that “flash flood” experience was. I’ll have to pay to see the exhibits the next time I go to Vegas. I’m glad you found a great place to take the kids and to study up on alternative house-building methods. Be sure to ask in the design shop for what resources they have. (I know it’s hard to do that when you have the kids with you.) — mss

  6. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    Plastic eyes on a cactus? Whatever next? We have the buy plant worry about where to put it later in common. 🙂 The golden barrel cactus looks quite pretty but it’s not for me. I’m more of a touchy feely person in the garden so cacti are out!

    I’m a touchy feely person in the garden too. The spines on the golden barrel cactus, although sharp, are also soft and springy. It provides a lovely visual texture (ribbed, fuzz, and spines) even though it doesn’t invite a physical touch. — mss

  7. From Diana - Austin:

    They really are stunning. It’s amazing how different the plants truly are in different part of the country. Nice that you could sneak one home in your bag! My cousin’s husband tried to send me home from Germany two summers ago with a ziplock baggie of seeds and cutting from his beautiful garden, but it looked much too much like something confiscatable and I didn’t want to be accosted by the customs folks, so I’m afraid I left it in a hotel room…better safe than sorry!

    The problem with bringing plants in from overseas is that customs will confiscate them without a phytosanitary certificate. However, coming from Nevada to Texas, I didn’t worry about that. I thought security might confiscate it, but it wasn’t actually a liquid. And I can’t imagine hijacking an airplane using a cactus as a weapon, especially one with cute plastic eyes. How threatening is that? — mss

  8. From Melanie:

    Wow, I like looking at those cactus in your photos but don’t think I could grow one myself. Cactus and I don’t mix, I sat on one when I was a kid and since my mom wasn’t home I had to go next door to have them pull the stickers out! Honestly.

    I find myself getting into far more painful scrapes with my roses (especially ‘Mermaid’ and ‘New Dawn’) than with my cacti or even my Spanish bayonets. — mss

  9. From Aiyana:

    I’m glad to see something that I’m completely familiar with! Those eyes are ususally stuck on with hot glue sticks, so they should peel right off. I think the eyes and also the flowers that are on some of them are disgusting. I talked to someone at Lowe’s about it and they told me that the distributors send them like that and that they are more popular in the mid-west and east coast areas than they are here. I guess folks that see them ever day don’t look at them as novelties.

    Aiyana, if you are ever up in Vegas, do check out the Springs Preserve. I think you’d really like it and there is no admission to the garden sections. — mss

  10. From Ken from Sweden:

    Yoy say that you can’t have snowdrops in your garden, I can tell you that I can absolutely not have cactus in my garden in Sweden 😉 But that is the charm with gardening I think.

    You take what you can find of plants in your area of the world and do something nice about it. I think this way (blogging) is a great way to looked at other gardens all over the world.
    Regards Ken

    I agree with you absolutely! Our gardens should reflect our locale. I’m not sure the golden barrel cactus is right for my part of Texas. We aren’t in the desert (as many movies might lead you to believe). And the reason I love garden blogging is getting to opportunity to visit all kinds of gardens all over the world, gardens I’d otherwise never get to see. — mss

  11. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    I’m a desert denizen at heart and those Golden Barrels are beautiful–I used to have a connection with a small cactus wholesaler who would give me bowling ball sized bare-root barrels for about $3–he had fields of them! Wish I had taken some pictures of those–just like wheat fields except they were cactus in perfect lines. I heard before I left California that a developer had put houses on the site. Waaah.

    Makes you sick, doesn’t it. Lowe’s had two sizes for sale, the medium sized one was $20 and the larger one (maybe bowling ball sized or slightly larger) was $50. Cactus Blog pointed to a February 24th article in Austin’s newspaper recently that reported that many cacti were endangered due to poaching. However, no mention was made of development which must also contribute to the problem. Some people I know who lived what used to be miles outside Las Vegas did a big plant rescue ahead of a development project which bulldozed a huge tract of land next to theirs. — mss

  12. From Annie in Austin:

    You found an interesting plant preserve! This kind of place is outside my experience, MSS – think I’d like to see it. I can’t imagine living there, though.

    A gift cactus here had little glued on flowers which was silly, but the eyes are creepy. Mr Brown Thumb ‘rescued’ some eye-laden cactus last year before the holidays. Yuk.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    What’s really weird is that I’m starting to become attached to Mr. Peeps. — mss

  13. From deb:

    Very cool plant. We sold barrel cactus at the nursery I worked at in Dallas. I am not sure if they were golden or not. Shouldn’t glue things on plants. Equally not nice is cutting holes in prickly pear to make them look like ghosts for Halloween.

    I suspect I could buy cacti here in Austin. I’ve never been interested in them before so I never noticed them. Various agaves and yuccas seem more common. — mss

  14. From Pam:

    Wow – those cacti are great. I hope that yours survives its eye surgery, and continues to thrive.

    We’ll see. Our mucky clay doesn’t seem like a promising environment for cacti. — mss

  15. From kate:

    I was thinking of Aiyana’s garden when reading this post. The Springs Preserve looks like a fascinating place to visit. I love the Golden Barrel Cactus – I had one that spent the summers outdoors and increased at a snail’s pace. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive an early frost.

    More on the Springs Preserve in coming days. It was incredible. I wish we had something like it in Austin. I suppose the Wildflower Center is something like, but it is not as impressive and there is a rather hefty admission. — mss

  16. From elle m:

    Poor cactus with eyes! I saw some at Lowe’s, with big red dried flowers glued to the very tops with large lumps of hard clear glue. They were labeled “mammilaria strawflower”.

  17. From dave love west virgina:

    I had received a barral cactus when my grandfarther died. It was doing well for a few years now over the winter in our home it is dying, turning very soft. I don’t want to lose it its very beautiful when it bloomed the summer he past. How can I take a cutting from it or how can I turn it a round.

    I don’t know. Once it turns soft, it means it’s rotting. — mss

  18. From Greg:

    I bought a Golden Barrel at a home improvement store in St. Louis a little over 10 years ago. It survived my bad potting mixtures and now that I’ve potted it correctly it’s about 1 foot in diameter. I bring it inside in the winter, but stick it somewhere in full sunlight in the spring/summer.

    I just learned that there is a theft problem with them. Apparently, large ones go for a lot of money.

    Another excellent point. What a prickly garden will save you in water bills you’ll be spending on plant acquisition. Those cactus and succulents are expensive. There are problems with them being collected in the wild where there is the danger of them becoming extinct. And because they are expensive, theft is an issue. In my neighborhood, several garden thefts have been reported this summer and they have been of cactus, agaves, or palms. — mss

  19. From Glenda Strachan - Phoenix, AZ:

    I had a handyman buy and plant 7 golden barrels in various sizes in my front yard. One cactus (bowling ball size) has 3 lumps on top that all resemble small cacti. Some say it is having babies. Aren’t they grown from seed? What have I got? A mutant! Should be interesting to see what develops!

    Observe. Record. Learn. Share. — mss