One of the downsides of growing houseplants can be keeping the environment humid enough to maintain the health of tropical plants, which often need jungle-like conditions to truly thrive. This is not a problem for cactus aficionados, as these desert plants appreciate dry air and average room temperatures. Most cactus species are low-maintenance and good to grow indoors. Although some sun is necessary for indoor cactus health, many species can get by on just a few hours a day, and supplementary lighting can help specimens living in north-facing windows.
A happy cactus may even surprise you with vibrant blooms, a bonus for plants that already thrill with otherworldly shapes and spiny textures. The slow growth and easy care requirements of these popular varieties will add charm to mixed container plantings and make elegant standalone specimens as well.
Half the fun is choosing a cactus for indoors since numerous species come in different shapes and sizes. Learn if the type of cactus houseplant you choose has a dormant period in the winter that require less light and watering or if it's toxic to pets. Another thing to note when choosing a cactus vs. a succulent: all cacti are considered succulents, but not all succulents are considered cacti.
Read on to learn about eight indoor cactus types with tips on indoor cactus care and pictures to help you easily identify the type of shape and size you'd like for your plant.
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Angel Wings Cactus
The Opunta albispina cactus, also known as an angel wing cactus or bunny ears cactus is a member of the prickly pear family that grows evenly spaced clusters of hairs rather than sharp spines. The Mexican native grows clusters of pads that get no larger than 2 feet tall but can grow up to five feet across over time, making this one of the more popular small indoor cactus types. Proper pruning can help keep this plant small. Pale yellow blooms are followed by red, edible fruits on plants that receive a full day of sun.
- Light: Full sun
- Water: Moisten; don't soak
- Color varieties: Pale yellow
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Rat Tail Cactus
If your sunniest window does not have the space to accommodate a container, the fantastic Aporocactus flagelliformis or rat tail cactus is good for indoor hanging baskets. This plant is indigenous to Mexico, where its vibrant magenta blooms have been used in traditional medicines for heart problems. Choose a generously sized hanging basket for this fast-growing cactus—the thick stems can trail for 3 feet.
- Light: Direct light
- Water: Water regularly
- Color varieties: Violet-red, pink, and orange
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African Milk Tree
Euphorbia trigona is one of those easy cactus specimens that make every grower feel like an expert. Also known as the cathedral plant, this cactus can grow more than 8 feet tall, but it is a slow grower and is unlikely to grow much past 4 feet indoors. Small green leaves grow between thorns on the ridged stems, and if you grow the Rubra variety, the leaves are reddish-purple. If you plant it in soil with good drainage and water it twice a month, then your African milk tree may live for decades.
- Light: Full sun to partial shade
- Water: Twice a month
- Color varieties: Reddish-purple leaves
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Anyone who has visited the Sonoran desert will not soon forget the sight of a 40-foot saguaro cactus punctuating the landscape. These majestic plants may live for two centuries, and it can take up to 40 years for flowering to occur. The slow growth rate of this cactus makes it possible to grow one for many years as an indoor houseplant as well. Give your saguaro as much light as possible and water sparingly about once a month.
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- Light: Full sun
- Water: Every 10 to 14 days
- Color varieties: White with yellow centers
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Old Lady Cactus
This cactus variety is as full of personality as its name suggests. Mammillaria hahniana forms small colonies of 10-inch tall spheres, which feature white hairs and spines. Healthy plants may feature a halo of pink blooms like a crown atop a head. Plant this cactus in sandy potting mix, water it every other week, and in winter, water it monthly.
If you are looking for a type of cactus similar to this, try the powder puff cactus (Mammillaria bocasana), another small indoor cactus type that grows only a few inches tall.
- Light: Bright, even light
- Water: Bi-weekly to monthly
- Color varieties: Pink
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The simple, sphere shape of Astrophytum ornatum (also known as star cactus) looks striking with decorative gravel or mulch and a substantial ceramic pot. Stiff spikes cover deeply ridged spheres, which can attain several feet in height, making this a potentially large indoor cactus. The plants often develop a white frosty coating that may look like a disease but is a defense mechanism to protect the plant from the sun. Water it infrequently and provide plenty of hot sunny conditions if you want to see the yellow blooms develop.
- Light: Full sunlight
- Water: Infrequently
- Color varieties: Yellow
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Christmas cactus is pretty toothless as far as the cactus family goes with its smooth segmented leaves and soft, rounded spines. Tubular flowers come in red, pink, orange, and white. This cactus species is a departure from normal cactus care. The plant hails from Brazilian rain forests, where they live as epiphytes growing on other tree branches. Give these plants filtered light and moderate irrigation. If you can expose them to cooler temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit as winter approaches, you can get your plants to rebloom.
- Light: Diffused light
- Water: Regularly, allowing the soil to dry between waterings
- Color varieties: Pink
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The Ferocactus genus lives up to its name of fierce cactus. It is covered with long, rigid spines that protect its juicy, edible pulp. The barrel cactus may live for many decades and eventually reaches a maximum height of 8 to 10 feet when growing outdoors. It can still become a large indoor cactus topping out at 3 feet tall. As a houseplant, the barrel cactus craves as much sun as you can provide and scant irrigation coupled with a loose, sandy potting mix.
- Light: Partial to full sun
- Water: Sparingly, allowing the soil to dry between waterings
- Color varieties: Brownish-yellow to orange