The Echinocereus (Echinocereus) genus contains around 70 cacti species in various sizes and shapes, like spheres and barrels. These cacti generally tend to be small, not typically reaching more than 12-18 inches tall. They often have a cylindrical shape and tight spines. They are often called "hedgehog cactus" for resembling the spines and rounded shape of the small mammal.
Unique hedgehog cactus species are kingcup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) and strawberry (Echinocereus engelmannii). Prized for being one of the rarest Echinocereus cactus species is the pink rainbow hedgehog cactus or Echinocereus rigidissimus rubrispinus.
These cacti bloom mainly in the spring with colorful, showy flowers, though they occasionally bloom at different points in the year. Echinocereus engelmannii has benefited the Indigenous people in the American Southwest as a food source and salve for burns. It produces sweet fruit, sometimes called "strawberries of the desert," eaten raw or used in a jam.
To ensure it gets proper care, Echinocereus cacti need sunny, warm climates, but certain species have some cold tolerance. Overall, they are quite hardy plants suitable for beginners to grow in the garden (in the proper climate) and as houseplants. The cacti tend to live for many years and have a slow growth rate. They are best planted in the spring once the weather has warmed.
|Common Names||Echinocereus cactus, hedgehog cactus|
|Botanical Name||Echinocereus spp.|
|Mature Size||Up to 18 in. tall, 3 in. wide|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Flower Color||Red, yellow, pink, purple, white|
|Hardiness Zones||5-11, USDA|
|Native Area||North America, Central America|
If you’ve successfully grown any cactus species in the past, you most likely can grow an Echinocereus cactus. Besides providing your plant with warmth and light, one of the most critical parts of its care is avoiding any hint of soggy soil. Overwatering can easily kill an Echinocereus cactus. Otherwise, these cacti are quite low maintenance. They require feeding in the summer and repotting only when cramped in their container. When cared for properly they typically have few issues with pests or diseases.
These cacti need full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, to grow and flower their best. They can tolerate a bit of shade, but this can reduce flowering. When grown as a houseplant, place your Echinocereus cactus by your brightest window. A south-facing window is best.
Loose, sandy soil with sharp drainage is recommended for Echinocereus cacti. For container plants, a potting mix made specifically for cacti and succulents will provide ideal growing conditions.
Water needs vary somewhat among the Echinocereus species. But in general, these cacti don’t need much moisture to thrive. And too much water can easily lead to root rot, especially if the soil isn’t fast-draining, as well as during the winter months when the plant is dormant and requires less water. So be sure to let the soil dry out between waterings. Water roughly every two weeks from spring to fall unless your plant has received rainfall. Over the winter, reduce watering to monthly.
Temperature and Humidity
Temperature preferences vary among Echinocereus species. Many of the cacti are quite tolerant to cold and even freezing temperatures. In general, they thrive in temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity typically isn’t an issue for them as long as they have adequate soil drainage.
These cacti don’t need rich soil but will appreciate extra nutrients. Following label instructions, feed them during the spring after emerging from dormancy with a liquid cactus fertilizer. For the rest of the year, there’s no need to fertilize.
Types of Echinocereus
There are many popular Echinocereus species grown for their interesting shapes and flowers, including:
- Echinocereus stramineus: Also known as the straw-color hedgehog, this species is notable for its large, tan (or straw-colored) spines.
- Echinocereus engelmannii: Often referred to as the strawberry hedgehog cactus, this plant features bright magenta flowers and is common in deserts of the Southwest.
- Echinocereus triglochidiatus: This species is known as kingcup cactus, claretcup, and Mojave mound cactus. Its large blooms are funnel-shaped and bright red to orange in color.
- Echinocereus coccineus: Called the scarlet hedgehog cactus, this variant was developed from the kingcup cactus. It has bright red or orange flowers and grows in large grouping clumps.
- Echinocereus rigidissimus rubrispinus: One of the rarest cacti with pink spines, it grows as a single cactus.
Echinocereus can be propagated either through offsets or by seed. Here's how to propagate with offsets:
- You'll need heavy gardening gloves to protect your hands from its prickly spines. Select a planting spot or container and cactus mix.
- Pull the plant out of the container or ground. carefully pull away an offset (a small plant growing from a mature plant), while keeping some roots attached.
- Let it dry in the open air until a callus forms over the cut end for a few days.
- Plant it in a cactus potting mix in a bright, warm spot. Keep the soil just barely moist until new growth emerges.
How to Grow Echinocereus From Seed
To propagate by seed, shallowly plant the seeds in the spring in sandy soil that’s barely moist. Put the seeds in a warm spot. It can take up to two weeks for them to germinate.
Potting and Repotting Echinocereus
Any container you choose for an Echinocereus cactus should have ample drainage holes. An unglazed container is best, as it will allow excess moisture to escape through its walls and via the drainage holes. Select a reasonably shallow container, as the cacti don’t have deep roots.
Because these cacti grow slowly, they won’t need repotting often. Once the roots start to grow out of the pot and the plant has become too top-heavy for its container, it’s time to move it to a slightly bigger pot. Be extra careful removing it from the old container, as Echinocereus cacti tend to have weak roots. Gently knock off any loose soil. Then, plant it at the same depth in the new container, filling it around it with fresh cactus potting mix.
Overwintering an indoor hedgehog cactus is essential if you want your cactus to bloom. Keep them cool and relatively dry in winter, just above freezing, between 35 to 44 F. A non-heated indoor room that doesn't plunge below freezing, like a garage or basement area, might work best.
If overwintering outdoors within its hardiness zones 5 through 10, the cactus may shrivel up to conserve its moisture and reduce the water content in its cells, which could burst upon freezing. Also, its flesh may change colors to indicate reduced chlorophyll which usually occurs in winter.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Look out for mealybugs, aphids, and scale, which can damage the cactus flesh and its roots. An infestation of these can appear as white deposits or black mold. Treat any issue with an insecticide as soon as possible, and replant container plants in fresh soil. You can get rid of small infestations by spraying your plant with an organic plant pest spray like horticultural oil or neem oil.
Echinocereus have weak root systems that are prone to root rot when over-watered. Allow your plant to dry out before watering.
How to Get Echinocereus to Bloom
Echinocerus species feature showy blooms, featuring warm hues such as red, yellow, and bright pink. This plant will only bloom if it gets full sun for at least six to eight hours daily. If growing indoors, make sure it's in your sunniest window. And consider using a supplemental grow light to ensure bright light for at least six hours. Also, cacti prefer a temperature variation from day to night, similar to their native environment. Grow lights that give off heat (or a hot window spot) will help your plant achieve this temperature variation during the day.
Echinocereus needs a cold or dormant period. Overwinter it in a cool, dry place for at least 60 days. After the dormancy period, gradually introduce warmer temperatures, more water frequency, and feed cactus fertilizer to spur growth and encourage blooming. Water once a month and do not give any additional fertilizer for the rest of the growing season.
Common Problems With Echinocereus
Most cacti are easy growers, requiring little maintenance. Pests and diseases are rare, but they can occur.
Mushy or Rotting Stem
If you notice mushy yellowing, browning, or blackening of the body of the cactus, it may result from too much water and not enough light and heat. Most cacti that sit in water can develop root or stem rot quickly. To fix the problem, remove the plant from the pot. If you notice any brown or blackened roots, using sterilized scissors, cut them off. If the bottom of the stem is brown or blackened, it's likely not recoverable and needs disposal.
Shriveled, Stunted Growth
If the flesh of the plant is starting to shrivel or growth seems to have stopped, it may need more water. Water it thoroughly. It may need water more frequently if kept indoors, especially if it's dry or hot. Similarly, if the plant is outdoors and it's too hot and a lot of time has gone between waterings, give it water.
Hardened Browning of the Plant Flesh
If the stem browns and hardens, it's part of the natural aging process of the plant, called corking. As long as it's not mushy, the plant should recover. Keep the plant watered but not saturated. Make sure it has ample light, but if the full sun is scorching the plant, move the plant or give it shade.
How long do Echinocereus cacti live?
In proper indoor conditions, they can live for at least 10 years.
Where should I place Echinocereus cactus in my house?
Put your plant near a south-facing. You want to give it as much strong sunlight as possible.
How fast do Echinocereus cacti grow?
Expect growth of 1/2 inch per year for plants grown in ideal conditions.
Plant Profile: Engelmann's Hedgehog Cactus. The Arizona Native Plant Society.
Cacti as Landscape Plants. UC Master Gardeners of Butte County.
Insect Pests of Cacti and Succulents Grown as Houseplants. Missouri Botanical Garden.
The Virginia Master Gardener Handbook. Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Winter-hardy cacti. Colorado State University Extension.
Problems and Pests of Agave, Aloe, Cactus and Yucca. University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Scarlet Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus coccineus). United States Forest Service.