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6 Types of Cactus to Grow in Australia

We explore the popular varieties of cactus that are grown in Australia and also discuss the invasive species that you’ll want to avoid.

Many people enjoy growing certain species of cacti in their gardens. They’re particularly suited to drier areas of the country because most are extremely drought-tolerant. 

In addition to that, many people like to grow cacti as indoor plants thanks to their hardy nature and low care requirements.

Cacti are mainly native to North and South America but there are some species that have become quite invasive here in Australia because they’ve escaped from gardens and have spread around the country.

Which species of cacti are invasive and should not be grown?

One of the primary cactus species of concern is the prickly pear (Opuntia ssp.).

prickly pear cactus | Plant varieties

In fact, this species is prohibited from being grown in Queensland, NSW, South Australia, parts of Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory under the Biosecurity Act 2014. 

Other species of restricted cacti include:

  • Austrocylindropuntia cylindrica (Cane cactus)
  • Cylindropuntia fulgida (Coral cactus)
  • Austrocylindropuntia subulata (Eve’s pin cactus)
  • Cylindropuntia pallida (Hudson pear)
  • Cylindropuntia tunicata
  • Cylindropuntia prolifera (Jumping cholla)
  • Cylindropuntia spinosior (Snake cactus)

Basically, you want to avoid growing any cactus that has ‘opuntia’ in the name, otherwise, you could be up for a very heavy fine.

However, Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian fig) is not a prohibited or invasive species. 

Varieties of cacti that you can grow in Australia

Now that you know which cactus species to avoid, let’s look at some of the more popular varieties that you can grow.

Cereus peruvianus (Peruvian apple cactus)

Cereus peruvianus Peruvian apple cactus | Plant varieties

This is a tall-growing columnar cactus that has deep ribs with spines along the ridges. It’s a lovely teal colour and can form multiple branches from the base.

If you have the space, this cactus will certainly create an excellent feature plant in a cactus or rock garden. As a bonus, this plant also produces large white flowers and red-skinned fruits that are edible.

Echinocactus grusonii (Golden Barrell Cactus)

Echinocactus grusonii Golden Barrell Cactus | Plant varieties

This stunning ball cactus makes an impressive statement in any garden setting. It has a symmetrical round shape with many deep ribs. 

But, the most outstanding feature of this cactus is its golden spines that virtually cover the entire ball. 

You’ll also be amazed by the large yellow flowers that can appear when this cactus is grown in a sunny spot in the garden.

Epiphyllum spp

Epiphyllum cacti | Plant varieties

Epiphyllum cacti are epiphytic plants that naturally grow on trees in their native habitat. Unlike other cacti species, this range of plants prefers to grow in a shady spot and does extremely well in hanging baskets.

There are many different cultivars available with all of them having showy flowers in a whole rainbow of colours. These plants are extremely easy to grow and require regular watering.

However, ensure that any excess water drains away quickly so that the roots of the plant don’t sit in water.

Ferocactus cylindraceus

Ferocactus cylindraceus | Plant varieties

If you’re looking for a smaller cactus to grow in a pot or to fill some spaces in your rock garden, then this plant will fill that purpose. It’s a small globular green cactus with a comical shape.

Long curly spines grow from the randomly positioned areoles and these range in colour from white to pink and red. 

Although this species can grow to a height of 3 metres, cacti are generally very slow-growers, so you’ll be able to keep it in a pot for years if you wish.

Another feature to look out for on this cactus are the large bright yellow flowers that are dark red underneath. These flowers can be up to 6cm in diameter. 

Gymnocalycium

Gymnocalycium | Plant varieties

All of the Gymnocalycium cacti are relatively small and solitary. They have a globular shape with pronounced ribs and heaps of spines along the edges of the ribs. 

What will surprise you is the striking flowers that these cacti produce. Compared to the size of the cactus, the flowers are huge and grow out of the crown. 

These cacti are ideal for growing on a sunny windowsill as this will encourage them to flower multiple times over spring and summer.

Parodia magnifica

Parodia magnifica | Plant varieties

This is another delightful ball cactus that has deep ribs and white-to-yellow spines. It also produces large buttercup-yellow flowers from the crown. 

One advantage of growing this species is that it will produce pups from the base. You can use cuttings of these to create new cactus plants

Just make sure that you wear sturdy gloves before handling this cactus.

Cactus FAQ

Are there native Australian cacti?

Cacti are only native to both North and South America with a limited number of species also native to Africa. There are no native Australian cacti.

What is the best cactus to grow in Australia?

There are so many species of cacti that can grow in Australia, that it’s hard to select just one. However, for me, the top of the list would be the Golden Barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii).

What is the easiest cactus to take care of?

While all cacti are easy to take care of, the Epiphyllum species is particularly easy to take care of. It just needs to be given some shade, extra water in summer and really good drainage.

What are the tall skinny cactus called?

Tall skinny cacti are known as columnar cacti.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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