Cacti & Sun-Tolerant Succulents

3 images: Red Yucca, a variety of cacti and succulents, and fire stick cactusCactus & Succulent Plants for Sun

Incredible Texture, Easy to Grow and Available in Many Shapes and Sizes

There are a number of cactus varieties and sun-tolerant succulents that require little water. Many are native to Arizona and all are well suited to life in the desert.

In fact, cactus plants are often thought of as the symbols of our state and as synonymous with Phoenix Arizona.

Below is a list of our favorite cacti and sun-tolerant succulents for Arizona.

Arizona Favorites

Ocotillo  plants (Fouquieria splendens) growing in the desert.

  • Ocotillo Cactus (Fouquieria splendens)

Ocotillo’s grow as a large shrub with long cane-like spiny stems. The most recognizable in the desert, it offers tubular flowers that grow from the end of the stems - March through June. Ocotillo’s prefer rocky and well drained soil and if properly cared for can live for upwards of 60 plus years.

Aloe Vera

  • Aloe (Aloe Barbadensis)

Probably one of the most useful plants to grow, Aloe is approximately 99% water. There are many aloe species but the most well known for it’s shape and medicinal purposes is the Aloe vera. Aloe has fleshy leaves that may be smooth or have spines and range in color from green to blue-green. For more information on the Aloe Plant and all its wonderful uses, check out our blog section.

A few American Agave planted in a rock garden.

  • American Agave (American Agave, Century Plant, American Aloe)

The American Agave is a hardy plant that grows at a slow rate. They can grow as tall as 24 ft. and as wide as 8 ft. and live as long as 10 to 25 years. It needs full sun and dry or moist soil (sandy and loamy) and is extremely drought tolerant. The American Agave should be positioned in areas of your garden that don’t see a lot of traffic because of it’s very sharp and tough spines at the tip of the leaf. And contact of the sap can cause dermatitis in sensitive people. The color and texture, and ease of maintenance makes the American Agave a must have in any Arizona landscape.

Firestick  Succulent

  • Firesticks Succulent Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)

These make a beautiful addition to any landscape. They are easy to grow and can survive in low temperatures that are just below freezing. Firesticks have many names: Milk Bush, Naked Lady or Pencil Tree. With green stems and blooms that range from yellow to red, they are simply eye catching.

firestick succulents with golden barrel cactus planted in landscape border with pebbles

  • Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii)

The Golden Barrel cactus originated from Mexico and are now considered rare and endangered in the wild. They are slow to grow and offers yellow blooms but not until the cactus is at it’s maturity. Golden Barrel cacti can be grown outdoors in areas with mild winter temperatures. Their barrel shape is a nice companion to many other varieties of cacti.

Lady Slipper Succulent Cactus (Euphorbia macrocarpus) surrounded by other plants.

  • Lady Slipper Succulent Cactus (Euphorbia macrocarpus)

This lovely, slow growing succulent is known for its bright red flowers that resemble a lady’s shoe or slipper. It can grow as large as 6 ft. tall and wide in clumps that grow upright in pencil like stems. The blooms of the Lady Slipper appear in late spring or early summer and attract hummingbirds. A very versatile plant, it does well in container gardens, again low walls or under trees. Drought-tolerant once established, the Lady Slipper thrives in full sun or light shade and prefers well-drained soil.

Organ pipe cactus in desert landscape with blooming native plants, mountains, and rocks at sunset.

  • Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi)

Next to the Saguaro, the Organ Pipe Cactus is the second largest in the United States. The trunks of these cacti are as large as 6 inches in diameter and rather than having a single stem like the saguaro, it has 5 to 20 branches that grow from ground level up. The pulp of the organ pipe cactus can be made into jelly and eaten or fermented into a beverage. They were a food source for Native Americans for centuries.

A close up of a Parry's Agave plant outside near other succulents and cacti.

  • Parry's Agave Cactus (Agave parryi)

Much like the American Agave, it’s an incredibly tough and slow growing plant. It grows to just under 2ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Drought tolerant, the Parry’s Agave prefers dry or moist soil and thrives in full sun. The flowers of the Parry’s Agave are lovely and fragrant and attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

Red Yucca plant in bloom against an adobe house, planted in rocks.

  • Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Red Yucca, is adored by all including bees, butterflies, birds and hummingbirds. It appears in mounds, with fountain-like leaves from the base. The colors of their bell shaped flowers bloom from May through October and in stunning reds to coral tones. Red Yucca is one tough plant, enduring both the extreme heat and cold without being established. It is a much nicer plant to brush up against as the leaves are not spine-tipped (like the agave). Great as an accent plant and does well in container gardens.

A closeup of a Saguaro cactus un boom in the desert landscape.

  • Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

The saguaro cactus is the epitome of what one thinks of for a cactus. They are large columnar tree-like cacti that grow arms or branches as they get older. The arms typically bend at what we would call the elbow and grow upward. Like all plants, the right amount of water and temperature are key to the life of the saguaro. With the right growing conditions, they can live as long as 200 years. Incredibly with the exception of one main root that grows down around 2 feet, the saguaro’s roots grow only 4 to 6 inches deep but they radiate out as far as the tree is tall. Saguaro’s columnar stature is covered with protective spines and offers lovely white flowers in the lat spring and red fruit during summer. The saguaro cactus is a statement piece all on it’s own.

A close up of yellow flowers on a Santa Rita Prickly Pear Cactus.

A green and purple Santa Rita Prickly Pear Cactus in a rock garden landscape.

  • Santa Rita Prickly Pear Cactus (Genus Opuntia)

Once established, the Prickly Pear Cactus is a very drought tolerant plant. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil to thrive. It’s beautiful color offers a lovely contrast to other Southwestern plants. Birds and rabbits too like the Prickly Pear Cactus for it’s fruit and nesting sites. That same fruit can be make into jams and jellies and the pectin from this plant is linked to lowering bad cholesterol. It ranges in size from 12 inches up to 6 ft. tall and can span in various sizes in width. Color, contrast and shape make this cactus a great addition to any Sonoran Desert landscape.

Topsy Turvy Plants (Echeveria runyonii) planted near a rock.Closeup of the orange blooms of a topsy turvy echeveria runyonii.

  • Topsy Turvy (Echeveria Runyonii)

The Topsy Turvy plant offers blue-green and silver dusted leaves that are curled and folded and grow in low growing clumps. These clumps are like rosettes that spread quickly in your garden. Each rosette can grow to the size of a dinner plate. And like many, the Topsy Turvy will produce from it’s center, a cluster of pretty orange flowers in late summer or early fall. These stunning little flowers are great for attracting hummingbirds. The Topsy Turvy plant grows well with minimal doses of water during the summer months. Their delicate and tender succulent leaves grow best under cover and act as a wonderful accent to any garden container or rock garden.

A striped pot filled with a wide variety of colorful succulent plantsCare for Cactus in Containers

Cacti do well in containers under the right conditions. Click below for recommendations on how to help your cacti prosper.

Care for Cactus in Containers

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