The Cactus Flower


The cactus flower takes many forms and colors. Some of the plants which exhibit these flowers are true cacti, and grow in north American desert regions. Others, though named cactus flower, are not really cacti, but epiphytes which grow on trees.

State Flower

The fragrant, white saguaro cactus flower (Cereus giganteus) is the state flower of Arizona. The state legislature officially adopted the saguaro blossom as the floral emblem of Arizona on March 16, 1931. Blooming in May and June, the trumpet-shaped flowers usually open at night and last for about 18 hours. Around July, the flowers transform into fruit. Traditionally, the Papago and Pima Indians made syrup from the fruit. The saguaro cactus flower is native only to the Sonoran desert where it can achieve heights of between 35 and 50 feet when it is full-grown, and a lifespan of up to 200 years. Today, the saguaro cactus flower is an endangered and protected species in the Saguaro National Park.


The fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) is also called Arizona barrel and candy barrel. It is the largest cactus in the American Southwest. Its flowers are yellow to orange-yellow and usually bloom in the summer. This evergreen is favored as an accent plant, growing to about 5 feet high, while desert animals favor its fruit. The organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) grows exclusively in the Sonoran desert, up to about 20 feet high. The flowers are white or light lavender, usually blooming at night and spent by morning. However, because there are numerous flower buds, the blooming season can extend from May to July. There are also large, red summer fruit that makes jelly, syrup and a drink like wine.


In terms of floral symbolism, cactus flowers stand for endurance. They grow in very hot and dry climates with limited water and have stems adapted to hold the chlorophyll that sustains their growth while their leaves transform into spines.


The yellow cactus flower was among the subjects made famous by the American artist, Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 to 1986). O'Keefe was an abstract painter of flowers, rocks, shells and landscapes. She strove to convey the power of nature in her art. She achieved particular acclaim in art circles in Europe both as an American and as a woman.

For The Holidays

The Schlumbergera genus produces both the Thanksgiving cactus flower (Schlumbergera truncata) and the Christmas cactus flower (Schlumbergera x buckleyi). The genus name is for a French cactus collector, Frederic M. Schlumberger. The Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti are native to Brazil. By origin, they are epiphytes, usually growing on trees. Holiday cacti are short day plants which literally flower in red, pink and other colors, as the days grow shorter. For holiday flowering, keep these plants in temperature ranges between 60 and 75 degrees F and day lengths of between 8 and 11 hours for the best results.

Keywords: cactus flowering plants, Georgia O'Keeffe flower, Christmas cactus flower

About this Author

Based in Northern California, Maureen Katemopoulos has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years. Her articles on travel, the arts, cuisine and history have appeared in publications such as "Stanislaus Magazine," "Orientations," "The Asia Magazine" and "The Peninsula Group Magazine." She holds a Baccalaureate degree in journalism from Stanford University.