The cactus is an ornamental plant that usually has a spiny surface. They are usually easy to grow because they can tolerate neglect and lack of water for a long length of time. Most cacti like full sunlight and dry soils. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
The prickly pear (Opuntia) is also known as the paddle cactus. This evergreen cactus, most commonly found in rocky flats and slopes, is native to the Western hemisphere and can be found all across the deserts of the American Southwest. They are very tolerant of cold temperatures. They have flat segments that can grow up to 7 feet in height. They have two types of spines--longer spines that are surrounded at the base with tiny, hairlike spines. They produce a red fruit on the top of the segments that are often sold in stores under the name of "tuna fruit." The prickly pear prefers dry, well-drained soils and full sunlight.
The barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) is an evergreen cactus that can be found in the Southwest deserts of the United States. It can grow over 5 feet tall and produces a pineapple-shaped fruit. It is easy to grow in containers and grows relatively slowly. The barrel cactus is a very hardy plant and can live to be over 100 years old. They grow best in full sunlight and dry soils. The flowers bloom in spring and summer and are yellow to orange in color and up to 3 inches wide.
The spinystar (Escobaria vivipara) cactus is also called the viviparous foxtail cactus. It is native to North America, but most are limited to the deserts. It is a small cactus that generally does not grow taller than 6 inches in height. It flowers in spring in summer with blooms that are yellow, pink or purple. Spinystar prefers full-sunlight and can tolerate extreme drought conditions.
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is also referred to as the holiday cactus. It is not as tolerant of heat as other cacti. Its blooms last longer in cooler temperatures. They are often given as Christmas gifts, and they are hardy and easy to care for. The plant should be watered when the soil gets dry but should not be kept constantly moist. The plant should be placed in bright, indirect sunlight and not directly in the sun; full sunlight can burn the leaves and cause the segments to be weak. This cactus blooms in the winter and has flowers that vary in color from white and red to pink.