With over 100 different species in Arizona, cactus flowering plants naturally adorn its vast, red desert landscape. Members of the Cactaceae or cactus family bloom rather showy, independent flowers prior to the plants’ fruit production. Virtually maintenance free, flowering cacti are widely used in warm-climate desert-themed landscape designs that receive full sun and very little rainfall.
Declared the state flower of Arizona in 1931 and listed on the Highly Safeguarded Protected Native Plants list of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, the Saguaro cactus blossom (Carnegiea gigantea) has multiple petals and a white or yellow center. The Saguaro cactus is native to Arizona and California and grows to 9 feet in height in full sun. Its flowers have smooth, wax-like surfaces and fragrant smells. Each blossom only opens for one day, but the plant’s many flowers bloom from May through June.
Candy barrelcactus (Ferocactus wislizeni) is a slow-growing perennial species that reaches up to 11 feet in height. It grows as a single stem, producing orange-colored flowers in late spring and actively growing in the summertime. Candy barrelcactus thrives in the full sun and dry soils across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
A perennial cactus found in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, Barbary fig (Opuntia ficua-indica) produces red flowers that bloom in midsummer. Also called prickly pear, it produces edible, red fig-shaped fruits from summer through fall. A slow-growing cactus, it grows to 10 feet in height, forming multiple stems.
Distributed throughout most of the western half of North America, including Missouri, plains pricklypear (Opuntia polyacantha) is a perennial shrub of the cactus family. At mature height, it reaches 2 feet and its showy yellow flowers grow atop the cactus plants in late spring. Plains spricklypear is shade-intolerant, thriving in full sun and dry soil conditions. Plains pricklypear also produces red fruit, much like the Barbary fig, from summer through fall.
A flowering perennial cactus shrub found in Arizona and most of the western and middle region of North America, brittle pricklypear (Opuntia fragilis) has a threatened status, as stated by the University of Wisconsin Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium. It also appears on the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s Salvage Restricted Protected Native Plants list as a species prone to damage through vandalism or theft. Brittle pricklypear grows as a spreading mat across the ground. Its delicate, large-petal soft yellow flowers bloom from late spring through midsummer. The plant’s green to red inedible fruit grow after its flowers’ bloom season. Brittle pricklypear is also known as little pricklypear and fragile pricklypear.