Goldern Barrel Cactus

Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

The Golden Barrel Cactus is one of the most popular Cacti in cultivation. It is seen in Botanical Gardens, homes and offices the world over. Its golden spines contrast beautifully with the spherical green body and this pincushion effect gives it a wonderfully exotic appearance. It is commonly used by landscapers in modern planting schemes as its curves nicely offset what are often harsh architectural designs.

The Golden Barrel Cactus is incredibly robust and considered as being a care-free addition to Xeriscapes, Mediterranean or rock gardens. It is also a popular house or office plant throughout the world. Relatively drought resistant and generally pest and disease free, The Golden Barrel Cactus will grow in any soil as long as it is free draining – the only problems associated with this spectacular plant tend to come from lack of drainage which can bring about root-rot.

Reportedly hardy, for brief periods down to -8C, it grows best in areas with a  minimum winter temperatures no lower than 10C. It will happily grow in gardens as far south as Melbourne without the need for any particular winter care but, it does not thrive in the tropical and sub-tropical climates of the north due to the higher rainfall and humidity levels.

We have a wide range of sizes, and ages, of Golden Barrel Cactus in stock and we are always happy to help you choose the perfect specimen for your site.  They look wonderful when planted next to contrasting blue plants and always look great planted singly as a feature plant, providing a focal point or anchor within the garden design. But, in the wild it has clustering habit which can be recreated to spectacular effect by closely planting multiple specimens, bringing a soft, rolling texture to your landscape.

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Golden Barrel Cactus: Planting

When choosing a site for your Golden Barrel Cactus there are only a couple of elements to take into consideration.

Although it prefers a bright sunny site, it is reported that only older specimens can tolerate direct midday sun. It likes good airflow and needs even lighting to develop a perfect spherical shape so allow plenty of space around it.

Also, this plant hates to have it roots sat in water so good drainage is essential.

The Golden Barrel Cactus can be planted in any soil as long as the drainage requirements are met. Its natural conditions are dry, rocky landscapes and as long as you bear this in mind when planting you should have no problems with your cactus at all. When planting directly into the ground, the addition of sand or gravel to the planting hole is all that is needed to ensure excellent drainage.

If planting into a container, a specialist cactus compost is recommended as this is designed especially to retain moisture, but also to allow the excess water to drain away from the roots. You can recreate this effect yourself by adding plenty of sand or gravel to a general potting mix. Always raise the planter off the ground so that any excess water can run freely away from the base of the pot.

The Golden Barrel Cactus can handle part-shade and cooler conditions but this may cause irregular growth, leading to a more cylindrical than rounded shape. It is happiest growing in areas with an average minimum winter temperature of around 10-12C.  It actually needs these low temperatures to bring on winter dormancy – it is this period of cold and rest that stimulates flowering in summer.

The need for winter dormancy is the reason that the Golden Barrel Cactus, when grown indoors as a houseplant does not usually flower.

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Golden Barrel Cactus: Ongoing Care and Maintenance

Generally pest and disease free and requiring no pruning at all, a Golden Barrel Cactus requires very little, if any, ongoing care and maintenance.

Plants grown in the ground will need watering only for the first few months after planting, just until the root system becomes established.  After that, due to it being fairly drought tolerant, it will not need watering unless there is a really prolonged dry spell.

For pot grown plants, water during summer, only when the compost becomes dry. Watering should be reduced during the autumn; then in winter, when it becomes dormant, it needs none. Basically, the cooler the weather the less water is needed.

Care must always be taken not to splash water onto the body of the plant as this can cause scorching when grown in full sunlight and it can encourage fungal infections.

Container grown plants can be re-potted in spring if necessary, just as growth is re-starting, and fed once a month during summer with a specialist cactus fertiliser.

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Golden Barrel Cactus: Propagation

The Golden Barrel Cactus can be propagated from seed in Spring. The plants are usually self-fertile but more seed is produced when cross-pol

Sow the seed shallowly into a free-draining compost or specialist cacti mix and cover with a fine layer of sand or grit. Place into a heated propagated or secure a clear plastic bag around, and over the top of the pot. This will help to retain heat and moisture and therefore increase humidity.

Position in a bright place away from direct sunlight and maintain a consistent temperature of around 25C. The pot should not require much watering but do check regularly to ensure the soil is kept consistently moist.

Germination usually takes around 4-6 weeks after which you can remove the plastic bag or propagator lid.

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Golden Barrel Cactus: Taxonomy and Naming

Family: Cactaceae

Genus: Echinocactus (From Greek ‘echinos’, meaning hedgehog; and ‘kaktos’, meaning a prickly plant)

Species: grusonii (After Gruso)



Echinocactus corynacanthus, Echinocactus galette, Ehinocereus grusonii, Echinocerus grusonii var. azureus


Common names: Golden Barrel Cactus, Mother-in-Law’s Cushion, Golden Ball, Compass Cactus, Hedgehog Cactus

Golden Barrel Cactus: History

The Golden Barrel Cactus was first described by German Plantsman Heinrich Hildmann in 1891.

It is often seen among collections of desert plants in Botanical Gardens around the world and was unfortunately dug up by the thousands when it also became a popular addition to homes and gardens. Due to this widespread demand, it is now considered rare within the natural environment.

The Golden Barrel cactus has been awarded an ‘Award of Garden Merit’ by the United Kingdom’s Royal Horticultural Society. The RHS Award of Garden Merit is only given to plants that are – among other criteria – easy to grow; not particularly susceptible to pest and disease; and are of outstanding excellence for garden decoration or use. An AGM is a truly prestigious award.

Golden Barrel Cactus: Distribution and Habitat

The Golden Barrel Cactus is endemic to East and Central Mexico where it grows in clusters, on slopes of volcanic rock, at altitudes of around 1400 metres.

Golden Barrel Cactus: Appearance

The Golden Barrel Cactus is a green, spherical plant with long, sharp, golden yellow (sometimes white) spines. Young plants are described as having a ‘knobbly’ appearance, whereas mature plants have very pronounced ribs running vertically around its circumference. It has a pincushion like appearance that gives it the common name of Mother-in-Laws Cushion.

A woolly-looking, white patch will appear on top of older plants and, when exposed to a period of winter dormancy, funnel shaped yellow flowers, will form around this point in summer. These flowers are diurnal, meaning they close up at night.

Fleshy yellow fruits containing small, oval, mahogany coloured seeds follow in Autumn.  These fruits will dry to a brown coloured pod and will remain on the plant unless (carefully!) removed.

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Golden Barrel Cactus: Conservation

Whilst the Golden Barrel Cactus is unlikely to disappear totally due to its popularity with gardeners, it is listed as being ‘Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This means that it is considered to be at risk of becoming endangered – the wild population will likely become extinct in near future.

An intensive conservation effort to re-establish the native population is currently underway in The Rio Moctezuma Valley in Mexico.

Golden Barrel Cactus: Ecology

The Golden Barrel cactus is a useful source of nectar for various pollinating birds and insects. The seeds are also harvested by small mammals.

Golden Barrel Cactus: Uses

Over time the Golden Barrel Cactus will develop a slightly cylindrical growth pattern and will tend to lean towards the sun. This has meant that throughout the ages desert travellers have been able to use the plant as a natural compass.

Although all cactus fruit are edible, not all are palatable. The fruit of the Golden Barrel cactus is considered to be one of the better tasting cactus fruits.

The flower buds, pulp, fruit and seeds of many types of Barrel Cactus were eaten by native tribes with the fruits being a particularly good source of Vitamins A & C.



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