Ferocactus is a genus of large barrel-shaped cacti, mostly with large spines and small flowers. There are about 40 species included in the genus. They are found in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.
The young specimens are columnar but as they grow older ribs form and they take on a barrel form. Most of the species are solitary but some, form clumps. The flowers are pink, yellow, red or purple depending on the species, and the petals sometimes have a stripe of a darker color.
They are desert dwellers and can cope with some frost and intense heat. The typical habitat is hot and very arid, and the plants have adapted to exploit water movement to concentrate their biomass in areas where water is likely to be present. Ferocactus typically grow in areas where water flows irregularly or depressions where water can accumulate for short periods of time. They are most often found growing along arroyos (washes) where their seeds have been subjected to scarification due to water movement, but they oddly also tend to grow along ridges in spots where depressions have formed and can hold water for some period of time.
Ferocactus have very shallow root systems and are easily uprooted during flash floods. The “fishhook” spines and the armored web of spines enclosing the cactus body in many species of this genus are adaptations which allow the plant to move to more favorable locations. The seeds germinate in areas where water movement occurs or in areas where standing water accumulates for some period of time, and during flash floods, the hooked spines allow the plants to be caught on waterborne debris, uprooted and carried to areas where water tends to accumulate.
In cultivation ferocactus require full sun, little water, and good drainage. They are popular as houseplants. They cannot tolerate freezing temperatures for extended periods, which typically cause them to yellow, bleach, then slowly die. Propagation is usually from seeds.
Many ferocactus species are ant plants, exuding nectar along the upper meristem from extrafloral nectaries above each areole, and hosting ant colonies.
Submitted by: Jim Tanner