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Compass Barrel

Ferrocactus cylindraceus

Out of stock

1 gallon

Plant Care

Native region:

Local Native

Water needs:

Extremely low


Mature size:

Growth rate:

Full Sun; Filtered Sun


Very slow

Flower color:

Flower season:




None required




Nectar pollinators:


Nighttime pollinators:


Rabbit resistant:


Also known as California, Desert, Miner’s Barrel. Compass barrel cactus plants grow very slowly, starting out stout and spherical and eventually lengthening into cylinders, sometimes reaching up to 8 feet in height, with a width of about 1.5 feet. A plant 4 feet tall may be over 100 years old. They very rarely branch out and, true to their name, form solitary, stout, barrel-like columns. They tend to grow faster on their shady side (in their native habitat the northern side), causing them to lean to the south or southwest. This earns them their “compass” name and gives them an attractive, unique silhouette. They make very good solitary specimens in rock gardens and desert landscapes. Spines turn bright red when exposed to rainfall. They are covered from head to toe in long spines that can range wildly in color from red to yellow to white. As the cactus ages, these spines tend to fade to more of a gray color and curve around the cactus. There are three distinct types of spine – a long central spine reaching up to 5 inches, 3 surrounding shorter spines, and 8 to 28 short radial spines. These clusters of three types of spine cover the cactus so completely that it’s difficult to see the green flesh underneath. In spring and early summer, yellow flowers with red centers appear on the side of the cactus that faces the sun. Compass barrel cactus plants, like most of our natives, prefer rocky or sandy, extremely well-draining soil. They are extremely drought-tolerant and resistant to pests. This is a cactus you do not put on your irrigation system. Ferocacti dies easily with too much water.

Growing Plants in the Desert — Important Information

The information presented here is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate and based on my research from reliable sources, observations I have made of plants growing in my, and other gardens I have visited, and observations of the plants in their native habitats. I would appreciate your feedback and experience to help me educate others! 


Cacti: In my experience, cacti are much happier in the filtered shade here in the low desert of the Coachella Valley. Colors are more vibrant and they bloom more profusely, especially the non-native varieties. If you pay attention to how our native barrel and beavertail opuntia grow in the wild, it is frequently tucked in the rocks under creosote or another shrub.


Light Requirements: I have found that in our desert (Sonoran/Colorado) “full sun” plants can take and appreciate the late afternoon filtered sun, especially in the hot summer months.

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