Physical Description

  • A rare species of barrel cactus.
  • Spherical or nearly cylindrical, as it is usually wider than it is tall (averages 12 inches tall, 18 inches wide).
  • The flesh is bright green, arranged into several ribs covered in long spines.
  • Pink, red, green, or yellow flowers, with yellow or red fruit.
  • Spines are red when new and they dull to gray as they age.


  • Southern California and northern Baja California, Mexico, along the coast.
  • Most of its native range is in San Diego County.


  • Native to chaparral, valley grasslands, coastal sage scrub, marine terraces, and sea bluffs.
  • Found in sandy, rocky places by the coast, often overlooking the ocean.


  • Flowers in May and June.
  • Seeds are harvested in July.


  • Like all plants, it gets its energy from the sun through photosynthesis. It needs full sun and no shade to grow.


  • Butterflies, moths, caterpillars that are hosted in the cactus.

Interesting Facts

  • It is also called the coast barrel cactus..
  • The flowers have no fragrance..
  • The Kumeyaay utilized the barrel as a roasting vessel, ate the seeds, and used the spines as fish hooks..

Sources: CalFlora; California Native Plant Society; University of San Diego

Photo: Beth Besom

See the San Diego barrel cactus and other native plants in the Native Plant Garden at Living Coast Discovery Center.