What’s Blooming This Spring: The Cacti

stenocactus lamellosus

Written byJen Greene

Animal lover, plant enthusiast, and addicted to the sunshine and warmth in San Diego.

May 12, 2021

We are well into spring here in San Diego, and it’s beautiful! Usually, there’s more rainfall and cooler weather, but this year has been warm and dry. It makes for easy growing for many cacti and succulents, as they strongly prefer having dry roots when the weather is cold, but we still need some rainfall. 

With a lack of water from the sky and a rise in daytime highs, including a handful of days already hitting 90F, I’ve been watering pretty much everything to wake it up from summer slumber. 

As many species wake up in spring, they bloom, making spring a bright and exciting season in a cactus grower’s garden. Many succulents that weren’t blooming in winter start to bloom now, but compared to the massive flowers from the cacti, they don’t seem as showy. 

So Many Flowers!

Not all cacti bloom in spring, or for a limited period of time, but the ones that do bloom right now put on quite a show! Some species will continue to bloom through spring and into summer, but a few only put on a single brief show and then spend weeks or months maturing their fruit and seeds.

Notocactus magnificus

This is a fairly beat up little Notocactus magnificus, or Balloon Cactus, in our front yard. I have a little section along our driveway that gets quite hot and dry, with no easy way to run irrigation out to it, so a strip of heat-loving cacti was a good idea. 

These share an area with my Pilosocereus, and eventually should form large clumps of blue-bodied cacti with yellow spines and these pretty, tulle-like flowers. I’m looking forward to seeing them with larger clusters of blooms! 

They seem to bloom multiple times in a season, as this single bud opened first and there are several more waiting in the wings. 

stenocactus lamellosus

This Stenocactus lamellosus has been with me since late 2019, and has bloomed each spring with these gorgeous little candy striped flowers. The cacti are small, and slow to grow, even in ground, and don’t appreciate intense sun for the entire day. 

I recently moved these to be near my Ferocactus macrodiscus group, so they’ll be shaded for the hottest part of the day but still get the benefits of being in ground. Clearly, this year’s bloom explosion shows they like it! They will continue to bloom for several more weeks, even into summer. 

echinopsis domino

I dropped this Echinopsis “Dominos” in the ground in late 2019, and it’s slowly but surely developed quite a decent amount of size. 

This year the hail beat it up pretty good, but it clearly survived the ordeal and continued to thrive. The blooms are huge compared to the size of the cactus, and are super attractive to bees and butterflies. They stay open for about a day and then wilt away. 

Because it’s an echinopsis, it readily cross pollinates with my Echinopsis “L.A.”, but I haven’t grown those seeds yet. 

It will also continue to bloom for several weeks, although not constantly – usually one set of blooms will finish and the new fuzzy nubs will shoot out as new flowers. You can see the next round on the left side of the cactus in the photo on the left. 

The Eriosyce/Neoporteria senilis group I have has been blooming for several weeks now, but not in quite the same initial profuse levels that the first round appeared as.

Despite my “help” with a paintbrush to pollinate the blooms, very few have actually taken, and I may only get one or two seed pods this year. I’m hoping the straggling flowers that continue to pop up will take hold.

It may also be that many cacti are most fertile on warm, sunny days and after some agitation from a pollinator. I may not have returned to tickle the blossoms properly for fertilization to occur? I’m not sure – maybe by next year I’ll have a better idea.

neoporteria senilis

My beloved little fat Ferocactus macrodiscus put on its annual show about a month ago, and looked amazing doing it.

Unlike most of the cacti shown before this, the little macrodiscus only puts out a short burst of blooms. Anything you see here is the extent of the blooms for the year, and I won’t see more until next March/April. Hopefully next year the others will also bloom, so I’ll be able to pollinate and get some seeds! 

ferocactus macrodiscus

These little Echinocereus reichenbachii were a super pleasant surprise – also called the “Lace Hedgehog Cactus”, these are beautifully spined little things that produced these absurdly large blooms. To encourage blooming, keeping them in nearly full sun seems essential. The specimens I had in afternoon shade grew in body size more over the last couple months, but these produced the large blooms you see. 

They only made one bloom each, conveniently timed that I was able to hopefully pollinate them and generate seed. Fingers crossed they’ll make plenty! 

echinocereus reichenbachii
Copiapoa esmeraldiana

I received this Copiapoa esmeraldiana from the fantastic John Gilman last year, and this thing has just been a sturdy, solid little cactus. It had a bloom when it arrived, and once established, it began producing flowers pretty regularly every couple months. 

Since last year, it bloomed all the way into the early months of winter, I was surprised to see it be one of the first to start blooming this spring – but here it is! It hybridizes readily with any other copiapoa around, and I have a couple of those hybrids from last year currently potted and growing. 

I picked up another esmeraldiana a few weeks ago, so if the trend holds true, I should be able to produce pure seed by this summer. 

astrophytum capricorne

The astrophytums all decided to start blooming in the last week, with all three of the species I have in-ground opening up on the same day. Did someone say hybrids? 

This flower is from one of my Astrophytum capricorne, which thrive with lots of heat and sunlight – which these get in spades in the area lining our driveway. This species might be my favorite, mostly because the flowers are so unbelievably massive compared to the size of the plant. Maybe as the cacti reach larger and more mature sizes, the flowers will stop looking so impressive, but I doubt it. 

In addition to these, I also have a variegated capricorne, which I crossed with pretty much every one of my other capricornes last year. I’m looking forward to repeating the process this year! 

astrophytum myriostigma

The Astrophytum myriostigmas all cooperated to bloom at the same time! 

The two smaller ones are variegated, with orange/yellow coloration just barely visible under the white dotting. These set seed very easily and with next to no effort, but the catch is always ensuring the seeds are captured before the pods fully open. 

These did well in-ground through the winter, but again, we had quite a dry season this year so that may not always hold true. The spot these are in gets shade in the afternoon, when the sun is hottest, which has seemed to protect them from sunburn even when we get freak heat waves. 

notocactus buiningii

Notocactus buiningii not only has a delightfully silly latin name to say, but is honestly full of these huge, beautiful flowers that are just a delight to see every time you walk by. 

They also make a TON of them when they’re happy, as mine very much have been. 

The flowers open up during the day, particularly when it’s warm and sunny, and continue to open for several days. The little stigma is absolutely neon pink, and stands out like a flashing sign against the brilliant yellow of the flowers. 

The flowers themselves are a shiny, almost glowing yellow, and super attractive to bees. More than once I’ve walked out in the morning to find a little bee that’s pollen-drunk and taking a nap in the open flower. 

These cacti are absolutely gorgeous, particularly when grown well and at this size, and I’m surprised they’re not more readily available. I’ve only ever seen them the one time when I bought mine. 

notocactus buiningii

This little Melocactus concinnus has just started developing its cephalum – the funny little hat that gives melocacti their name. I was super pleasantly surprised to see one little bloom in mine! These only flower from their cephalum, and once they’ve grown large enough to develop a cephalum, their bodies no longer really continue to grow. All growth is essentially limited to the little hat they develop on top, where the flowers and seeds are produced.

melocactus concinnus

I know growers with older plants or more experience with this genus might laugh at me for being excited about my one little bloom, but I’ve never had these before or been able to get melocactus to thrive for me. Once I got the azureus down, though, I started picking up more, but none with a cephalum yet. This is the first one I’ve grown to start making a cephalum, and the first to bloom, so I’ll be excited about it, dammit! 

Sulcorebutia mentosa

This little Sulcorebutia mentosa is a species I’ve only seen in one place, at Grigsby’s, and I saw their collection of mother plants and knew I had to have one of my own. Eventually, this will form a giant clump of deep green bodied cacti with sharply contrasting red spines… but in the meantime, there’s this slowly dividing, slowly splitting little guy throwing hands in the form of giant pink flowers. 

Interestingly, the flowers are all emerging from the edge of the cactus right above the soil line. Several flowers open at once, and there’s more buds right behind them! It’s my first year with these, so we’ll see how long they keep blooming. 

gymnocalycium pflanzi albipulpa

To my immense delight, nearly all of my Gymnocalycium pflanzii are starting to bud and bloom. 

This albipulpa is the first to open, and happy day, the other albipulpa looks be producing a crown of flowers that should open around the same time as the second round of buds on this guy. 

This species, and all the myriad subspecies/varieties, is one of my absolute favorites, and these adorable little flowers seal the deal.

Notocactus uebelmannianus

This is a tiny little cactus that’s in the same area as my Ferocactus macrodiscus and the Stenocactus, and it too is blooming like gangbusters this year. 

The species is Notocactus uebelmannianus, and they’re normally a deep green with yellow spines and fluffy little petioles, but this guy is out in a lot of sun and has blushed a maroon shade on all of his ribs. As with my other notocactus, this one took ages to go from developing buds to opening them, although I suspect that’s more to do with cold weather than development. A younger specimen with less developed looking buds went from small to open bloom in a matter of days when the highs were above 75F, so that may be the ticket. 

This is my massive Echinopsis “L.A.”, a plant I got around the same time as Felicia and have adored nearly as much. When planted in the ground, or just with enough root space, they can get large like this relatively quickly. The bonus of getting big quick is that you start to get these fantastic shows of flower explosions each spring – and they’ll keep blooming!

This Echinopsis is the mother plant for the smaller offsets I occasionally offer for sale, and they are super duper easy to grow. 

I never get tired of these flower shows. Bees love these in particular, and as I take photos there’s always a handful buzzing around and climbing down to get pollen and nectar. 

Sadly, the flowers themselves are short lived, and only stay open for a day. Luckily, they tend to be a bit staggered, so you’ll get a few days of blooms before they all whiter away. 

Echinopsis LA

I don’t know about you, but I’d always thought the main difference between Opuntia “Santa Rita” and Opuntia “Baby Rita” was, you know, the size of the pads. But what if you have a funky, stunted Santa Rita? Does it become a Baby Rita? 

Nope. 

Baby Ritas, as it turns out, produce these beautiful red-pink flowers that are almost iridescent. Santa Rita flowers are all yellow! 

This particular plant is an older cutting from a large bunch that a friend gave me, and it has been…suffering… in the transplant process. Still growing and blooming, though! 

opuntia baby rita

I believe these are little Gymnocalycium rotundums, although the pots weren’t labeled so I’m not 100% sure. 

The flowers look identical to my rotundum, they’re blooming at the same time, and the body looks pretty damn close. 

The mihanovichii are all blooming too, though, so who knows. All I know is this isn’t a mihanovichii, and the flowers are super cute little pastel pink rays of sunshine. 

gymnocalycium rotundum
copiapoa tenuissima

This is my little Copiapoa tenuissima, although you can hardly see it under that massive crown of flowers! 

There are four blooms open simultaneously, and they keep opening for at least a couple days, so the show isn’t just a one and done like some other species. 

Like all copiapoas, the flowers are a bright yellow, but I enjoy that these have little pink tips on them. 

Echinocactus gentryi

This photo is darker because these flowers only open fully at night! This is an Echinocactus gentryi, a plant I picked up back in 2016. I thought I’d killed it, but it was just taking its sweet time getting established. This year, the winter rains caused it to swell too much, and it has several splits down one side.

I can only assume they usually count on bats or moths to pollinate them normally. The flowers slowly start to open as the sun goes down, and at night, they’re fully splayed out and ready for pollinators. 

You can still catch the flowers if you go out first thing in the morning, but as soon as the sunlight starts to peek over, they close up and wait for another night. 

The flowers will open for a couple nights, but so far, this cactus only puts out one series of blooms for me a year, then calls it good. 

I think that’s it for now – and if it seems like a lot, it is! Most of these are not blooming all on the same day, or even the same week, but have been blooming over the last month or so. 

What’s blooming at your house? Share your flowers with me on Instagram, @TrexPlants!

You may also like…

Care Diary: Stenocereus beneckei

Care Diary: Stenocereus beneckei

The Stenocereus beneckei is one of those cacti that when you see one grown in greenhouse conditions, or sheltered from...