Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Ferocactus cylindraceus, California Barrel Cactus

California Barrel Cactus has large showy yellow flowers with moron on the outside. Plants bloom from April to May. Ferocactus cylindraceus California Barrel Cactus may grow up to 5 or more. The one erect stem is usually straight or slightly leaning. Ferocactus cylindraceus California Barrel Cactus is a native “Barrel” type cactus that prefers gravelly, rocky slopes, sandy areas and chaparral (interior chaparral in California). It is found in both Mojave and Sonoran desert scrub. Ferocactus cylindraceus California Barrel Cactus has a unique arrangement of spines, usually 10 to 32 total per areole. The 4 central spines are the largest and of those 4, the principal central spine is moderately curved or twisted. The large principal spine is only hooked on immature plants as seen better in the photo above. Ferocactus cylindraceus

Scientific Name: Ferocactus cylindraceus
Common Name: California Barrel Cactus
Also Called: California Barrelcactus, California Fire Barrel Cactus, Compass Barrel, Desert Barrel Cactus, Golden-spined Barrel Cactus, miner's Compass (Spanish: Biznaga, Visnaga)
Family: Cactaceae, Cactus Family
Synonyms: (Echinocactus acanthodes, Ferocactus acanthodes)
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: Up to 5 feet or more.
Growth Form: Shrub; one erect stem (or leaning), taller than wide, spheric to columnar.
Leaves: Leaves modified into spines emerging from areoles; 10 to 32 spines per areole, plants lack glochids; new spines generally red or yellow fading to gray toward maturity; central spines 4 per areole, principal central spine is largest and moderately curved or twisted, hooked spines found only on immature plants.
Flower Color: Maroon outside, yellow inside; inner perianth commonly yellow or orange to red; fruit yellow; stigma lobes yellow to red; fruit dehiscent, bright yellow, rarely reddish; deeply hollow except for seeds.
Flowering Season: April to May.
Elevation: 200 to 4,900 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Gravelly, rocky slopes, sandy areas, chaparral (interior chaparral in California), Creosote Bush scrub, Joshua Tree woodland communities; Mojave and Sonoran desert scrub.

Recorded Range: In the United States Ferocactus cylindraceus is found in southeast California and southwest Arizona. It is also found in Baja California and northern Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Ferocactus cylindraceus.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.
Wetland Indicator: No information available.

Threatened/Endangered Information: Arizona: Ferocactus cylindraceus is salvage restricted; unofficial: threatened by collecting in California, monitoring needed.

Genus Information: In North America there are 6 species and 6 accepted taxa overall for Ferocactus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 24 accepted species names and a further 149 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 4 species of Ferocactus, California, New Mexico and Texas each have 2 species, Nevada and Utah each have 1 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

There are 2 varieties in Ferocactus cylindraceus;
Ferocactus cylindraceus var. cylindraceus, California Barrel Cactus (AZ, CA);
Ferocactus cylindraceus var. lecontei, Leconte's Barrel Cactus (AZ, CA, NV, UT).

Comments: California Barrel Cactus has incorrectly been called by the common name "compass barrel", however California Barrel Cactus actually grows mostly straight up and does not lean or tilt toward the south. "Compass Barrel" is more appropriately reserved for Candy Barrelcactus Ferocactus wislizeni.

Ferocactus cylindraceus was originally described by George Engelmann in 1853. George Engelmann (1809-1884) was a German-American botanist instrumental in describing the flora of the west of North America. Mr. Engelmann was particularly active in the Rocky Mountains and northern Mexico.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see Candy Barrelcactus, Ferocactus wislizeni.

Ethno-Herbalist: Southern California Ethnobotany; Ethnobotany of Southern California Native Plants: California Barrel Cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus.
References: Posted 06/05/2015, rev. 07/21/2015, updated, 09/14/2015, updated 07/29/2017, updated 11/21/2017
Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search (accessed 07/28/2017).
The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 07/28/2017).
Bruce D. Parfitt 2017. Ferocactus cylindraceus, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on July 28, 2017.
Allan D. Zimmerman & Bruce D. ParfittFNA FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 4 | Cactaceae | Ferocactus 3. Ferocactus cylindraceus (Engelmann) Orcutt, Cactography. 1926(1): 5. 1926.; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
Lyman David Benson “The Cacti of the United States and Canada” Stanford University Press, 1982
Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: 07/28/2017]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
Michael J. Plagens, Sonoran Desert Naturalist; Nature Study in the Sonoran Desert; A Guide to the Flora and Fauna Arizona, USA & Sonora, Mexico
Wikipedia contributors. "Ferocactus cylindraceus." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Jun. 2017. Web. 29 Jul. 2017
SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations, (accessed 07/28/2017).