What is a Golden Barrel?

Misty Amber Brighton
Misty Amber Brighton
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

A golden barrel, or Echinocactus grusonii, is a type of very round cactus that is native to Mexico. There, it is often found growing wild. This succulent plant is also grown as a houseplant or ornamental plant in the U.S. and Australia. Sometimes called a golden ball or mother-in-law's cushion, it is typically very knobby on the outside when young, and develops spines or pointed spikes as it matures.

This common garden plant is usually medium or dark green in color. It is normally shaped like a globe, yet flat on top. There may be up to 35 ribs running vertically around the diameter of this cactus, however, they may not be present in young specimens. These ribs can contain sharp spikes that are white or yellow in color. These spines may be pointed or slightly round.

The golden barrel cactus is usually around 3 feet (.91 m) high, and just as big around. These plants should be spaced around 4 feet (1.22 m) apart when planted in an outdoor garden. This allows space for the extensions of the prickly spines.

The Echinocactus grusonii may have yellow flowers, which normally appear during the summer months. This usually occurs in plants that are at least 20 years old. These flowers are very round with spikes protruding from the outer edges. They are generally not sharp like those that are on the plant itself, however.

A location in full sunlight is preferred for growing a golden barrel. It can tolerate a variety of soils, and typically needs very little watering. It does not usually thrive in areas where winter temperatures can dip below 20&degF (-7°C), however. Based on its water needs, it can be a good choice for xeriscaping, a type of landscape design that requires very little irrigation.

Although a common household plant in many countries, the golden barrel is considered to be critically endangered, or near extinction, in the wild. This could be due to the plant being over-harvested in order to sell it commercially. People who happen upon this cactus in its natural habitat should take care not to disturb the plant or dig it up.

Due to the sharp spikes present on this succulent plant, it can often be difficult to handle without sustaining an injury. Fortunately, this cactus does not need to be transplanted or moved often. This can make it a good choice for people who have little time to devote to an outdoor garden or houseplant collection.

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