San Diego Barrel Cactus
Ferocactus viridescens

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, no shade to grow


  • Butterflies, moths, caterpillars 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.

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