11 Small Cactus Plants For Pots or Containers

Looking for a small cactus to grow in pots or containers? There are many different options to choose from, including some that flower and some that don't. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss looks at her favorite types of small cactus plants you can add to your container garden collection.

small cactus plants

In the wide world of houseplants, few plants are as low-maintenance as cacti. These prickly pals have a look all their own, and even the most forgetful of plant parents can keep these guys thriving. In fact, most types of cacti thrive on a bit of neglect.

Whether you’re looking for a low-maintenance houseplant to start with or are just wanting to have an indoor garden that stands out, there is a cactus to meet your needs. These easy-to-care-for plants are trendy for a good reason. They are fun to look at, a little bit intimidating, and they make great natural air purifiers.

Here are 11 small cactus plants that are great for keeping in pots and having in the house. All you need is a sunny window!

Bunny Ears Cactus

Close-up of an Opuntia microdasys cactus in a white pot on a white background. The plant has rounded and flattened green stems, densely covered with white areoles with tiny yellow thorns. On each rounded stem, two more leaves grow on top, resembling rabbit ears.
This is a small cactus that has two more leaves on top of each leaf, reminiscent of bunny ears.
botanical-name botanical name Opuntia microdasys
bloom-colors bloom colors Creamy Yellow
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun in Summer/Part Sun in Winter
height height 2-3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 8-12

With such an adorable name, this has to be one cute cactus. Bunny Ears is native to Mexico and earned its precious name because of its paddle structure. Each ear-shaped leaf or paddle grows two more leaves on top, resembling the ears of a bunny rabbit.

This cactus prefers sunlight, so place it in a spot that gets at least 6-8 hours daily. It requires water very infrequently and is actually better to underwater than overwater. This will help to avoid root rot.

This cactus does bloom, but rarely when kept in a pot. The blooms appear in early spring and are pale-yellow, bowl-shaped flowers with a ring of yellow stamens in the center. Handle this cactus with extreme care. Those small white spots are made up of hundreds of tiny spines that hurt when they stick in your skin.

Fairy Castle Cactus

Close-up of a Cereus tetragonus in a gray plastic pot on the porch against a blurred background of green plants. The plant consists of numerous columnar green succulent stems covered with bunches of fluffy thorns, which are of different sizes and heights, growing upwards, resembling the shape of a fairytale castle.
The Fairy Castle Cactus has numerous thorns of varying sizes that grow in height.
botanical-name botanical name Cereus tetragonus
bloom-colors bloom colors White
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height Up to 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

This charming cactus gets its name from its unique growth habit. From the base, numerous spines of different sizes and heights grow upward to suggest the shape of a fairytale castle. Although it can reach heights up to 6’ tall at maturity, this is a slow grower and can take ten years to mature.

Fairy Castle likes well-drained soil. A clay pot will help excess water to evaporate and keep the roots strong. Lots of bright sunlight is ideal for this plant. It rarely blooms indoors but does produce white flowers in the summertime when kept in ideal conditions.

Fishbone Cactus

Close-up of Disocactus anguliger in a white ceramic pot on a white background. The cactus has dark green, long, curved, zigzag stems covered with serrated leaf nodes.
Fishbone Cactus has gorgeous long, zigzag leaves and yellow flowers in late summer.
botanical-name botanical name Disocactus anguliger
bloom-colors bloom colors White, Yellow
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
height height 6 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

This funky epiphyte is awesome for the plant lover that doesn’t have enough light for most cacti. Its epiphytic nature means that it is an air plant that loves humidity and can thrive without direct sunlight.

Fishbone looks great in a hanging pot, with its zigzagging leaves spilling over the sides. It makes a great partner for orchids as it likes similar climate conditions. Rather than planting with an cactus potting mix, orchid bark is a perfect potting medium for the Fishbone Cactus.

Fishbone will bloom with white or yellow flowers in the late summer. It needs to be exposed to cooler temperatures at the end of winter for a few weeks. This cool shot triggers the plant to set buds.

Golden Barrel Cactus

Close-up of an Echinocactus grusonii cactus in a gray concrete pot with decorative brown pebbles against a blurred gray-beige background. The dark green cactus has a round shape, covered with golden yellow spikes.
The Golden Barrel Cactus is covered in long, pointed golden spines.
botanical-name botanical name Echinocactus grusonii
bloom-colors bloom colors Yellow
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 8-10

Golden Barrel looks great in containers, as well as in desert gardens. When allowed to spread, it has a nice clumping habit that lends itself to forming pile-like clusters of these interesting structures.

Also known as Mother-in-law’s Seat, this round, squat cactus is covered in long, pointed, golden spines. It likes sunny, dry weather and needs relatively little maintenance aside from the very occasional watering.

Large yellow flowers show up on the crowns of mature plants that receive enough sun in summertime. The flowers are attractive to pollinators, and when the flowers dry out, they leave behind a seed pod full of tiny, deep red seeds.

Old Lady Cactus

Top view, close-up of Mammillaria hahniana cactus in a gray flowerpot on a blurry sunny background. The cactus consists of green, upturned, plump, oval stems covered with soft white hairs and sharp spines. Small purple-red flowers with yellow centers form a circle around the crown.
This is a slow-growing plant covered in soft white hairs and blooming with bright pink flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Mammillaria hahniana
bloom-colors bloom colors Purplish Red
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright Indirect Sunlight
height height 10 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 11-13

These sweet, slow-growing cacti look like the top of a head covered in soft, white hair. In amongst the soft fuzz, however, are sharp spines.

This is a plant that needs special care in handling. Old Lady Cactus is a clustering cactus that doesn’t like to be alone. This cactus grows and creates its own little family of fuzzy friends. They eventually grow to about 4” tall and 5” wide.

In late spring, a darling little flower crown pops up on this Old Lady’s head. Bright pink blooms will appear on the top of the plant, sometimes creating a complete circle around the crown. Old Lady Cactus likes to stay pretty dry. Water very sparingly, even in the growing season, and even less in winter.

Queen of the Night

Close-up of a flowering Epiphyllum oxypetalum cactus in a black pot on a green background. This is a profusely branching epiphytic plant with an upright stem bearing leaf-shaped scalloped dark green branches. Large, white, star-shaped flower consisting of 25 white oval linear petals.
Queen of the Night is an epiphyte that blooms with large, showy, fragrant flowers at night.
botanical-name botanical name Epiphyllum oxypetalum
bloom-colors bloom colors White, Cream, Yellow, Pink, Rose, Lavender, Scarlet, and Orange
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial Shade with Indirect Light
height height Up to 10 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-12

This member of the cactus family has some unique needs when it comes to environment, making it a very popular houseplant. Queen of the Night is also known as the Orchid Cactus, as it has a similar nature to orchids.

It is epiphytic (grows in trees) in humid habitats and will suffer in direct sunlight. Rather, it prefers bright indirect sunlight for most of the day. As tree dwellers, these plants get filtered sunlight rather than direct.

The main attraction for these plants is their flowers. This popular indoor plant produces large, showy, white flowers in spring and summer.  The flowers bloom at night, and for only one night. They have such a wonderful fragrance that you will know they have bloomed just from the scent.

Rosy Pincushion

Mammillaria zeilmanniana is a soft, glossy green globular cactus, up to 5 inches tall and up to 3 inches in diameter. The plant consists of 4 gray-green elongated balls with long white spikes and small pink flowers.
This plant is an adorable small, round cactus with thin white and long brown spines.
botanical-name botanical name Mammillaria zeilmanniana
bloom-colors bloom colors Pale Pinkish Violet or Purple
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 5 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

Rosy Pincushion is a most charming little cactus that you will love having around for the simple fact that it can bloom any time of year and frequently does!

This small, round cactus has two types of spines, thin white ones, and long, brown, hooked spines interspersed. It may look sweet and dainty, but it needs to be handled with care.

With the right amount of light and a little fertilizer, this succulent is capable of blooming prolifically, even when kept indoors. The flowers are typically pink or red, and sometimes white, and they grow around the crown of the plant like a flower crown.

Star Cactus

Close-up of a flowering Astrophytum asteria in a black plastic pot against a blurred background of many dark green Astrophytum asteria cacti. The cactus is dark green, spherical, thorny, has 5-11 ribs and fluffy white halos. The flower grows from the top of the cactus. It is large, yellow with a red tint around the central golden stamens.
Star Cactus grows in the shape of a star, with yellow flowers with a red and pink blush in the center.
botanical-name botanical name Astrophytum asteria
bloom-colors bloom colors Red , Orange , Yellow.
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 3 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-11

This itty-bitty cactus has more than one nickname, also called Sand Dollar Cactus and Sea Urchin Cactus. When looking at the plant, it’s not difficult to see why. The shape and size are very similar to a sea urchin, round and segmented, as well as the markings, which are decidedly urchin-like as well.

This cactus doesn’t have spines, but it does have tiny tufts of white, wooly hairs growing along each of the segments or ribs. This plant is a slow grower and is slow to bloom, so don’t give up on it if it doesn’t bloom for you for several years.

When it does, the flowers are singular and ethereal. They are commonly yellow with blushes of pink and red at the center. This small cactus will also sometimes bloom in orange, which makes it quite unique.

Thanksgiving Cactus

Close-up of a blooming Schlumbergera truncata in a terracotta large flower pot on a wooden table under a dappled sun. Long dark green stems consisting of wide, flat leaves with small serrations along the edges. The flowers are large, bright red, tubular with long pink stamens.
Thanksgiving Cactus blooms in the fall with charming large flowers in red, pink, white, or yellow.
botanical-name botanical name Schlumbergera truncata
bloom-colors bloom colors Red, Purple, Oranges, Pinks and Creams
sun-requirements sun requirements Part Sun, Light Shade
height height 12 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-12

Commonly mistaken for the Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus is very similar, except for its blooming habit. This cactus blooms prolifically in fall, right around Thanksgiving. It likes a bit of humidity and bright, filtered sunlight throughout the day. It is native to rainforests of Brazil.

Thanksgiving Cactus forms long, leafless, segmented stems that have a weeping characteristic. At the ends of the stems, buds form and open to large blooms that can be red, pink, white, or yellow. This beautiful, showy plant looks great in a hanging basket.

Torch Cactus

Close-up of a flowering Trichocereus grandiflora in a clay pot under a dappled sun against the backdrop of prickly cacti. The plant consists of columnar bodies with 10-15 ribs on which halos with thorns are formed. Large pink flowers with golden yellow stamens grow at the tops of the stems.
This is a hardy plant with large crimson flowers that prefers bright, indirect light.
botanical-name botanical name Trichocereus grandiflora
bloom-colors bloom colors Deep Red to Orange and Yellow
sun-requirements sun requirements Part Sun
height height 2 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-11

Torch Cactus is a columnar species that hails from the most arid desert in the world, Puna de Atacama in Argentina. It is a very hardy, rugged little plant that can survive with very little attention. It can survive in full sun but prefers a more indirect light.

In summer, this mid-sized cactus produces large, usually crimson flowers, blooming around the crown of the column and sometimes around the body as well. The name Grandiflora refers to the size of the flowers relative to the rest of the plant, which are quite large, beautiful, and showy.

When grown indoors, aim for full sun to encourage bloom production. If you keep them outside in the warmer months, give them a bit of respite from the afternoon sun.

Honorable Mention: Burro’s Tail

Close-up of a Sedum morganianum succulent growing in a light brown hanging pot in a greenhouse against a blurred background. The succulent has hanging stems covered with succulent blue-green oblong lanceolate leaves with a silvery coating, looking much like an animal's tail.
Burro’s Tail is a succulent with long stems surrounded by smooth leaves that resemble hanging tails.
botanical-name botanical name Sedum morganianum
bloom-colors bloom colors Pink to Deep Red
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 1-4 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

Though not a true cactus (as it has no spines), Burro’s Tail is a succulent that likes the same type of care and environment as cacti. This winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit is a unique and fun plant to grow.

Burro’s Tail is a trailing succulent with smooth, overlapping leaves that grow around a central stem to completely surround the stem and have the appearance of a tail of sorts. They are able to tolerate a fair amount of neglect, as they store a lot of their own water in those pendulous tails.

These plants do great in a hanging basket where the trailing stems have plenty of room to grow. They don’t tolerate freezing but have a better chance of blooming if kept outdoors in warmer weather. Their flowering season is summer, and the blooms are deep pink and hang pendulous from the bottoms of the tails.

Final Thoughts

There are many varieties of small cacti, making it difficult to choose just one. A good place to start is to look at your environment and decide upon the best location for the plant. Make sure the lighting is right for the type of cactus you bring home, and it will reward you by sticking around for years to come (slight pun intended)!

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