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Cactus Meaning and Symbolism

Cactus (plural: cacti) have been growing in popularity in recent years, as a house plant that requires minimal maintenance. They make perfect gifts for those who don’t like gardening or aren’t good at maintaining plants.

Known for their prickliness and hardiness, cacti are sometimes seen as aggressive, thorny plants and yet also as survivors, resilient and strong regardless of their harsh environment. In this way, cacti are some of the most symbolic plants in the plant world.

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What are Cacti?

Pink cactus

Cacti are flowering plants native to North and South America. There are over 2,000 species of cactus in the world, some extremely common and some so rare that they’re almost close to extinction.

Some species of cactus grow in tropical and substropical areas, but they mostly thrive in dry regions. Cacti are succulent plants which can be identified from other succulents by small, cushion-like structures called areoles with little ‘hairs’ usually located on the plant’s upper surface.

While most cactus plants grow in the ground, some grow on other plants, trees or hard substrates like rocks. All cacti produce flowers, but some are more prominent than others. Some types of cactus like the Parodia, Mammillaria and Gymnocalycium flower easily and have unique, colorful blooms.

  • Interesting FactWater stored in a cactus isn’t suitable for drinking. Many people think that the water stored inside the cactus is palatable. On the contrary, it tastes bitter and unpleasant because of its alkaloid and acid content. This is the plant’s way of discouraging animals from using it as a water source or it would be extinct in deserts where animals need water.

Meaning and Symbolism of the Cactus

Symbolism of cactus

Cacti come in various unique shapes, sizes and colors, with all kinds of beautiful flowers.  Some people believe that having a cactus plant in the house or gifting one to somebody is bad luck. Here’s what this prickly plant really represents.

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Cacti are generally considered as symbols of protection since they’re covered with spines that protect them from being eaten. They also have a kind of waxy substance on their surface which helps prevent transpiration, which is the loss of water. If someone gives you a cactus plant, it could be interpreted as a hope to keep you safe and protected at all times.

Strength and Endurance

Cacti are tough plants that can survive in harsh conditions. They don’t require maintainenance and can thrive just as well without it. Therefore, cacti represent strength, endurance and the ability to adapt to any kind of situation you find yourself in. If you’re having problems in your home or at your workplace, a cactus plant could be a reminder to be strong and endure it since things will get better soon.


The cactus plant usually represents longevity because of its ability to live for long periods of time. Some cacti can live anywhere from 15 – 300 years.

Maternal Love

The cactus flower universally represents maternal love since it thrives even in the harshest of conditions. Some cacti also have healing qualities. For example, cacti have been found to reduce the excess carbon dioxide in our environment which as a result, increases productivity. This is because carbon dioxide makes us tired, restless and can even give us headaches, reducing our overall productivity.

Downsides of Cactus

While cacti bring positivity and a strong, protective energy with them, placing them in certain areas of your home can have negative effects.

According to Feng Shui principles, cactus plants should never be placed in bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens or at the entrance of your home since they can disturb the peace and turn them into places of conflict.

Windowsills, study rooms and offices are good places to keep your cactus plants where they will emit a lot of protective energy and increase your productivity.

 Types of Cactus Plants

Various types of cactus

There are over hundreds of different types of cacti that would make great additions to your garden.  They look beautiful and also make great gifts. If you’re planning to give one as a gift to someone, here are some of the most popular types you can go for.

  • Pincushion Cactus – This variety of cactus is covered with spikes and has beautiful little pink blooms. Native to Mexico, this miniature succulent grows to about 6 inches in height and requires very little care.
  • Beavertail Cactus – This is a type of prickly pear cactus with blue-green pads. Although this cactus grows only about 20 inches in height, it also grows up to 6 ft wide, making it a great choice for larger gardens. The Beavertail has gorgeous pink flowers that smell like watermelon.
  • Claret Cup Cactus – Like the Beavertail, the Claret Cup cactus (also known as the Mojave mound cactus, kingcup and hedgehog cactus) has the potential to grow up to 6 ft wide and 3 ft in height. This cactus has juicy fruit that tastes like strawberries and turns orange when ripe. 
  • Ball Cactus – Considered one of the most unique and popular succulents because of its shape, the ball cactus grows up to 2 ft tall and looks similar to a hot air balloon. It produces clusters of yellow flowers and is commonly used in xeriscaping.  
  • Moon Cactus – This type of cactus plant is highly popular for home gardens and can also be grown indoors as long as its provided with enough light. These plants are easy to recognize because of their interesting tops that come in various colors including bright ornage, red, purple, pink or yellow.
  • Old Lady Cactus – This cactus plant is one of the most popular types for indoor use because of its attractive appearance. Growing up to a height of 4 inches, the cactus is entirely covered in dense, white hairs and its most unique feature is the crown of reddish-purple flowers at the top. It can be grown both outdoors and indoors and doesn’t require much maintenance.
  • Feather Cactus – Also called the ‘golf ball’ cactus, this prickly plant is classed as a ‘small cactus’ since it grows up to a height of 5 inches. The entire plant is covered in white ‘feathers’ which gave it its name and although they may look fluffy and soft, they have sharp spines under them. This cactus has beautiful flowers with a sweet scent and they come in a variety of colors.
  • Bunny Ear Cactus – This cactus plant is named for its pad-like stems which look similar to a bunny’s ears. With its beautiful, globular yellow flowers, this desert plant is perfect to grow both indoors and outdoors, requiring almost no maintenance at all. Its the perfect plant for busy people who don’t have the time to spend on plant care.

Use of Cacti Throughout History

The use of cacti can be traced back to 15,000 years ago, according to the evidence in cave paintings in Brazil and cactus seeds found in the waste dumps of ancient Peru and Mexico. Although cacti are now ornamental plants, they have had many uses throughout history.

In Gastronomy

Back in the ancient times, cactus plants were an important source of food and grown as a traditional vegetable. People ate cactus fruit as well as the pads of some types of cactus plants, such as the Indian fig cactus. Cactus fruit were preserved by drying them out and boiling them to produce syrup. Sometimes, the syrup was used to produce an alcoholic beverage by fermenting it. Some people cut up the bodies of cactus plants, prepared them and ate them like potatoes. Cacti were also used as fodder (the spines were burned off first) for animals.

In Medicine


The medical information on is provided for general educational purposes only. This information should in no way be used as a substitute for medical advice from a professional.

Some types of cacti have been used for centuries to heal wounds and cure diseases. Cactus cladodes were used for the treatment of stomach ailments and the flowers were used in infusions to prevent urological problems. In Mexico, the Nopal cactus was used for pain relief and wound healing.

The sap from cactus pads was used similar to the aloe vera plant. A portion of the pad would be cut off, crushed and the juice squeezed onto bruises, cuts or burns. Young pads were often pureed or ground and taken as laxatives.

In Construction

cacti have been popularly used for construction purposes. The sap from cactus plants is sticky and in the rural areas of Mexico, it was boiled down to a concentrated and combined with mortar and whitewash. This effectively increased the durability of buildings.

The Seri people of Mexico made fences from living cactus plants, to protect their homes and some parts of the plants were used in building frames of their wattle and daub houses. Some cacti with woody parts and the skeletons of dead cacti were used for making furniture and constructing permanent fences.

Cacti in Use Today

Cactus on the bench

Today, cacti are becoming increasingly popular as ornamental plants which is why they’re now facing the threat of extinction. Collecting cacti is illegal and harvesting them requires permits and licenses. However, people still continue to collect them illegally from the wild which has greatly affected some species.

Cacti are a great way of decorating your home and adding color and variety to your garden. Cactus succulents are easy to handle and can be placed on your office desk or window sill to decorate the room.

Cacti aren’t commonly used for floral decorations, but when included they look beautiful and unique. If you’re planning a cactus themed wedding, you’ll find these desert plants make gorgeous souvenirs and centerpieces. You can also try incorporating different varieties of cacti into your bouquet to make it unique and attractive. In fact, cactus themed weddings and bouquets are gaining popularity nowadays.  

When to Give Cacti

Cactus plants make excellent gifts because they’re easy to take care of and last for years, unlike flowers. Giving a cactus plant to someone you love and care about is a great idea since they represent warmth, motherly love and protection. For a holiday gift, consider giving a Christmas cactus, Easter cactus or Thanksgiving cactus so it will bloom all throughout the holiday season.

In Brief

All cactus plants are unique and they come with a lot of positive and protective energy. They’re great plants to grow indoors but should be placed where they won’t poke you constantly with their spines. 

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.