Ferocactus wislizeni, also known as the fishhook barrel cactus or the candy barrel cactus, is a prolific cacti species native to Mexico. They have large greenish-gray cylindrical stems, covered in small spines that are easily detached. Ferocactus wislizeni are columnar plants with many branches and can grow to heights exceeding 10 ft (3 m).
They are also a summer-dormant species, growing and blooming from June to September. They are both cold-sensitive and heat-tolerant plants that can grow in hot environments although they should be watered appropriately.
Ferocactus wislizeni (aka Arizona barrel cactus) is a handsome columnar plant with ribbed, upward-pointing green stems. It produces small yellow flowers from April to May and bears orange fruits in summer. The entire plant is covered by a dense layer of fine spines.
Although Ferocactus wislizeni can be grown outdoors in areas with mild winters, it is best placed in a container and overwintered indoors.
Ferocactus wislizeni propagation
Ferocactus wislizeni can be grown from seed or cotyledon cuttings. Sow seeds in spring, no deeper than 1/4 inch (0.6 cm), and cover lightly with sand. Germination is erratic, often taking over a year to occur; however, once the seeds have sprouted, the plants grow quickly.
Ferocactus wislizeni can also be propagated from cuttings, which are best taken in spring or early summer. Cuttings should be 12 inches (30 cm) long and cut just below a node; leave the base of the cutting attached to encourage rooting.
An important note for indoors is that Ferocactus wislizeni are prone to root rot if overwatered, so it’s important that the soil remains on the dry side.
Ferocactus wislizeni care
Ferocactus wislizeni is easy to care for in its container as long as it is kept away from direct sun and strong drafts. It should be watered sparingly when the soil is dry to the touch and require repotting every two years.
Ferocactus wislizeni is an excellent choice for those who want a columnar plant that won’t grow too tall or outgrow its location. It’s also good for anyone interested in creating a natural-looking corner filled with barrel cacti.
Ferocactus wislizeni prefers light that is bright to full sunlight (at least 6 hours of direct sun each day) but will tolerate less than that if other conditions are favorable. An east-facing window with several hours of direct morning and/or late afternoon sun should be fine, or a south-facing window in which plants receive partial sun or indirect light most of the day.
The more light a plant gets, the more compact and well-branched it will be, though overall size is also determined by other factors (such as rootstock and season). Overall, Ferocactus wislizeni has an easier time if it’s grown in brighter conditions.
The soil for this cactus should be well-drained, sandy loam with high inert material content. In its habitat, it grows in rock crevices and underneath shrubs where there is usually little organic matter. A generic cactus mix or pumice-based potting soils are good choices if you are just starting to grow this plant.
Ferocactus wislizeni is a root-over-rock cactus, so the pot needs drainage holes and it will rot unless it has excellent drainage in its container. The best pot for this species is terracotta clay, plastic, or fiberglass as these materials will hold water well, allowing the plant to be watered from below while preventing excess water loss through evaporation.
If your mother cactus is growing in a clay pot, you need more frequent watering and can use less soil around the roots than if it were growing in plastic or fiberglass. Clay pots are weighty so they tend to stay put even when empty, but they dry out faster than plastic or fiberglass pots.
Use a container diameter of about 12 cm / 5 inches for young plants and 15 cm / 6 inches for more mature specimens. A pot with good drainage is best so that the water can get to the roots easily; if there’s a soil layer on top of the drainage holes, the water will have a hard time getting to the roots.
When growing Ferocactus wislizeni in soil, they should also have access to some larger rocks or pieces of wood that they can cling to with their root system. This helps aerate the soil and prevents it from becoming water-logged.
When growing in a container, I suggest using gravel or rocks on the bottom of your pot as this will allow good drainage and still provide anchor points for your plant.
Ferocactus wislizeni requires regular watering during the warm periods but can go three weeks without water if other conditions are favorable (if kept indoors). The soil should be allowed to dry out somewhat between waterings in late fall and winter/early spring when the plant is resting.
Alternatively, it can be grown in a container to facilitate drainage and prevent root rot during wintertime. Use a cactus mix or sandy potting soil, which will retain less water than regular potting soil. Some growers recommend planting Ferocactus wislizeni directly into the ground, as they would do with Mexican species, but I wouldn’t recommend this since it is very possible that the plant will freeze to the ground.
It’s best to have a soil depth of about 2 inches for your Ferocactus (or some other fast-draining potting mix) and make sure that there are lots of holes in the bottom of the pot so water can drain quickly.
Ferocactus wislizeni is a summer-growing and flowering species that should be watered thoroughly when it becomes dry, usually in late spring to early fall. Winter rest generally calls for slightly drier conditions; reduce watering from fall through March, then resume normal watering in April if the plant is kept outside. If you keep your cactus indoors year-round, it’s best to water less frequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
Top watering is not recommended as Ferocactus wislizeni tends to develop soft rot in the tips of their arms if they are getting too much moisture near the ends.
Ferocactus wislizeni can be fertilized using a cactus fertilizer or with a high phosphorus fertilizer in late winter or early spring. They are heavy feeders and benefit greatly from the extra nutrients.
If you fertilize often during the summer growing season, you may see some die-off of lower branches. The plant will grow them back again the following year.
Ferocactus wislizeni should be fertilized at least once a month during the summer growing season to keep them in top shape.
It is a tropical cactus and can tolerate temperature from 25°C – 35°C (77°F-95 °F) and it will be able to grow outside in the summer. In winter, they should be kept inside where temperatures are between 10-15°C (50-59° F).
Ferocactus wislizeni requires daytime temperatures above 10°C (50°F) and nighttime lows below 12°C (54°F).
Ferocactus wislizeni does not require high humidity. If you wish to increase the humidity around your plant, you can mist it occasionally. You can also move your cactus into an area with higher humidity, such as near a shower or in a bathroom that has a steamy window or door to the outside.
Most people overlook the importance of humidity. If your plant does not have proper ventilation, leaves can begin to rot and fall off.
Ferocactus wislizeni can be moved, but this should not occur more than every three years to avoid shock to the system.
Transplant in late winter or early spring just before new growth begins. It is recommended that you root-prune the plant and allow it to rest for about a month before replanting. This will give the wound time to heal and it also allows for new roots to grow while resting.
Transplant Ferocactus wislizeni in well-drained soil, or use an artificial medium such as clay pellets if you wish to keep your plant potted instead of planted directly into the ground.
Ferocactus wislizeni has one of the biggest root systems of any cactus and is best planted directly into the ground, rather than in a pot. Its root system is very shallow and covers an area of approximately 1-1.5 meters (3-5 feet) in diameter when mature.
If you do decide to transplant into a pot, make sure that the container has adequate drainage to prevent waterlogging. Deep pots work best since they allow for more soil volume and are better at preventing water from sitting in the bottom of the container.
Clay pellets are often used as an artificial medium since they hold moisture effectively without becoming boggy, which is perfect for the plant. Clay pellets are also more suitable than other mediums for potted plants since they are lightweight and do not break down when wet.
When to repot
Ferocactus wislizeni should be repotted every two to three years in early spring. Use a cactus mix or an artificial medium such as clay pellets.
Ferocactus wislizeni should be pruned when growing in the soil since it will need less water and therefore the roots will need to be taken up a bit more often during the summer months.
If you are pruning from an older plant or cutting off dead wood, be very careful when removing branches because each one contains many small “knots” of non-woody material that if broken off, will take root and grow into new plants. Just be careful where you cut.
The growth rate of Ferocactus wislizeni varies from slow to moderate, depending upon the origin and care.
Ferocactus wislizeni is fairly hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as -5°C/23°F during the winter months, but it is best to keep them in areas with warmth and light year-round. The plant will not tolerate frost at all, so you should keep it indoors if you are in an area that gets cold during the winter.
The plant is hardy to USDA hardiness zones 9b – 11
Ferocactus wislizeni is not pollinated by insects. However, there are various species of bats that are known to pollinate certain plants in Mexico. The question is how do the bats get into the flowers? Well, it has been found that each flower contains a small hole at the base. From this hole, a bumblebee can enter and pollinate the flower. It is also likely that hummingbirds may visit some of these flowers as well
This plant doesn’t have any compounds that can be harmful to humans or animals. However, it does have sharp spines, so keep it out of reach of pets or children.
Ferocactus wislizeni is highly resistant to pests. The only problem with this cactus is that the birds might feast on its fruits and destroy them before they can be pollinated. Also, occasionally ants may invade the plant if there is a water source nearby.
Ferocactus wislizeni is quite popular in cultivation because of its attractive appearance and low maintenance needs. It makes a great addition to any garden or collection, as long as you know what kind of conditions this cactus likes, where to place it and how to care for it.