Cacti are native to arid and semi-arid regions, where water and other resources are scarce. Most desert cacti have spines that help reduce water loss from the plants. The sharp pines also protect against predators and sometimes stick on animals to help disperse the cactus seeds.
Over time, some cactus species have evolved to lose their spines. This may have happened in plants that no longer feel threatened by the weather conditions or predators. Humans have also bred thornless cactus varieties for ornamental purposes.
Although cactus spines are not poisonous they can cause severe pain, inflammation, or other complications when they get into the skin. Fortunately, there are a number of cacti without spines you can grow in your garden and handle them freely without any worry of getting pricked.
Thornless cactus species
The following are popular cacti without spines:
1. The Christmas cactus
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is a tropical plant native to the rainforests of Brazil. It is a popular festive plant that blooms during the winter. Christmas cactus has flattened, segmented stems that grow in a trailing manner. The green stem segments bear colorful flowers around Christmas.
Schlumbergera bridgesii is easy to care for. It prefers to be grown in well-drained soil and in a place with bright indirect sun sunlight. This plant should be watered only when the soil feels dry to the touch. Christmas cactus can be fertilized once a month during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer.
The easiest way to propagate Christmas cactus is by stem cuttings. Take the cuttings in late spring or early summer if you plan to start new plants. Like any other cacti, Schlumbergera bridgesii is prone to root rot when overwatered and insect pests such as scales and mealybugs.
2. The fishbone cactus
The fishbone cactus (Disocactus anguliger) is an epiphytic cactus native to Mexico. It is a charismatic houseplant with flat segmented stems that grow in a zigzag pattern. This thornless cactus blooms in spring with colorful white, purple, or pink flowers.
The propagation and care of the fishbone cactus is easy as long as you grow it in well-drained soil and provide bright indirect sunlight. You should consider fertilizing it once a month during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer to promote growth and blooming.
Fishbone cactus is susceptible to pest insects including mealybugs, scale insects, and spider mites. Regular inspection for pests is important and you can control them with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Fishbone cactus can also be susceptible to root rot when overwatered.
3. The totem pole cactus
The totem pole cactus (Pachycereus schottii var. monstrosus) is a slow-growing, thornless cactus native to Mexico. It is known for its bumpy textured skin. This cactus is a great ornamental plant for desert gardens and landscapes. They can be grown indoors but they need plenty of sunlight.
It is easy to propagate and care for the totem pole cactus. Watering should be deep but infrequent. This cactus is prone to root rot when overwatered. Therefore, allow the soil to dry out completely between the waterings.
The totem pole may outgrow its pot and there is a need to repot it after every 2 to 3 years. It is a relatively pest- and disease-free plant but just monitor it regularly to ensure everything is going on well. Under good care, this cactus produces edible and non-toxic fruits.
4. The peyote cactus
The Peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) is a small spineless cactus native to Mexico. It contains mescaline and other psychoactive alkaloids thus classified as a poisonous cactus species. This cactus has been used for many years by the native communities for cultural use.
Peyote cactus is illegal in various states due to its high potential for abuse. However, it is a beautiful ornamental plant that can be grown in any garden. It blooms in spring with white or pink flowers. If it’s part of your collection, keep it away from kids and your pets.
Lophophora williamsii can be propagated from seeds or stem cuttings. It loves full sun and should be grown in a place that receives maximum sunlight. Further, it thrives in well-drained soil. Watering this cactus sparingly to prevent cases of root rot.
5. The thornless prickly pear
The thornless prickly pear cactus belongs to the Opuntia genus which includes over 200 species of cacti. This spineless cactus is native to Mexico, but it’s now grown in many parts of the world for ornamental purposes, fodder, and fruits. Opuntia’s growth rate is quite fast thus quick results.
The thornless prickly pear cactus is a relatively easy plant to care for. It needs full sun and well-drained soil. Like most cacti, it is prone to root rot when overwatered. Pests can also be a problem for the thornless prickly pear cactus if you don’t inspect and treat it as needed.
6. The mistletoe cactus
The mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) also known as coral cactus or tree cactus is a trailing epiphytic cactus with thin, segmented stems. It is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the America and Africa. This thornless cactus blooms in spring producing small white flowers.
Rhipsalis baccifera is a popular houseplant that is easy to care for. It prefers bright, indirect sunlight and moist, well-draining soil. Water the plant regularly, but allow the soil to dry out slightly between the waterings. Overwatering it can cause root rot and other fungal problems.
The mistletoe cactus can be propagated by stem cuttings. Take stem cuttings in the late spring or early summer and allow them to callous over for a few days before planting in a well-draining potting mix. Once established, be sure to monitor it for insect pests and treat it as needed.
Cacti are beautiful plants that come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. There are those that are theory and cacti that are spineless. Some cacti produce edible fruits and others are poisonous. Regardless, the cacti are easy to care for and this makes them fit in any garden or landscape.
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.