If you are not an experienced gardener but are considering getting a living desk companion, a cute cactus is a perfect option. Cacti are popular choices among novice gardeners thanks to their forgiving nature and unique appearance.
When choosing a cactus to keep on your desk or around the home, it’s important to consider its size and, of course, its growth requirements. This won’t be too difficult, as most cacti have similar needs – well-draining soil, bright indirect light, and cosy temperatures.
But with so many options available, picking the perfect one can be quite difficult, so we’ve decided to come to the rescue. Below, you’ll find our pick of the best cactus house plants that make ideal desk companions without asking for much in return.
1. Acanthocereus tetragonus a.k.a Fairy Castle Cactus
The Fairy Castle Cactus is a unique-looking plant that blooms during the night. Also known as triangle cactus, barbed-wire cactus, night-blooming cereus, this night-blooming buddy makes a great desk companion. It can keep its small size for quite a while, being known as a slow grower, but that doesn’t mean it can’t reach impressive sizes. The Fairy Castle Cactus can grow several feet tall, and if the ideal growing conditions are met, it will reward you with big yellow or white blooms.
Like most cacti, the Fairy Castle Cactus is a low-maintenance plant that will make a perfect companion for a beginner gardener. All you need to remember is that cacti are lovers of bright direct light, and the Fairy Castle Cactus makes no exception. So, as long as you place it in a location where it will receive plenty of sunlight and protect it from frost (which won’t be an issue if you keep it indoors), this cactus will be grateful.
Avoid overwatering and water your Fairy Castle Cactus only when the soil is completely dry to the touch. Overwatering is the most common cause of damage in cacti because these plants are extremely sensitive to root rot. To be on the safe side, water it sparingly and make sure its soil is well-draining and it doesn’t get soggy.
2. Astrophytum Asteria a.k.a Star Cactus
Astrophytum Asteria, also known as Star Cactus, Sea Urchin Cactus, Star Peyote, or Sand Dollar Cactus is another attractive plant that doesn’t require a lot of attention but will thrive on your desk. These cacti can easily be grown in attractive containers as they are quite small. They don’t really grow bigger than 15 cm (6 inches) in diameter and they maintain their attractive globular aspect.
One of the best things about Star Cacti is their ability to produce attractive blooms. The flowers of Star Cacti are yellow but they can also come in shades of red or orange. If your cactus thrives, you can expect to be rewarded with blooms in spring (March-May). When the blooming period is over, usually by the end of May, the flowers of the Star Cactus turn into interesting woolly berries that can be pink, red, grey, or green.
The Star Cactus doesn’t need much to thrive, but it does require plenty of sunlight. As long as you ensure that your desk buddy gets all the sunlight it needs, you won’t have to worry about anything else. If you plan on growing this cactus in low-light conditions, you can get an LED plant light.
Well-draining soil is an essential component as it will prevent root rot. And, like most cacti, the Star Cactus won’t appreciate too much moisture, so it’s best to avoid watering it too often. Depending on the environmental conditions, most gardeners water their cacti once every 2-4 weeks. If you are not sure when to water your cacti, just check the soil with your finger and if it feels too dry, it is safe to add water. To learn more about this unique-looking cactus, read our complete guide to growing and caring for Star Cacti.
3. Opuntia Mycrodasis a.k.a Bunny Ear Cactus
All cacti make perfect companions for a novice gardener, but the Bunny Ear Cactus is by far the cutest one. Sometimes referred to as Angel’s Wings Cactus, this unique-looking plant makes a perfect desk companion for a forgetful, busy, and even neglectful owner. This awesome cactus grows natively in arid, desert-like parts of Mexico and is used to surviving harsh environments. As long as you manage to mimic the conditions of its native growth environment, the Bunny Ear Cactus will thrive. More precisely, this cactus needs a dry, sunny, warm, and low-humidity environment.
Like all succulents and cacti, the Bunny Ear Cactus is also sensitive in terms of watering and excess moisture can result in root rot, which is usually fatal. While it doesn’t like soggy conditions and absolutely needs to be planted in well-draining soil, the Bunny Ear Cactus does become thirsty during its growing season, which is during the summer. So, during the warm seasons, water the cactus when the soil is completely dry, allow the water to drain in the saucer and remove the excess. During the cold months, cut back on watering and only water lightly once or twice a month.
If you are not very attracted to cacti because you feel that their sharp spines are a bit off-putting, the Bunny Ear Cactus will change your mind. This cute cactus doesn’t develop spines at all. Instead, it is covered in fuzzy glochids that look less menacing. But, you still need to handle them with caution, because the glochids dislodge easily and although they won’t sting as badly, they can be quite itchy if they get attached to the skin.
To learn more about this cute cactus, read our complete guide to growing and caring for the Bunny Ear Cactus.
4. Gymnocalycium mihanovichii a.k.a Moon Cactus
Gymnocalycium mihanovichii, commonly referred to as Moon Cactus or Hibotan Cactus is another unique-looking cactus that will surely make your desk look cooler. This interesting cactus is actually a mutant. The colourful part of the moon cactus needs to be grafted onto another type of cactus in order to survive. The bright colours that catch your attention immediately are achieved because this portion of the plant doesn’t produce any chlorophyll, but that also means that it cannot survive on its own. As a result, this colourful mutant is usually grafted on Hylocereus cacti.
Moon cactus plants come in many different colours, shapes, and sizes, but they are tiny, so they make perfect desk buddies. The smallest moon cacti are around 1 cm (1/2 inch) across, and the biggest can reach 20 cm (8 inches).
Caring for a moon cactus isn’t difficult as long as you meet its basic needs. However, due to the fragile nature of this plant, you shouldn’t expect it to live for more than a few years. The Moon Cactus need well-draining soil, ideally high-quality cacti and succulent soil mix, and it doesn’t appreciate soggy soil. So, make sure you use the ‘soak and dry’ technique to avoid overwatering. An unglazed, shallow pot is the best choice for this type of cactus. In terms of location, the Moon Cactus will appreciate plenty of bright, indirect light. You can learn more about this unique buddy by reading our Moon Cactus guide.
5. Euphorbia Trigona a.k.a. African Milk Tree Cactus
Native to Central Africa, Euphorbia Trigona, commonly known as the African Milk Tree Cactus is a friendly and easy-to-grow plant. Although it looks like a cactus, the African Milk Tree is actually a succulent and it has plenty of other folk names including Friendship cactus, Candelabra cactus, Good Luck Cactus, or Cathedral cactus. The most common type is green and it is quite attractive, but if you’re looking for a more dramatic plant, you can opt for the Rubra or the Royal Red cultivars.
Euphorbia trigona is a fast grower, which means that you can easily propagate it and offer fresh plants to your friends and family. These plants have a long life and they can surprise you with their vigorous growth. Indoors, Euphorbia trigona can grow as much as 30 cm per year to a total of 1-2 meters. But don’t worry, this will take time, and until your trigona becomes this big, you can totally enjoy it as a desk buddy. Be careful when handling this plant because the sap is quite toxic and it can cause skin irritations. It would also be wise to keep your African Milk Tree Cactus within a safe distance from pets and kids to avoid intoxication.
The best thing about this succulent/cactus is the fact that it doesn’t require a lot of attention. All it needs is plenty of bright, indirect light, comfortable room temperature, low humidity, well-draining soil, and moderate watering. As with all succulents and cacti, it’s best to use the ‘soak and dry’ method for Euphorbia trigona to avoid overwatering. You can learn more about this interesting plant by reading our Euphorbia Trigona guide.
6. Mammillaria Elongata a.k.a Ladyfinger Cactus
Mammillaria Elongata, commonly known as Ladyfinger Cactus, Landy Fingers, Gold Lace Cactus, or Golden Stars is another low-maintenance plant that you can successfully grow on your desk. Perfect for people who don’t have a lot of experience with houseplants; this cactus will reward you with beautiful blooms if you treat it with love and if you understand its few, but important, basic needs. Its unique shape and colourful blooms that can be pink, white, or yellow, have even earned Mammillaria Elongata Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit.
The original Mammillaria Elongata cultivars will look amazing on your desk, but if you love unique specimens, keep an eye out for Mammillaria elongata ‘Monstrous Lady Fingers’ and ‘Copper King’. Although rare and rather difficult to find, these cultivars are awesome and worth the trouble. But regardless of what type of Mammillaria cactus you choose, its growing needs will be straightforward to provide.
In terms of light, these cacti love bright indirect light and thrive when they are placed near a south-facing window. A low-light environment isn’t the best option for these plants, but you can invest in some LED grow lights if necessary. When it comes to its watering needs, the Ladyfinger Cactus enjoys rare deep soakings. Standing water and soggy soil must be avoided at all costs and, if you want to encourage blooming, cut back on watering during the winter months. In order to bloom, this cactus needs to go through a dormancy phase, which can be induced by watering less frequently.
7. Mammillaria Plumosa a.k.a Feather Cactus
Mammillaria Plumosa, commonly known as the Feather Cactus is another stunning and unique-looking plant that would look amazing on your desk, especially if you grow it in a cute container. This clump-forming cactus is completely covered in fuzzy white spines. It produces tiny blooms that are creamy yellow, pastel pink, or white, and that usually appear in late summer. The Feather cactus doesn’t grow very big and it’s usually up to 12 cm (5 inches) tall and 40 cm (16 inches) in diameter.
The growth requirements of Mammillaria Plumosa are similar to those of its relative Mammillaria Elongata. Well-draining soil, plenty of bright indirect light, and don’t forget about the ‘soak and dry’ watering method. And, to ensure that your Feather Cactus produces attractive blooms, make sure you let it rest during the colder months.
8. Astrophytum Myriostigma a.k.a Bishop’s Cap Cactus
Asthrophytum myriostigma, commonly known as Bishop’s Cap Cactus, Monk’s Hood Cactus, or Deacon’s Hat Cactus is a very friendly cactus that’s enjoying a lot of popularity among cactus lovers. Thanks to its easy-going nature, Bishop’s Cap Cactus makes a nice desk buddy. It has similar needs to its aforementioned cousin the Star Cactus and it produces beautiful daily-like flowers that are yellow and have a vivid red or orange centre. Although the flowers are not very long-lasting, they are quite spectacular, and they bloom successively, so you will get to enjoy them for plenty of time. And, as if their beauty wasn’t convincing enough, the blooms also have a pleasant smell.
Young Bishop’s Cap cacti should be protected from direct sun and will do better in indirect light. Mature plants are more tolerant when it comes to lighting conditions, but generally, Bishop’s Cap does well in dappled light. Grow them in a well-draining potting mix and water only during spring and summer when the soil is dry. In autumn and winter, you can keep the soil completely dry and let the cactus enter dormancy.