I’ll be honest: For a long time, I didn’t see the appeal of cacti. But then I was gifted one, and right away, I was hooked! Cactus spikes and tough skin make them seemingly un-killable, so it got me wondering- how long do cactus live? I wanted to know how long I could expect to have my own little cactus around, so I set out to find the answer.
Cacti growing as houseplants or garden plants tend to live anywhere from 3 to 20 years, and cacti growing in the wild have been known to live up to 300 years. There are over 2000 species of cactus known worldwide, and since there’s such a large diversity, the range of average cactus lifespans also varies greatly.
Of course, how long any plant lives depends on the environment, care and problems it faces during its life. In this article, we’ll be looking at the average lifespans of indoor cacti and those growing in their natural habitats. You’ll also pick up some care tips to help your cactus houseplants stay healthy and happy for the longest time possible.
Let’s get started!
How Long Do Cactus Live Indoors?
So how long can a potted cactus live? Many species of cactus grow well in captivity, and I’ve compiled a list of the most commonly kept cacti as houseplants or as potted outdoor plants:
When grown indoors, these cacti can live anywhere from 30-100 years!
Christmas cactus (and other members of the Schlumbergera genus) don’t have spines and bloom once or twice per year when conditions are right.
This slow grower can survive indoors for 3-5 years or more in some cases.
Moon cactus is a delightful little cactus that grows mushroom-like tops that come in bright colors like pink, red, and yellow. They are actually two separate plants grafted together.
Barrel cactus comes in blue and golden varieties and can grow indoors for up to 20 years.
It’s a small but fierce cactus covered in rigid spines.
Bishop’s Cap Cactus
Bishop’s cap is a spineless cactus that lives at least 10 years indoors. This cactus produces lovely, bright-yellow flowers, but you’ll need to have some patience- it can take up to 5 years to reach the flowering stage!
Old Lady Cactus
This little beauty can live indoors for at least 10 years.
Old lady cactus (aka Mammillaria hahniana) is a small, round cactus covered in white hairs and a crown of bright pink flowers, hence the nickname “old lady”.
Prickly Pear Cactus
If you want a potted cactus for the long haul, choose a prickly pear- with the right care, this one will survive indoors for about 20 years.
Prickly pear cactus is a common houseplant that doesn’t mind cooler temperatures and grows bright red, purple, or yellow flowers.
How to Care For Indoor Cacti for the Longest Lifespan
Cactus lifespan is very dependent upon the growing conditions- so of course, we want to give our plants the best care possible.
In my experience, proper watering is one of the most critical aspects of cactus care. These plants are adapted to dry, desert conditions, so overwatering is much more of an issue for cacti than under-watering. Water only when the soil is dry and empty any drainage saucers underneath to prevent sitting in water.
I also asked Lachlan Duffy, horticulturist and owner of Brisbane Plant Nursery, to share his best cactus-care tips. “In general, indoor cacti need bright, indirect light and well-draining soil. They do not typically need fertilization, but if desired, a balanced, diluted fertilizer can be applied once a month during the growing season. They should be repotted every two to three years, or as needed.”
Here are some more tips for indoor cactus care:
- Ensure at least 6-8 hours of bright, indirect sunlight. An east-facing window that is free of trees is one option, or consider using a grow light.
- Use the right type of pot for a cactus. It should be no more than 1 inch wider in diameter than the root ball and heavy enough to prevent tipping over.
- Use a good cactus or succulent potting mix that provides nutrients and proper drainage.
How Long Do Cactus Live Outdoors?
If you live in a desert climate and cacti are part of your lawn’s landscape, you’re probably wondering how long a cactus can live outdoors. And don’t we all wonder how long those cacti in the wild can survive?
There are far too many to include here, but to give you an idea, some of the more well-known cactus types include the following:
This iconic cactus can grow many arms by the time they reach 200 years of age, their average max outdoors.
Saguaro cactus reaches up to 45 feet tall and is well-known in the American West as the largest in the US, according to National Park Service.
This species grows multiple stalks of what looks like beaver tails and can survive outdoors for 10 years or more. Beavertail cactus grows in desert landscaping both in-ground and in containers.
Prickly Pear Cactus
I already mentioned it as an indoor plant, but prickly pear is a long-lived plant outdoors as well- up to 20 years.
All it needs is full sun and afternoon partial shade, and it can reach a size of 6 feet wide and 15 feet tall!
Old Man Cactus
Blooming at night, this cactus grows outdoors for up to 200 years.
Old man cactus reaches heights of 49 feet and is covered by long white hairs.
Totem Pole Cactus
With little watering and ample sun, totem pole cactus will survive outdoors for 100+ years.
Totem pole cactus is unique in that it has no spines, no ribs, and can reach a height of 12 feet and a width of up to 6 feet.
Why Do Cacti Live So Long?
Several things can affect cactus lifespan, and many adaptations have helped cacti thrive even in the harshest environments. These are survival methods that cacti use to live for such a long time:
- The desert is the natural environment for cacti- warm and dry. Cacti have a slow metabolism and slow growth to reduce the need for water and fertilizer. This means less flowering and optimized reproduction.
- Shallow roots ensure optimized water absorbance for when rain falls. Some cacti grow temporary roots during the rainy season to absorb more, then break off once the rainy season ends.
- Cacti are a type of succulent plant, meaning that they have cells that are able to absorb excess water and retain it for later use. This is what gives cacti their fleshy, chunky appearance.
- No leaves or branches means less water loss. Their fibrous spines with waxy coating maintain water retention and give them “thick skin” to protect them from predators and disease.
How Old is the Oldest Cactus?
Saguaro are some of the oldest and tallest cacti in the world, and their age is determined by height.
According to the New England Carnivorous Plant Society (NECPS), the oldest recorded cactus was a Saguaro in Arizona called “Old Grandaddy.” This remarkable cactus reached 40 feet high and was approximately 300 years of age, but sadly died in the mid-1990s.
However, there are Mexican Giant Cardon in Baja California and Sonora, Mexico that are over 60 feet high and about 300 years old and doing well!
Frequently Asked Questions about Cactus Lifespan
In my experience, cacti are wonderful, low-maintenance plants for any home. With the right lighting, watering and potting care, your cactus can add color and interest to your home or landscape for many years!
I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other questions about cactus lifespans, or maybe some care tips you’re developed over time? Gardening communities where we can glean knowledge from one another are the very best ways to learn, in my opinion. So please feel free to share in the comments!