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South Texas Cactus Garden
Native and Water-Wise Plants

Sponsored by The McAllen Public Utility Board

Featuring 55 South Texas Natives: 24 Cactus, 17 Plants, and 14 Trees!

Why plant Cactus?

Cactus plants are desert plants native to the Americas. Most of us picture deserts as hot, dry places with lots of sand and few plants. By definition, deserts receive less than 10 inches of rain a year. Consequently they are often dry and hot. Desert eco-systems can be formed over time and can be increased by our activity. Activities such as overgrazing, over-irrigation, cutting down trees and forests—destroys the natural plant life and increases the heat island effect in cities.

The Rio Grande Valley has experienced desert like droughts in the valley and this could continue in years to come. Increasing the percentage of native plants in the valley will not only reduce our water consumption but will add much beauty and traditional landscape to valley. Cactus can add such a beautiful south Texas flair to your garden and help diminish the optional water use of your household. Xeriscaping, planting low water using plants, is an attractive and sustainable landscape choice.

What is Xeriscape Gardening?

Xeriscaping is a term to mean water wise or efficient landscaping. The term xerixcape is derived from the Greek word “xeros” which means “dry”. Xeriscaping is a method of gardening that involves choosing plants that can be maintained with little supplemental watering, mulching and more. Xeriscape landscapes can use an average of 40% less water than traditional landscapes.

What Cacti is found in South Texas?

There are over 2,000 species of cacti in the Americas, with 150 found in Texas. Quinta Mazatlan has chosen to feature 24 species found in the Rio Grande Valley.

The word “cactus” came from the Greek word “kaktos” which applied to a plant that had spiny thistles on it. A cactus symbolizes endurance as it is a plant that can stand up to the test of time and the elements.

24 Native Cacti

  • Night Blooming Cereus / Barbed Wire Cactus Acanthocereus tetragonus
  • Height: 5 to 10 feet
    Bloom: Summers eve
    The cactus is remarkable for its sprawling and fast growth. White flowers are showy and have a pineapple aroma. The stems are eaten by rats and rabbits. Birds, tortoises and coyotes eat the ripe shiny red fruit called pitaya.


  • Fishhook Cactus / Root Cactus Ancistrocactus scheeri
  • Height: 6 inches
    Bloom: Early Spring
    The cactus spines end in curved hooks. Uniquely, it has a long fleshy, white taproot. The inconspicuous flowers are greenish yellow. The fruit is a green, club-shaped berry. It is one of our earliest flowering cacti.


  • Star Cactus / Sea Urchin Cactus Astrophytum asterias
  • Width: 6 inches
    Bloom: March to May
    Cactus usually has 8 flat-crested ribs. The dots of whitish hairs on the stems distinguish this species from peyote. Flowers are yellow with orange throats. White wool obscures its oval green fruit. It is foraged by cottontail rabbits.

  • Runyon’s Coryphantha / Dumpling Cactus Coryphantha macromeris var. runyonii
  • Width: 40 inches
    Bloom: June to August
    The cacti are found under the shade of shrubs and form large mats of many plants. Farmers use it to keep goats out of gardens. Succulent roots produce branching dark green stems. Flower is pink and fruit is dark green.


  • Junior Tom Thumb / Runyon’s Pincushion Coryphantha pottsiana
  • Height: 4 inches
    Bloom: February and March
    The small cactus has many bristly white to dark brown spines. It often forms low clumps of dozens of stems. The tan flowers are inconspicuous. The bright red berry is cylindrical.

  • Horse Crippler / Monca Caballo Echinocactus texensis
  • Diameter: 12 inches
    Bloom: April to May
    Stems are armed with long, rigid spines, inspiring its name. Green stems are as stiff as rubber tires and can be stepped on by heavy animals without harming the plant. Flowers are pink, lavender or white; fruit is red.


  • Berlandier’s Alicoche / Blank’s Alicoche Echinocereus berlandieri
  • Length: 14 inches
    Bloom: Spring to Summer
    This is a sprawling and clustering cactus with the older stems lying on the ground. Flowers are purple with a darker center. Green fruit is up to 1” long. The plant grows on well-drained soils.

  • Strawberry Cactus / Strawberry Pitaya Echinocereus enneacanthus
  • Length: 16 inches
    Bloom: April to May
    The fruit is edible and tastes like strawberries. The clump-forming cactus has 15 to 100 stems or more. Flowers are large and showy magenta color. Fruit is a round berry, yellow-green to dull red.


  • Small Papillosus / Yellow Flowered Alicoche Echinocereus papillosus var. angusticeps
  • Length: 8 inches
    Bloom: Early Spring
    The cactus forms dense clusters with 2 to 95 stems. Flowers have yellow petals with orange-red centers. The fruit is green and spiny. Cactus does well in limestone and caliche.


  • Lady Finger Cactus Echinocereus pentalophus
  • Length: 6 inches
    Bloom: March to April
    The “pentalophus” refers to the five-ribbed stems. Flowers have purple petals with light centers. The green fruit is up to 1” long. This is a branching and clustering cactus.


  • Pencil Cactus / Dahlia Cactus Echinocereus poselgeri
  • Height: 35 inches
    Bloom: March to April
    The tall and slender plant needs to be supported by shrubs. Sometimes called Dahlia Cactus, its tubers resemble those of dahlias. Flowers have deep pink petals with green fruit. The plants are inconspicuous except when in bloom.


  • Fitch’s Rainbow Cactus Echinocereus reichenbachii var. fitchii
  • Height: 6 inches
    Bloom: April to May
    The unique feature is the ribbed comb-like arrangement of spines. Sometimes called purple candle, the flowers have pink petals with deep purple centers. The green fruit is covered with wool and slender spines.


  • Lower Rio Grande Valley Barrel Cactus Ferocactus hamatacanthus var. sinuatus
  • Height: 24 inches
    Bloom: Late Summer
    This is our largest barrel-type cactus and exceptional plants have been reported to be 60” tall. Flowers have lemon yellow petals and fruit is oval, green and up to 1” long.


  • Dog Cholla / Devil Cactus Opuntia schottii
  • Height: 3 inches
    Bloom: June to July
    The mat-forming cactus has club-shaped joints. The 2 ¾” broad flowers have yellow petals. Fruit is a many-seeded yellow berry up to 1 5/8” long


  • Twisted Rib / Hedgehog Cactus Hamatocactus bicolor
  • Height: 5 inches
    Bloom: April to October
    The “bi-color” refers to the two colors in the flowers, yellow with red centers. The cactus is sometimes confused with the RGV barrel cactus, which has all-yellow flowers. Typically it has 12-19 radial spines. The fruit is bright red.

  • Peyote Lophophora williamsii
  • Width: 5 inches
    Bloom: Spring
    The spineless cactus has a blue-green stem with most of it underground. Flower is pale pink with a red berry fruit. The plant contains hallucinogenic substances and has been used by Native Americans in religious ceremonies.


  • Pincushion Cactus / Little Chiles Mammillaria heyderi
  • Width: 5 inches
    Bloom: March to April
    The flowers and fruit typically form a ring near the top of the stem. It has light pink flowers with bright red club-shaped berries which are sweet and tart. It is a deeply-seated cactus, with little above the soil.


  • Hair Covered Cactus / Grape Cactus Mammillaria prolifera var. texana
  • Height: 3 inches
    Bloom: March to May
    The small egg-shaped cactus is recognized by hair-like spines covering the surface. Multiple stems grow rapidly, thus Latin term “prolifera”. Mature plants are found in clumps of up to 20. Flowers are pale yellow to tan with red berry fruit.


  • Yellow Flowered Pincushion Cactus Mammillaria sphaerica
  • Width: 3 inches
    Bloom: Spring and Summer
    The plant is distinguished from other mammillarias by its yellow-green stems. Cacti are found under the shade in the brush country. The fragrant flower is lemon yellow. Fruit is maroon to almost white, up to 5/16” long.>

  • Texas Prickly Pear / Nopal Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri
  • Height: 10 feet
    Bloom: April to June
    The sprawling cactus with pads has yellow spines, not thorns! Pads (nopalitos) and fruit (tunas) are eaten by people and wildlife! The purple fruit, up to 2 ¾”, is eaten raw or cooked. The flower color varies from yellow, orange, red or pink.

  • Desert Christmas Cactus / Tasajillo Opuntia leptocaulis
  • Height: 5 feet
    Bloom: July to August
    The thicket forming cactus produces bright red, juicy berries around December, thus its common name. The red fruits are eaten by Rio Grande turkey, white-tailed deer and more. Flowers are pale green and are inconspicuous.

  • Low-Growing Prickly Pear Opuntia macrorhiza
  • Height: 15 inches
    Bloom: April to June
    The low sprawling plant has over 3 or more joints. The red fruit is about 3 ½” tall. The flowers are typically yellow with an orange-reddish center which distinguishes it from the Texas Prickly Pear.

  • Queen of the Night / Moonlight Cactus Selenicereus spinulosus
  • Height: 13 feet
    Bloom: Spring and Summer
    The beautiful white flower opens at night and is about 3 ½” broad or more. The oval fruit has a yellow or red spiny berry up to 2” long. The clambering stem is ribbed, making aerial roots.

  • Glory of Texas Thelocactus bicolor
  • Height: 9 inches
    Bloom: March to July and after fall rains
    Unlike most cacti, it blooms throughout the year thus the name “Glory of Texas”. The egg-shaped cactus has whitish radial spines that look like wood shavings. The “bicolor” refers to the stunning rose pink flower with red center.


17 Native Plants

  • Guayacán / Ironwood Guaiacum angustifolium (Porlieria angustifolia)
  • Height: 23 feet
    Bloom: March to April
    The evergreen shrub is slow growing. The wood is green, dense and sinks in water. It has a tiny violet flower and is the host plant for the Lyside Sulphur butterfly. Containing 18% crude protein, it is an important browse plant for deer.

  • Candelilla / Wax Plant Euphorbia antisyphilitica
  • Height: 20 feet
    Bloom: Spring, after rains
    The stems are coated with wax that slows evaporation of precious water. Plants are boiled in large vats in order to extract and sell the high quality wax. The tiny male and female cuplike flowers are in the upper parts of the stem.

  • Sweet Stem / Vara Dulce Aloysia macrostachya
  • Height: 6 feet
    Bloom: January to October
    The aromatic shrub has numerous branches. It is an excellent butterfly nectar plant. The Spanish name translates as “sweet stem”. The flowers are a pinkish color and the fruit has two nutlets. Typically found on rocky or gravelly land.

  • Mexican Oregano / Redbrush Lippia Lippia graveolens
  • Height: 10 feet
    Bloom: Spring, Summer, Fall
    The plant grows well on gravely hills. The leaves have an oregano scent when crushed and can be used in cooking. The flowers are whitish with yellow centers. The dry oval shaped fruit is less than 1/8” long.

  • Texas Purple Sage / Cenizo Leucophyllum frutescens
  • Height: 4 feet
    Bloom: throughout the year
    The Spanish name meaning “ash” refers to the ashy colored leaves. It has no thorns and pinkish to purple flower blooms throughout the year. It is the host plant for the Theona Checkerspot butterfly.

  • Goat Bush / Amargosa Castela erecta subsp. texana
  • Height: 6 feet
    Bloom: March to May
    The shrub has whitish branches and shiny green leaves. The small flowers and fruit are red. It is frequently used as a nesting site for birds. The Spanish word translates as “bitter” referring to the bitter-tasting leaves, stems and fruit.

  • White Brush / Common Bee Brush Aloysia gratissima
  • Height: 8 feet
    Bloom: March to November
    The shrub has a pleasant aroma and attracts butterflies and bees with its fragrant white flowers. It is an important nectar-producing plant for honey and provides cover for wildlife. The plant can be toxic to horses and livestock.


  • Narrow Leaf Elbow Bush Forestiera angustifolia
  • Height: 8 feet
    Bloom: Spring, Summer, Fall
    The small black fruit and leaves provide food for wildlife. It is thornless and the male and female flowers are on separate plants.

  • Blackbrush Acacia / Chaparro Prieto Acacia rigidula
  • Height: 10 feet
    Bloom: February to July
    Small thorny tree has white to yellow flowers in cylindrical clusters which are a source of nectar for honey. The seeds are eaten by bobwhite quail and others. The leaves and beans are browsed by white-tailed deer.

  • Desert Yaupon / Capul Schaefferia cuneifolia
  • Height: 6 feet
    Bloom: February to September
    The orange fruit is eaten by birds and mammals like the cactus wren and the coyote. Flowers are light green and the male and female flowers are on separate plants. The Latin term “cuneifolia” refers to the “wedge-shaped” leaves.

  • Coyotillo Karwinskia humboldtiana
  • Height: 7 feet
    Bloom: Spring to Summer
    The thornless shrub has prominent veins on the leaves. Seeds and leaves are poisonous. The green fruit turns black when mature and is eaten by the coyote and chachalaca. The Two-barred Flasher butterfly uses it as its host plant.

  • Lotebush / Wax Plant Ziziphus obtusifolia
  • Height: 6 feet
    Bloom: Summer
    The shrub has prominent thorns and grayish branches. The leaves are browsed by deer and the black fruit is eaten by the gray fox, coyote, chachalaca and others. The flowers are very small and greenish.

  • Southwest Bernardia / Oreja De RatonBernardia myricifolia
  • Height: 8 feet
    Bloom: Spring, Summer, Fall
    The fruit is a 3-seeded capsule. The male and female flowers are on separate plants. The leaves are browsed by deer and livestock. The drought tolerant plant is host to the Lacy’s Scrub-hairstreak butterfly. Spanish name means “rat’s ear.”

  • Leather Stem / Sangre De DragoJatropha dioica
  • Height: 24 inches
    Bloom: Spring, Summer, Fall
    The thick-rooted perennial has rubbery stems that bleed red juice when cut. The male and female white bell-shaped flowers are on separate plants. Its sap is believed to have various healing properties. The plant can be toxic to livestock.

  • Slender Evolvulus / Capul Evolvulus alsinoides var. angustifolius
  • Height: 27 inches
    Bloom: All seasons
    The long slender hairy stems are up to 7-28” long. The flowers can be bluish-white to deep blue. It is a perennial plant lasting all season long.

  • Snake Eyes / Ojo De Vibora Phaulothamnus spinescens
  • Height: 8 feet
    Bloom: August to September
    The plant is tall with spiny branches. The male and female green flowers are on separate plants. A single seed is visible through the translucent berry, thus its name “snake eyes”.

  • Blue Mistflower / Crucita Chromolaena odorata
  • Height: 6 feet
    Bloom: All seasons, but mostly in the Fall
    This blue flowering shrub is in the sunflower family. It is a butterfly favorite attracting the Rounded Metalmark butterfly and more. Spanish word “cruz” translates to “cross” referring to the branching habit.

14 Native Trees

  • Spanish Dagger / Palma Pita Yucca treculeana
  • Height:12 feet
    Bloom: February to April
    The white flowers are the first sign of spring. They are harvested and eaten as a salad or sautéed. The Harris’s Hawk and Cactus Wren nest in the tree. The roots have been used for soap. Pollination of yuccas depends on a small moth.

  • Wild Olive / Anacahuita Cordia boissieri
  • Height: 26 feet
    Bloom: All seasons
    The small tree has showy white flowers throughout the year. The fruit is a yellowish green and eaten by cattle, white-tailed deer and more. It is an important nectar plant for hummingbirds and many birds nest in the tree.

  • Anacua / Sugarberry Ehretia anacua
  • Height: 49 feet
    Bloom: June to October
    The yellow orange fruit is an important food source for birds and mammals including the coyote, raccoon and chachalaca. The tiny white flowers are funnel shaped. The leaves are rough to touch and are often called the sandpaper tree.

  • Texas Persimmon / Chapote Parkinsonia aculeata
  • Height: 15 to 20 feet
    Bloom: March to April
    This well- shaped, small tree is valued primarily for its striking trunk and branches, which are a smooth, pale greyish white or whitish grey, peeling off to reveal subtle grey, whites, and pinks beneath. The fruits, borne on female trees, are edible once soft, with a flavor some liken to prunes, and are favorite of many birds and mammals. It is extremely drought-tolerant and disease-resistant and is ideal for small spaces in full sun.

  • Retama / Jerusalem Thorn Leucophyllum frutescens
  • Height: 32 feet
    Bloom: Spring to Summer
    The green-barked tree has curved spines and is a deciduous tree. The flowers are yellow with one red petal. The seeds are enjoyed by birds and are spread easily.

  • Wright’s Catclaw / Uǹa De Gato Acacia greggii var. wrightii
  • Height: 20 feet
    Bloom: March to May
    The tree produces a nice white fragrant flower when in bloom. The pollen produced by the flowers is an important food for bees and a source of nectar for honey. The curved prickles resemble a cat’s claw.

  • Huisachillo / Twisted Acacia Acacia schaffneri
  • Height: 8 feet
    Bloom: Spring
    The branching structure has a twisting pattern and tiny fragrant orange flower clusters. Black legumes are velvety-hairy and 6” long. It can be confused with the Huisache which has hairless and shorter legumes.

  • Huisache Acacia farnesiana
  • Height: 20 feet
    Bloom: Spring
    This small tree has tiny orange fragrant flower clusters. The black legume can be 3 1/8” long. This is a good honey plant. For hundreds of years the flowers have been used to produce fine perfume in Europe.

  • Tenaza Havardia pallens (Pithecellobium pallens)
  • Height: 16 feet
    Bloom: May to August
    The white fragrant blooms make the tree an important butterfly nectar source. The tree has smooth bark. The Spanish name means pinchers or pliers representing the paired spines on the trunk and branches.

  • Honey Mesquite / Mesquite Prosopis glandulosa
  • Height: 36 feet
    Bloom: May to September
    The shade tree provides nesting sites for many birds. The sweet beans provide food for cattle, javelina, deer, and people. The flowers are an important source of nectar for honey. The wood is desirable for lumber, fence posts and barbecues.

  • Texas Kidneywood / Vara Dulce Eysenhardtia texana
  • Height: 13 feet
    Bloom: April to September
    The fragrant white or yellowish flowers provide nectar for honey production. It is a great butterfly nectar plant and host to the Southern Dogface butterfly. The leaves are browsed by white-tailed deer.

  • Brasil / Capul Negro Condalia hookeri
  • Height: 30 feet
    Bloom: Spring to Summer
    The thicket-forming tree has leaves which contain about 15% crude protein, and are browsed by deer. The black fruit is eaten by the coyote, raccoon, and birds. The fruit has been used for a purple dye. The flowers are small greenish-yellow.

  • Colima / Lime Prickly Ash Zanthoxylum fagara
  • Height: 29 feet
    Bloom: Spring
    The evergreen tree is prickly and the bruised leaves emit a citrus fragrance. It has reddish fruit and green flowers. Colima, with its defensive prickles, provides shelter for birds to nest. It is the host plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.

  • Coma / Chicle Sideroxylon celastrinum
  • Height: 25 feet
    Bloom: May to November
    The small tree has very fragrant small white flowers. The blue-black sticky fruit is loved by birds thus the name “chicle”. It provides food and cover for wildlife and a nesting site for birds.


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