|Etymology -From the Latin word ferox, meaning "fierce" and the Greek word kaktos, meaning "thistle"
Ferocactus is a genus that has long been a major stereotype for the entire cactus family. Their imposing "barrel" shape can be seen in paintings and other forms of desert art, cartoons, and movies. Bolstered by errant folklore, the Ferocactus has been nicknamed "The Traveler’s Friend". This is due to the belief that these "living barrels" are reservoirs of fresh drinking water in the hot arid deserts just waiting to be tapped into by a parched and wayward visitor. While this idea is quite romantic and plays well to the imagination, in reality, it is not recommended to drink this water as it is far too alkaline and may worsen the effects of dehydration. A far better source of water can be found in the flattened leaf-like pads of the nearby Opuntia species.
As a whole the species included in Ferocactus are indeed barrel-shaped, but some remain as smaller round stems and some may form clumps of few to many stems. These stems are ribbed – mostly straight, sometimes tuberculate. All species have stout spines, some of them especially thick and heavy and may be hooked or straight. Spines come in a wide range of colors, often varying within species, and may be yellow, gray, white, brown, pinkish, or most notably, brilliant red. On many species, the central spines feature ridges that run perpendicular to the spine. Flowers come from the top of the plant, often forming a right around the apex. Flowers vary from yellow to red and are funnel shaped opening from between 1 and 2 inches in diameter. It is not unusual for developing buds to have to fight their way up through seemingly impenetrable masses of spines. The buds are scaly and naked. Fruits in most species are elongated and bright yellow and retain the dried flower parts at the top. This gives them an uncanny resemblance to little pineapples. As the flowers form in rings around the top of the stem, so the fruits form bright yellow rings and are quite showy. The fruits are mostly dry with a very tough, fleshy skin and contain many hard black or brown seeds.
In the wild, Ferocactus can be found in the Southwestern United states and throughout much of Mexico. Due to their size, Ferocactus can be spotted easily from the road and often indicate a habitat where smaller, hard-to-spot cactus may be found. A couple species of Ferocactus are sold by the large commercial growers, most notably F. latispinus. Ferocactus seeds are also a large percentage of the seeds in the mixed packs of cactus seed sold around the world. Mostly due to their ease of collection and typically these are from species F. wislizenii. Nearly all species exist in the collections of more dedicated cactus growers.