The golden barrel cactus, scientifically known as Echinocactus grusonii and jokingly dubbed the “mother-in-law-cushion,” can reach heights of 1 meter and widths of 1 meter. In mature plants, there may be up to 35 distinct ribs, which grow sharp yellow spines in varied hues. The spines, which resemble spikes, overlap between each rib, protecting the cactus from predators. Young golden barrels do not have a symmetrical appearance, and reaching complete maturity might take up to 20 years.
In the summer, the fully matured golden barrel cactus blooms with tiny yellow flowers at the top of its crown. Pollinators like bees and butterflies are attracted to these buds. Birds in this area may also extract the fruit from the blossoms using specifically-shaped beaks. Their consumption of the fruit’s seeds aids in spreading the cactus across the region. Cacti with golden barrels may also regrow. Pups, or new offsets, emerge in clusters from a well-established root foundation.
The main threat to the golden barrel cactus, classified as endangered, is human activity, with agriculture and cattle grazing decimating their ecosystem. Only 6% of their original range is intact, with 5% in protected areas and fewer than 1% outside protected areas. Despite this, the circular form of the golden barrel has made a fashionable comeback in modern landscape designs. Its range has been artificially stretched over most of the Southwest United States, making it one of the most popular cacti in cultivation. This has helped raise awareness of the species while also providing food for essential pollinators.