Cacti & Desert Succulents

All park resources, including cactus and other succulents, are protected. It is illegal to pick flowers and seeds, or remove plants from the park.

Green tubular cactus with dark red flowers on it, in front of a black boulder, with red cliffs and blue sky in the background.
The claret cup cactus is known for its deep red flowers.

NPS/ Shauna Cotrell

Claret Cup

Scientific Name: Echinocereus triglochidiatus
Size (height & diameter): Stems are 3–6 in (7.6–15.2 cm) tall and 1.5–2.5 in (3.8–6.4 cm) in diameter
Habitat: Found throughout the park in mixed desert shrub and pinyon-juniper communities.
Flowering Season: April–June
Range: Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico

Description: Claret cup typically forms a rounded clump of several tubular stems with vertical ribs. It is sometimes found in large groupings consisting of over 50 individual plants. This cactus has striking scarlet red flowers that grow from the top of each stem, usually in small clusters. Unlike most cacti, claret cups are pollinated by hummingbirds instead of insects. Fruits are small and bright red at maturity.

Green plant with narrow dagger-shaped leaves at base, with tall stalk covered in downward pointed pale cream colored flowers, with a background of blue sky and a strike valley.
Harriman's Yucca can be found throughout Capitol Reef.

NPS / Shauna Cotrell

Harriman's Yucca

Scientific Name: Yucca harrimaniae
Size (height & diameter): Leaves up to 20 in (51 cm) tall, flower stalk up to 30 in (76 cm) tall
Habitat: Found throughout the park in mixed desert shrub, grasslands, sagebrush, and pinyon-juniper communities.
Flowering Season: May to August
Range: Utah, and the Southwest

Description: Harriman’s Yucca has many wide, bell-shaped flowers that hang down from the tall flowering stalk. The flowers are cream-colored and pollinated by yucca moths. A female moth will collect pollen into a ball from one plant, and transfer this pollen packet to another plant, where she lays her eggs. By pollinating the yucca flower, the mother moth ensures that the plant will produce seeds, some of which will be eaten by her babies. Yucca plants are important to many Native American tribes; the leaf fibers can be used to make baskets, mats, and sandals.


Plains Prickly Pear

Scientific Name: Opuntia polyacantha
Size (height): 4–12 in (10–30.5 cm) tall; clumps may spread 8–10 ft (2.5–3 m) wide
Habitat: Widespread throughout the park in mixed desert shrub, sagebrush, pinyon-juniper, and mixed conifer communities.
Flowering Season: May–June
Range: Utah, Nevada to Oklahoma and north to Canada

Description: Plains prickly pear is a mat forming cactus with jointed stems and moderately flattened oval to circular pads that are up to 5 in (13 cm) long and equally wide. The specific name polyacantha means "many spines" which describes the surface of the pads. The flowers are 1.5-3.5 in (3.8 -8.9 cm) wide and yellow, orange, pink, or violet. This cactus has one of the widest distributions of any cactus, partially due to its ability to withstand below freezing temperatures.

Two photos: bright pink flowers on prickly pear cactus, and bright yellow flowers on another prickly pear cactus.
Prickly pear is common in the park and is particularly showy on the Cohab Canyon trail.

NPS / Shauna Cotrell

small cactus with large curved spines, with two pale yellow flowers on top.
While small in stature, the fishhook cactus has large, colorful flowers.

NPS/ Shauna Cotrell

Small-Flower Fishhook Cactus

Scientific Name: Sclerocactus whipplei
Size (height & diameter): 2–12 in (5–30.5 cm) tall, 2–6 in (5–15 cm) diameter
Habitat: Found throughout the park in desert grasslands, mixed desert shrub, and pinyon juniper woodland communities.
Flowering Season: April–July
Range: Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada

Description: This barrel-shaped cactus was named for the 0.5–3 in (1.3–7.6 cm) long spines that are hooked at the tip like a fishhook. The flowers are up to 2 in (5 cm) wide and are pink, white, or yellow.

Last updated: February 14, 2021

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