The traditional cactus has graced cartoons and movies for as long as the medium has existed. The plant is usually tall, relatively thin, and coated in a painful layer of spines. Then there are these, a trio of plants that fall within the same family as cacti but would never lead you to believe they share anything in common with the traditional ones.

These curious plants may look unusual and alien, but they’re every bit as born of the Earth, popping up in the soils of regions all over.

Hatiora Salicornioides

Close-up photo of strange-looking orange and green cactus

At first glance, this cactus may look more like something you’d find along the ocean floor. Also known as Dancing Bones, Drunkard’s Dream, and Spice Cactus, the hatiora salicornioides sports a bushel of stems that average 1.2” long. Earning the cactus the nickname Dancing Bones is the appendage-like appearance of each stem, which is topped off with a bright yellow flower. The colorful ornament that sits atop each finger blooms at least once a year, but it can sometimes emerge a second time if the conditions are right.

When placed in indirect light, the Drunkard’s Dream should thrive, so long as the soil is well-drained. In the wild, hatiora salicornioides is found growing out of tree trunks, with the occasional seedling found breaking through rocky ground. Expect to find these unusual cacti in abundance during the spring.

Discocactus ferricola

Photo of a green, spiny cactus with a white flower growing out of the top
Credit: danultaratanya /

It’s easy to see where the rounded discocactus got its name, and the coloring of the discocactus ferricola further emphasizes its features. Found primarily near the border of Bolivia and Brazil, discocactus ferricola grow on flat outcrops, often in soil rich with iron and manganese. Regions rich with cerrado vegetation and forestry may also see an uptick in growth of this unusual-looking plant.

The blooming of the discocactus ferricola is an intriguing process that starts with the production of a wooly structure from which white flowers grow. When it blooms during summer, discocactus ferricola has a sweet aroma that emanates from the tubular flowers.

Unlike many cacti, the half-inch spines curve outward from the center of individual areoles. It’s these areoles that make the discocactus ferricola look segmented, much like the shimmering panels of a disco ball.


Close-up photo of a pink flower growing from a green cactus
Credit: Evelia Smith /

When you think of a cactus, you likely picture a rigid, spiny plant growing straight up from the ground. Epiphyllums are quite a bit different from the norm and have the appearance of an emerald green hanging plant you’d find in a greenhouse. You may also assume that all cacti are found in desert environments, but this hanging succulent grows in the tropics of Central and South America.

The jointed stems of epiphyllums grow upwards of 30 inches. In the wild, they grow among other vegetation, often feasting off of the rotting plants that surround it. Though it may sound parasitic, epiphyllums often have a positive impact on the vegetation around them. They won’t kill the plants they grow from and eat only dead plants and organic waste.

Not only are epiphyllums attractive as a garden or house plant, but they are also known for growing an edible fruit said to taste like passion fruit.

Succulents and Cacti

Photo of tall cacti with mountains and a city skyline in the background
Credit: Davel5957 /

A succulent is a plant that stores water in its stems, leaves or roots, much like what cacti do to survive. Should someone talk about the succulent they have adorning their home for decoration, with only 60 different plant families that are also succulents, you can venture a guess that it may be a cactus. Just remember, a cacti is always a succulent, but a succulent is not always a cacti.