4 Ways To Identify Your Cactus (Quickly & Easily!)

Are you a proud cactus parent but not sure what kind you have?

Don’t worry, I’ve been there!

In this article, I’ll share my 4 favorite methods to help you identify your little cactus baby, so you can ensure it gets the care it deserves.

To do this, I’ll be identifying this little guy that I just picked up while out shopping;

Potted Mammillaria Hahniana commonly known as 'Old Lady Pincushion) with beautiful pink flowers.
Mammillaria Hahniana (Old Lady Pincushion)

It’s a beautiful little Mammillaria Hahniana commonly known as ‘Old lady cactus’ or ‘Old lady pincushion’).

We’ll be using a book, app, Google, and Facebook groups and I’ll walk you through the process step-by-step.

I’d love you to follow along where you can and let me know how you get on in the comments section at the end of the page.

Hopefully, we’ll get the same 4 correct identifications in a row.

What could go wrong eh?

Let’s jump in…..

1. Let’s Start With a Good Old Fashioned Cactus Book

One of my most useful purchases in recent years has to be my trusty Cactus and Succulent book.

My RHS Practical cactus and succulent book
Practical Cactus & Succulent Book

It’s packed from cover to cover with useful information such as planting, soil, and watering tips.

More importantly, it also has over 200 species with beautiful images and specific care requirements for each type.

I’ve found the book invaluable and even now, I find myself dipping into it at least a couple of times per week.

To make an identification, you’ll simply have to search the ‘Plant Profiles’ section and match your cactus to the pictures by size, shape, flowers, type and arrangement of spines, etc.

So that’s exactly what I did….

Positive identification made in the cactus and succulent book

Result;

We have our first match! You can pick up a copy here if you wish. Available as a paperback or on Kindle.

2. Using a Free Plant Identification App

If you have a smartphone, there are several free apps that allow you to upload a picture and get an identification.

I’ve tried a few but I’ve found Pl@ntNet to be the most accurate.

Screenshot of pl@ntnet homepage
Pl@ntNet Identification App

The key here is to get a good picture.

Most of the time the ID is correct but I have known it to be wrong on a couple of occasions.

(I’ll show you how to double-check towards the end of the article).

Here’s how to use it;

  1. Download the Pl@ntNet app on your iPhone or Android.
  2. Click on the ‘Upload’ button and choose your image from your phone or computer.
  3. Scroll through the results and see if you get a match!
The app has corretly identified my mammillaria

Result;

Another match. That’s two for two so far!

3. Ask Google To Identify Your Cactus

To be honest, it blows my mind how Google is able to “see” an image and understand what it is.

I have no idea how it works, I’m just glad it does!

Again, start with a good-quality image and head over to Google.

Click on the little camera image in the main search (see below);

Using Google search by image function to identify your cactus
Google Homepage

You’ll then be prompted to upload your picture;

screenshot of the google lens page. click the 'upload a file' link
Click the ‘upload a file’ link and choose your picture

Select your picture and you’ll be presented with any matches that Google finds;

The results page of my cactus image search
Image search results page

Result

You may not be able to tell from the image but I was presented with quite a few results.

Google found the species of my cactus (Mammillaria) but not the actual type.

I managed to find it a bit further down the page but it helped that I already knew the name.

If I hadn’t, I would have been left feeling a little confused as to which image matched my plant.

4. Finally, Let’s See if Facebook Can Help

I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of social media.

I watch a little Youtube and only have Facebook as I’m part of a few groups based around my hobbies….and that’s it.

Having said that, I’ve found the cactus and succulent groups that I’m part of to be an invaluable source of information.

If you already have an account, great! If not, you can create one here.

Click the groups link on the left hand side of your facebook profile

Sign in and click the ‘groups’ option on the left-hand side of the page.

A search bar will appear at the top, simply type in ‘cactus’ and all of the related groups will appear. Some you can join right away, while others may have to approve you first.

One of my favorites is Cactus Identification and Discussion.

I jumped in, posted my picture, and asked the good people there for identification.

A member of the Facebook group's comment correctly identifying my cactus
My Identification Request in a Cactus Facebook Group

Result

I received a correct response from a very knowledgeable lady within two minutes of my post being approved…wow!

Here are a couple of my other favorite groups ;

Once You Have Your Identification

As we’ve just seen, I’ve been quite lucky. We got three hits from my book, the app, and a Facebook group.

Google was the least helpful this time but has worked well for me in the past.

If your plant is quite rare, you might have a harder time.

That’s why I recommend trying at least two of the methods above and seeing if you get the same result. If not, try a third!

You can always take the full name and type it into the regular Google search bar, browse the images, and make sure that yours matches the image results.

Over To You

Did you manage to identify your cactus using any of the methods we covered here, or have you got a different way that you prefer that I haven’t mentioned?

If so, I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments section below!

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