The cactus is a very popular plant, no questions about that, right?
Among the more than 10,000 succulent species out there, cacti steal the show with just how every plant enthusiast is on the prowl on grabbing at least one of them. They surely reign supreme not just in the succulents’ circles but the whole houseplants empire.
You have one sitting around, right? Definitely. I know we do.
So, it’s only prudent that you at least have a little bit more information about your plant. Here it is.
Why is it Named “Cactus”?
Cactus is a Latin-inspired word from ancient Greek life. Back then, kaktos was the word used to refer to a spiky plant that was prevalent in Sicily.
But as time will have it, the name gradually became a reference to the present-day plants we know, most of which are desert dwellers in the wild.
Cactus in the Botany World
In scientific terms, cactus belongs to the family— Cactaceae. This family is a vast collection under which there are more than 120 genera and upwards of 1,700 species.
Though the majority here grow in arid and semiarid areas, a select few cacti thrive in tropical regions with far much better conditions for lush growth.
Here’s an article depicting the difference between cacti and succulents.
Origin of Cactus
Cacti are largely endemic to the American continents. The whole regions from north to south are home to dozens of known cactus plants.
The northern limit stretches all the way to Western Canada. In the south, the cacti cover extends to Chile, British Columbia, Alberta Argentina and Patagonia.
Mexico takes the lion’s share, as the country native to the most species of cacti.
The only cactus without its roots in these regions is the Rhipsalis Baccifera, which has been found to be a native of parts of East Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka.
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General Characteristics of Cacti
Most cacti are adapted to thrive in conditions of little water. The following are the physical attributes that make this possible. Of course, there are exceptions which form just a small part of the cactus type.
If you need some additional help on when to water your succulents, we have the perfect article for you!
Short Growing Season and Long Periods of Dormancy
Water availability (rather lack of it) is a strong contributor to this. The growing seasons coincide with periods of rain, which are obviously short-lived. Consequently, the plants have to use this limited time (and the additional vital resource) to develop.
Growth is put on hold as soon the rains are over to preserve as much water as possible.
When it’s time to repot your cactus, check out this article!
A Shallow Root System
This is very important in the desert ecosystem, where rains are far apart. The roots are found near the surface and spread out over a large area so that any water droplets are immediately sucked up and stored.
Highly Modified Leaves in the Form of Spines
Most cacti are devoid of leaves. Instead, they possess spikes that serve a number purposes
- They deter desert herbivores from feeding on them
- Reduce loss of water from the stem by being hindrances to free flow of air around the plant.
The spikes also serve as distinctive features of different cacti plants. By looking at them, you can be able to tell which plant it is that you’re handling. That’s by observing properties like color, number, shape, size and hardness.
Just in case you may be a little clumsy (like some us here), here’s a useful pair of tweezers that have help us pull out a cactus thorn… or two.
Store Water in Their Stems
Succulents typically store water in their leaves. But for cacti, their reduced leaves come up short on size.
So, the stem is the part equipped for this function. The presence of spikes and a waxy cuticle greatly reduces the amount that is lost in the air.
The stem is also a food factory for the plant.
Specialized Branches in the Form of Areoles
Areoles are a feature specific to cacti. They are small hairy structures found on the stems.
From the areoles, spikes and flowers emerge. Areoles on the lower parts of the stem become inactive after a few years leaving those at the terminals to keep up with their function.
More Than Just Ornamental Plants— Uses of Cacti
Of course cacti are grown for the main reason of raising the aesthetic appeal of a place – be it a home or an office. Or as a hobby.
The large number of species really does provide more than enough options in terms of color, shape and size. But then this same number is a gateway to more cacti benefits. Have a look.
And if you’re curious… Here’s our interpretation of what it means if someone gifts you a cactus!
Cacti are a known source of food in many regions across the world. Generally, any fleshy fruit from a cactus is a potential savory delight.
Apart from fruits, flowers and pads of some cacti species are edible. The Indian Fig Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) is one of the plants whose fruits and pads can be munched. It is widely recognized for this in Mexico and parts of Africa. Check out this edible Prickly Pear Cactus.
Other cacti grown for food are Carnegiea Gigantea, Stenocereus Queretaoensis, Hylocereus Undatus among others.
Cacti can even become a part of your daily beauty routine, with this antioxidant serum!
Fodder / Forage
Human beings are not the only beneficiaries of the edible nature of some cacti. Livestock too enjoy a mouthful of these desert vegetation. But first, the spines will have to be removed. Manadacaru (Cereus Jamacaru) is the most common cactus for this purpose.
The medicinal properties of cacti are just limitless. Among the numerous species, there are a host of them that can be used to combat common illnesses effectively. They are:
- Night-blooming Cereus whose stems and flowers are processed to manufacture medicine for urinary tract infections
- Peyote whose extracts play a role in regulating blood pressure and sleep
- Prickly Pear which is used to treat a range of conditions like indigestion, burned wounds and oedema. Here’s our article devoted to the Prickly Pear!
Other common uses include fencing and making alcoholic drinks (fermenting fruit syrup).
What do you think? Are you ready to own a cactus (or add 10 more to your already existing collection)?
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Want to continue expanding your cacti knowledge? Check out these additional Succulent City articles — How to Check if Your Cactus is Dying, How to Make Your Own Succulent Soil at Home, 9 Rare Cacti That’s Hard to Find, or What is the Purpose of Thorns on a Cactus Plant + many, many more on our website!
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Hey everyone! Welcome to Succulent City! We are all about succulents, cacti, and a bit about air plants. Ten years back, in 2013, we began the journey with succulents. It started as a simple hobby, crafting and selling charming succulent-themed pins and decorations. But as time passed, our fascination with these remarkable plants grew, and we gained extensive knowledge about them. Therefore, Succulent City is the blog as you see it is now. Enjoy your visit and happly planting!