Cacti are beautiful plants. I mean that’s why you have a few of them around, right? We’re guilty of it for sure … But with this good look, comes the grueling task of having to deal with the thorns, or rather spines as they’re usually referred to in botanical circles. Yes, they may add to the beauty of these plants (with a variety of colors and sizes). But what if they were a bit, say, tender?
Well, if the spines existed for the sole purpose of sitting around your home just maybe that would have been possible. But we all know where they were really meant to be – out there in mostly dry environments braving the harshest of conditions.
And these spines play a huge role in this coping. They’re an adaptation that has ensured the survival of cacti out there in places where a majority of floral is non-existent.
These thorns range from the long and blatantly don’t-mess-with-us types to the small, fine, and yet vicious glochids. Despite this, their functions are more or less the same.
Purpose of Thorns on Cactus Plant
Let’s get to it!
Shade by day insulation by night
A thing with desert temperatures is that they’re always swinging to the extremes – day and night.
During the day, temperatures are sky-high with the shining sun. As the day wears off and the sun disappears in the opposite direction, a downward spiral in readings kicks in resulting in very cold nights.
Now, these aren’t very nice fluctuations for any living thing out there. And that’s where thorns save the day for cacti.
The number of some species adds up to form a considerable amount of cover for the plant. So, during the day, the cactus plant is safe from the scalding hot sun (and the accompanying high temperatures). During the night when temperatures are bottom low, the cactus plant is kept warm by a thin layer of air – attributable to the thorns.
Protection from predators
A known fact: there is very little vegetation in the desert. But you know what?
Cacti would have been great sources for both of the above. Only that they would have been extinct by now, maybe. Most of these animals wouldn’t dare touch the cacti. So, definitely, they have their thorns to thank for that.
Well, it’s true that some desert animals still have a way around the spines and do manage to get a bite (pack rats, bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, etc). But it’s also true that the sharp thorns have kept away lots of others from munching the cactuses out of existence. I mean seriously, would you ever want to munch on something like a cactus, talk about a very painful dental visit.
Cacti are light-loving by nature. Each part has to get plenty of it for the plants to grow accordingly.
But sometimes this is not possible largely due to the style of growth of some. For instance, shrubby ones. Light is going to reach just a few stems. Well, that’s if the cactus plant was just a smooth-stemmed structure. But bless the thorns –they split up light, evenly distributing it around the whole plant.
In fog-prevalent deserts, thorns are quite instrumental in quenching the plant. They trap enough of this fog to turn it into water droplets that later find their way down around the base of the plant.
With the shallow root system common in cacti, the water is quickly absorbed by the plant. And the cacti live on.
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As mentioned above, thorns trap air around cacti that is pivotal in the survival of the plant two major ways. Insulation is one. The other is water preservation.
Certainly not all. Especially not the large ones.
Glochids are the ones that serve this purpose perfectly in some cacti plants like Cholla.
The glochids are tiny, numerous, and quickly (and firmly) attached to a passing body due to their barbed shafts. That way, segments of the plant are carried from the parent to some other place where they form new plants upon being dropped.
Wrapping Things Up
That’s how these thorns have helped cacti survive in the wild. The thorns could be pointless now, you know, with all the care these plants get as houseplants. But their prickly parts are not going away anytime soon.
Who knows, maybe they will as they spend more time in pots. But, that will definitely take a lot of years.
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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!