18 Interesting Facts about Cactus

Cacti are known for their unique ability to store water, capability to survive hot and dry weather, and a huge number of varieties.

But there is much more to these hardy succulents we know of as desert plants. Here are some interesting facts about cacti that you may not know:

Cactus Spines Help Collect Water and Reduce Water Loss

Everyone knows that the spines on a cactus plant help protect it from predatory animals and ensure its survival. But it’s not common knowledge that these spines also contribute to water conservation and preventing its loss.

Their role in water conservation is indirect but important to plants’ survival in deserts where every drop of water is important.

When the night falls, the fog lands on a cactus’ spines and turns into water. These tiny droplets of water trickle down the plant to the ground, where they are absorbed by the plant’s roots. Interesting, isn’t it?

The spines also help lower the water evaporation rate by breaking the airflow around a cactus. The spines create a buffer without which the cacti would lose a lot of water very rapidly.

The Word “Cactuses” Isn’t Wrong

While ‘cacti’ is the most widely used plural for cactus, the word ‘cactuses’ isn’t wrong, as many believe. Both are accepted variants for the plural of cactus.

The word ‘cacti’ is essentially the plural of cactus in Latin, whereas in English, the plural of cactus is ‘cactuses.’ Both are considered correct in modern English, though.

In terms of usage, ‘cacti’ is the preferred plural term in books, print media, scientific research studies, and medical publications, whereas ‘cactuses’ is often used in verbal communication and informal writings.

In other words, ‘cactuses’ is more commonly used in informal settings, and ‘cacti’ is favored in formal settings.

Cacti Open Their Stomata Only at Night

As opposed to regular (non-succulent) plants, cacti keep their stomata closed during the day to prevent water loss. They were only open at night. The mechanism is called ‘Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM)”.

For those who may not know, stomata are the tiny cell structures, or pores, found on the uppermost layer of plant stems, leaves, and stalks through which the exchange of gases occurs between plants and the atmosphere during photosynthesis. It is also through stomata that plants transpire.

Cacti Can Naturally Propagate Through Spines

In addition to helping in water conservation, a cactus’ spines can also naturally propagate the plant. The spines that are separated from the plant for any reason, by strong winds or by sticking to animals eventually grow into new cacti plants when they fall to the ground. This is cacti’s natural mechanism to ensure survival.

Cacti Have a Waxy Coating

Cacti plants have multi-layered protection against water loss. The waxy coating on their stems, branches, or pads is another natural characteristic of cacti for preventing water loss in their natural habitat, i.e., deserts.

 This is contrary to plants growing in humid regions. A waxy, cacti-like coating would cause those plants to rot and die.

There are Thousands of Cacti Species

You may know a few different types of cacti, but scientific data tells that the succulent plant has thousands of species.

There isn’t any fixed, universally agreed-upon number for cacti species. The reported figures range from 2,000 to 3,000 from different sources.

A Cactus Plant Can Outlive Several Human Generations

A cactus plant can live up to 200 years in the wilderness. It can outlive most other plants and several human generations.

However, its lifespan is significantly reduced when a cactus is grown indoors. Indoor cacti plants only survive for ten years on average. However, many die as soon as within a few months.

Cacti Take Years to Grow

Cacti live long, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can enjoy fully-grown plants throughout their existence.

Most cacti species have a very slow growth rate. When grown from seeds, it takes about two to three years for the plants to grow a few centimeters.

Even after that, it only grows about 1 to 3 cm per year, on average. This applies to most cacti species. However, a few can grow up to 15 cm per year.

Saguaro Cactus has the slowest growth rate of all cacti species. It can take up to ten years to grow only an inch and a half.

Growing cactus is a game of patience.

Cacti Attract Ants to Protect Themselves

We all know that cacti spines help keep the animals away and play a vital role in plants’ survival in deserts. But did you know these succulent plants have another way to protect themselves? And they are ants!

Cacti plants produce four different types of nectar to attract ants, which protect them from bugs and critters that can slip through the spikes and damage plants.

The ants attack small insects that make their way to cacti stems through spines. But this is not it. The ants on cacti also kill the fungi and bacteria that could otherwise damage or kills the plants.

Cactus Comes in a Variety of Colors

You may have seen cacti plants only in green. But they come in a variety of colors. These include red, yellow, orange, purple, and white. Yes, there are white cacti, too.

White Christmas cactus, Brazilian and Peruvian old lady cacti, white ghost cactus, and snowflake cactus are some examples of white cacti plants.

Cacti Also Grow in Mountains and in Tropical Regions

We know cacti as desert plants. While it’s true that most cacti species thrive in deserts, the plants aren’t exclusive to deserts.

They can grow on mountains and in tropical regions, too. And you may be surprised to know that some cacti species can even survive on snow-covered mountains.

Cacti Aren’t the Only Succulents

The terms cacti and succulents are often used interchangeably. Although all cacti are succulents, it’s important to note that not all succulents are cacti.

Succulent is a generic term used for plants that store water in their roots, stems, and leaves. And cacti are a type of succulents. Here are some examples of succulents that are not cacti:

  • Sedum Rupestre Angelina – Angelina Stonecrop
  • Delosperma Cooperi – Purple Ice Plant
  • Aloe Barbadensis – Aloe Vera (Yes! it’s not a cactus)
  • Portulaca grandiflora – Moss Rose
  • Agave Americana – Agave
  • Sempervivum Tectorum – Hens and Chicks
  • Kalanchoe blossfeldiana – Flaming Katy

A Cactus Plant Doesn’t Always Bloom

The cactus is a flowering plant. But it doesn’t always bloom.

Blooming in cacti can be impacted by how it’s grown, taken care of, and environmental factors. So, your plant may or may not bloom.

Cacti Are Fairly Young Members of the Plant Kingdom

Cacti have existed on earth for a few million years. But they are considered relatively young members of the plant kingdom from a geological perspective.

Paleontologists have not found any fossils of cacti, which has led them to believe that the plant family is only a few million years old.

Cactus Is Also Used as Food

Cacti may have been able to keep animals away with their spikes, but not humans. It’s used as food in several parts of the world and is quite common in Mexico, Latin America, and the American Southwestern regions.

Before you go on to try the cactus in your garden, it’s important to tell that only one kind of cactus is edible. It’s called the Prickly Pear Cactus.

Edible cactus is also often referred to as nopales or nopalitos. Both the leaves and fruit of this cactus variety are edible.

Cacti Can Offer Several Health Benefits

This may come as a surprise to many, but several research studies have confirmed that cacti plants can offer several health benefits by improving indoor air quality.

Cactus can also help boost productivity by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in your surroundings, which can clear your mind and improve concentration.

The reduced levels of carbon dioxide are also known to help lower stress and anxiety.

Cacti Can Survive Up To Two Years without Water

Everyone knows that cacti can save tons of water and live for extended periods without water. But, we can bet that most people didn’t know that the ‘extended period’ could be years. It’s true, though.

Research tells that desert cacti can live up to two years without water.

Cactus Plants Can Grow Up Over 60 Feet Tall

While cacti do not grow too tall in homes, they can grow over 60 feet in height in the wilderness. Mexican fence posts, Saguaro, and Orchid Cactus are some of the tallest cacti species.

The Sum Up

Cacti are amazing plants with plenty of incredible qualities. They come in countless varieties, can store unbelievable amounts of water, and can survive in environments where most other plants cannot.

They are highly adaptable and can offer some great benefits for your health, too, giving you all the more reasons to grow them in your home.