The Cactus plant is drastically different to most plants because, instead of bearing leaves that help to remove excess water via the medium of transpiration, Cacti miss out on leaves almost entirely and have spines. This means they lose less water and can survive in arid environments.
The name cactus derived from the Greek word kaktos, which means prickly plant.
Many Cacti have spines, but others are found with prickles or hairs; hence the name, derived from the Greek for prickly plant – ‘kaktos’. Elsewhere, there are differences between the body shapes of different Cactus plants, with some cacti being segmented in places.
Desert Cacti are typically found on the American continents and on islands such as Madagascar. Desert Cacti include short, shrubby plants and taller Cacti that are more like trees.
Within a jungle environment such as those commonly found in South America, Cacti can also be found on rocks or growing in trees. The latter group do not gain any nutrients from the trees they grow on and instead draw substance from dead leaves or debris, for example.
It can take years for a Cactus plant to flower but those that do will most likely emerge from mid-spring to mid-summer. Some varieties will only bloom for a few hours at a time before wilting.
There are between 1,500 and 1,800 species of Cactus and they belong to the Cactaceae family. Within this family there are several sub-families which include Cactoideae, Maihuenioideae, Opuntioideae and Pereskioideae.
A desert Cacti needs to be placed in a sunny position during summer and spring, then in a cooler, dry place during autumn onwards. Fertiliser should be added to the Cacti every fortnight during a period of growth. For an Epiphytic cactus, avoid the sun and add more water.
Did You Know?
In England in 2010 a rare Agave cactus finally flowered after a 52-year wait.
The large Saguaro cactus often provides a home to nesting woodpeckers that seek a respite from hot temperatures.