Many are tall and thin. Others are short and fat. Some are even bald. And if provoked, all can sting with those prickly spines!
The spunky shapes, sizes and spines lure me into the cacti world.
Many thanks to Altman Plants for providing the cacti and succulents for this post. Altman Plants are dreamy.
Now you want to know about the googly eyes. Okay, that’s all my mom. Who else is gonna find you goggly eyes with eyelashes?
But I digress. Pardon all my silliness.
So saddle up your horses, let’s go all wild west today and slash into some cacti facts!
Make sure you check out my reclaimed driftwood planters.
1.) All cactus are succulents & succulents are hot now
So you can’t use the term cacti and succulent interchangeably.
Succulents are plants that store water and nutrients in their leaves, stems and even roots. Sixty different plant families boast ties to this succulent group including aloe, haworthia, sedum, sempervivum and cacti.
Cacti are fleshy plants that store water making them a succulent. But they usually do not have branches or true leaves.
Cactuses ability to retain water helps them survive periods of drought. The spongy tissues of their thick, fleshy stems can hold water during the rainy season.
It forces the water down into the roots.
So cactus spines are actually modified “leaves” and it is the stalk that performs photosynthesis.
But for a succulent to be considered a cactus, the plant must have areoles.
2.) Speaking of those areoles…
To the human eye, areoles look like a tiny patch of cotton. The areoles are arranged in clusters separated by areas of spineless skin. Each areole usually bears multiple spines.
Sometimes these spine clusters are arranged in rows along raised ridges, as in barrel cacti and saguaro.
A few succulents get mistaken for cacti because they have thorns or spines, but these traits do not automatically qualify a succulent as a cactus.
All cacti have areoles. No other plant besides cacti have areoles. So checking a plant to see whether the plant has areoles is the only real way to distinguish a cactus from other succulents.
The ‘Christmas Sleigh’ aloe succulent in the below left bottom photo shows great spines but no areoles. Their spines grow directly out of the plant tissue, therefore aloe is not a cactus.
To the bottom right is a ‘Hens and Chicks’ succulent plant. Again, if you squint, you can see those fun spikes at the tip of the “leaves”. No areole though. So not a cactus either.
The back plant is an echeveria ‘Neon Breakers’ succulent. Tough to see those spiny spikes but I assure you they exist! But no areoles, so again, not a cactus.
The size of the spines on the areoles vary from species to species but can be as long as 15 cm. Yikes! Don’t touch.
Spines help protect the plant from the sun while reducing evaporation. They also provide a multitude of surfaces where dew can condense at night, supplying extra water.
Spines can even condense moisture in the air so that it drips onto the ground, providing the plant with water.
Some cactus spines are light in color which help them reflect the most sunlight all the while keeping the plant cool in the desert.
Spines also protect the plant from birds and other predators who only go after the cactus for water!
3.) How do you make cactus plural or it is plural already?
Latin is given lots of leeway on biological nomenclature. So Latin plurals are not considered out of place in botany and other scientific fields.
But are you ready for this one? Like other names of plants, sometimes cactusis can be considered the plural.
Fungus is like cactus and becomes fungi when made plural. Funguses sounds silly but is also grammatically correct.
But then again no one says octopi instead of octopuses. And you never hear viri instead of viruses. So why is it cacti instead of cactuses?
It’s a matter of preference. And right now the trend is to make it cacti, that’s why! So cacti has edged out cactuses as the plural.
4.) All cacti bloom and the blossom is breathtaking!
Then I had to accept that just because not all my cacti have bloomed doesn’t mean they won’t bloom or can’t bloom.
In fact, when I got my order from Altman Plants, the Mammillaria elegans (above photo) was in bloom.
Blooms do fade quickly, but when another magenta flower emerges on this globular cactus with dense white spines and white wool, your heart will flutter.
I get a new bloom or two nearly every day!
Just below shows off the satiny creamy yellow flowers on a Mammillaria gracilis fragilis, or more aptly named “Thimble cactus.”
Tiny globular bodies are densely covered with white radial spines resembling…you guessed it, a thimble. Very sharp too!
Blooming Fast Fact!
Magnificent, bright red blooms with feminine petals will steal the show.
Overall the blooms are short-lived, but when they appear you feel like you won the lottery. And if you think I’m referring to the lottery that I never play you would be correct.
But it is the colors of the flowers that will boggle your mind the most. Bright reds, yellows and pinks burst in size. Many are humongous in comparison to the size of the plant making the display that more eye-popping!
It’s possible for some cactus flowers to bloom for a few days, but in my experience most come and go within a 24 hour period passing their prime.
Other cacti bloom only at night and these nocturnal special get pollinated by bats (eek) and other nocturnal insects and animals.
5.) The real deal on water & cacti
As a kid, I still have all these memories of cacti in cartoons getting slashed open and the hero being miraculously saved by drinking the water within.
And while it’s true this fluid has saved several lives of a few individuals in dire, desert regions, it’s a thick substance; not clear.
Just like those old wild west movies, the hero gains access to the liquid by scratching the cactus or creating a hole with a handy ax. The water gushes out! Nope. Not reality.
But due to the way cacti carry out photosynthesis, the water in a cactus is generally not potable. Moisture within the pulp of a cactus is acidic and many cacti contain toxic alkaloids.
Stick with your coconut water!
“Old Man of the Andes” hysterical Fast Fact
When hair becomes matted, carefully “shampoo” it in weak, soapy water (not detergent) solution and rinse thoroughly, combing out any excess soap.
Maybe while shampooing you could provide your senior citizen cactus the latest AARP edition for a little distraction? Just saying….
6.) Cacti are literally showing their spunky, spiny selves everywhere!
It’s the year of the cactus. Time for the spine to shine.
While feverishly checking out at the grocery store this week, the cupcakes featured on a magazine cover distracted me and contributed to my tying up the line.
Not to mention the succulent/cacti Valentine’s Day card my mom sent me. Not throwing that one away!
My son’s clothes. Yep. They have cacti on them! Wild little man.
Cacti salt and pepper shakers? Tell me you have a set!
And surely you have seen all the cacti bedding? As long as the sheets don’t come with thorns attached, I’m all in!
You want to ride this trend while it’s hot, hot, hot.
And please don’t tell me that you’ve never sampled cactus candy? Okay, how about cactus jelly?
7.) Long live the cactus!
To encourage more blooms, you need to foster periods of blossom and rest in your cactus.
In its growing phase, the cactus wants direct sunlight, high temps, high humidity, and proper watering for growth to occur.
When in dormancy, keep cacti in a place with lower temperature and humidity and water no more than once a week. Likely less!
Your basement is actually a good spot in winter providing you have one and it doesn’t get too cold (50-55 degrees.)
Tallest cactus? 66 feet. Shortest cactus? One centimeter.
You want the truth? I don’t care how black you think your thumb is: anyone can grow a cactus as long as you don’t overwater it.
Depending on where you live, they can be grown indoors or out. I grow mine indoors and let them bask in the summer sun when May hits all through September on my patio.
Silly cactus story…
And what did I and my youngest daughter discover? Huge blooms on almost every single plant.
Suspicion sets in and proves correct. Closer inspection reveals these flowers have been glued on. Not too artfully either! The chunky glue made the flowers look so fake.
This practice could seriously damage the cacti plants causing them to die a *slow and painful* death.
Buyer beware. Many authorities on the topic state that you can tell the difference between “real” and “fake” flowers because dried cactus flowers are papery; real cactus flowers are soft.
Again, not so true. My Mammillaria elegans hot pink flowers are quite papery; they totally seem fake. To the touch, they feel like statice.
Yet real and stunningly splendid they are!
Since I’m growing my “Peruvian Old Lady” cactus indoors, I can only expect it to grow about 10 inches in a ten year period. But if grown in the wild, some can grow 7 feet tall.
The nocturnal, white flowers are rare and stretch about two inches wide. Berry-like fruits are produced with edible dull black seeds inside. Who’s hungry?