Have you ever seen a small, medium, or large-sized plant with spikes all around its leaves? Have you ever saw them in movies, cartoons, or saw them right in front of your eyes? Yes, the name of those plants is Cactus. A cactus is a plant with a unique appearance that might be easily identified by simply seeing them with a naked eye because it has no leaves. The leaves have been reduced to a smaller size like needles so that it can save the amount of water it needs to survive. Cactus typically can be found in the desert, but it can also be planted indoors at home, depending on the types of cactus. This plant can also be used for medication and even as a source of food!
How does a Cactus live with its unique appearance? Which kind of cactus can you plant in your home? Come and check this article out for the facts and the list of cactus types in this article below!
The Etymology of Cactus
A Cactus, or in its plural form, Cacti, is a member of the Cactaceae family. The word “Cactus” came through Latin, from the Ancient Greek “κάκτος” (read as kaktos). Originally, the name was used by Theophrastus, a plant biologist in Greece, for a spiny plant, but now the plant identity is not certain.
How does Cactus thrive even in the hottest summer?
The Cactus plant is easily recognizable because of its unique features. It’s been said that there are over 2000 species of Cactus around the globe, scattered in deserts. Cactus is a native of America, Africa, Europe, and Australia. Many other species also exist in the desert. It can live and thrive for up to 200 years in the desert climate, which makes it becomes much more amazing.
How does it survive, you may ask, it’s all thanks to its adaptation techniques? By adapting its leaves, roots, and stems to the environment around it, the Cactus can absorb and conserve water. The Cactus plant doesn’t have real leaves like other usual plants, but it has another part called Spines. These spines sprout from the small bumps of areoles around the branches. The Cactus’ stems can conduct photosynthesis, unlike other plants that need their leaves to carry out the photosynthesis procedure. By taking advantage of the sunshine in the desert, the Cactus can have enough access to sunlight. Thus, even in the hottest summer, Cactus is always able to produce food.
Aside from the stems, Cactus’ spines also play a part to avoid water evaporation. It creates a buffer to trap air around its spine. This trap makes the Cactus able to restrict airflow, so the water won’t escape from the plant in the photosynthesis process. The buffer that Cactus’ spines create contains moist air to prevent water evaporation in the hot heat. Even in the driest deserts on Earth-like Chilean Atacama, the Cactus can collect enough water from the dew that settles from the heavy fog in the early morning. The roots of the Cactus will absorb the dew water; thus, it is able to stay alive even during the hottest summer and driest desert.
The spines of Cactus also have unique grooves that help them to collect water. When the sporadic rains fall in the desert from time to time, the Cactus’ shallow roots absorb the water from the ground. Cactus can grow temporary roots within two hours once the ground is damp, so it can absorb plenty of water when it rains. Once it stops raining, the roots will dry up. After taking enough water, the roots will transport the water to the stems and the stems will store it up. The stems can store water for a long time before the next rainfall, and able to expand to allow a lot of water intake as much as possible. The Cactus’ stems will shrink when the water is used up, then it will expand again in the rainy season to store more water.
Another technique that Cactus uses to avoid the hot sun of the desert is by doing a shade provision. The dense population of the Cactus’ needles is used to cover its surface area, as much as possible, thus, the shades from those spines help to protect the plant so it won’t lose water. Its prickly spines can also function as a defensive part so that herbivorous animal wouldn’t munch it away.
Cactus also uses its stomata to open up at night, opening its pores so there will be fewer chances of water loss, and closes its pores by dawn. The stomata are also very small and deep in the tissue; thus, it also helps to further avoid water loss. Apart from the stomata, the Cactus also has a waxy skin that helps to avoid water from evaporating and keep the plants cool to avoid drying out because of the extreme heat.
Now that you’ve learned about the parts of the cactus that help with its survival in extreme heats, you might also notice that Cactus is a low-maintenance plant that might be an easy one to plant even though you’re a busy person. It only needs dry soil, direct sunlight, and water regularly for at least once a week. In cold seasons, avoid watering it too much. Create enough drainage for potted Cactus, don’t water it too much or too little; when the drainage holes begin to leak water, it means you watered the Cactus enough.
Cactus as Succulents
You may hear or use the terms Cactus and Succulents interchangeably, but you should know that they are different. Succulents are plants that store water in roots, stems, and leaves, and there are many variants of Succulents like aloe, sedum, sempervivum, cactus, and haworthia. Meanwhile, cactus is a plant that stores water in its stems, thus, cactus is succulent. A succulent is categorized as a cactus when it has areoles. Some succulents are not cactus just because they have thorns or spines, they need to have areoles. To sum it up, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.