How Deep Do Cactus Roots Grow?

The root system of a cactus is very unique. It is necessary for the plant to get water deep into the ground and disperse it as widely as possible, so that the cactus can take in as much water as possible. Cactus roots will grow as deep as three feet into the ground and up to three feet wide as well as horizontally.

Cacti are succulent plants capable of surviving harsh and inhospitable climate conditions of the desert. They have different techniques of surviving the harsh climatic conditions, with one of them being the roots adaptation system. Cacti have different kinds of roots modified to help them get food and water to survive the desert.

Cacti roots are uniquely adapted to collect and store water for prolonged drought season survival. Some of their roots come covered with thick layers or hairy substances that prevent water loss. Others have tuberous roots that store water and food. Some cacti have fibrous root systems with connective tissues that spread far and wide to collect as much water as possible. Cacti, like saguaro, have taproots that go deep into the ground to collect to reach the moist soil.

Different cacti have different kinds of roots to aid their survival. This article looks at the different root systems of the cacti plants, how deep they go, and how they aid the survival of the plant.

Types of Cacti Roots and How they Aid Survival

Here are different kinds of roots found in cacti plants. Others go deep while others remain on the soil surface. Here are the root types and how they enable the plants to survive.

Taproots

Taproots are one of the most common roots found in succulent plants, such as cacti. Cacti send down their long solid roots deep in the ground soon after they germinate.  The roots are strong enough to provide a firm anchorage for the plant. Cacti grow in climates full of heavy wind and sometimes can experience hailstorms. Any of these conditions will not throw cactus off the ground, thanks to the strong anchorage provided by the taproots.

Saguaro is one of the cacti species that feature taproots.

The root not only provides anchorage but helps the plant to absorb moisture and nutrients from deep underground. The roots act as the backbone of the entire root system. The taproot is thicker and longer than all other roots and lasts throughout the plant’s lifespan. Examples of cacti with taproot systems include the saguaro and the Mexican cereus.  Other roots branch from the taproot as it continues to grow.

Fibrous Roots

Many cacti plants develop widespread roots that can go up to 15 feet far from the parent plant. The fibrous roots don’t go deep underground but remain on the surface for one main reason; water collection. These roots remain on the surface, so they collect water from the soil even with little rain.

One thing you must know about the desert is that it takes a long for it to experience rainfall, and when it does rain, it can be too little. The plants have realized this and devised their roots in a way that it can collect water even after just a drizzle.

When it rains, the cacti roots that were initially wrinkled rehydrates to start collecting water. When the rains are good enough, the fibrous roots increase their absorption mechanism by forming new lateral roots. The roots can form in less than two hours and get to work immediately to collect up to the last drop of water for the plant. When the rains stop, these lateral roots dry and fall off from the plant to minimize water loss.

The fibrous roots are adapted to quick water absorption. They cover a large part of the ground to guarantee the hydration process. If you want to grow plants that develop fibrous roots indoors, make sure you get them in wide pots.

Aerial Roots

While many cactus plants don’t have aerial roots, some do have such roots. You’ll mainly find these roots in epiphytic cacti plants, and they mostly grow in tree branches. Such cacti include the night-glooming cereus and the orchid cacti. You’ll see some fleshy origins arising from the sides of plant stems, mainly where the leaves originate from.

Orchid cactus is among the succulents with aerial roots.

The main reason for the growth of these roots is to help cacti plants get moisture from the humid atmosphere. They grow to support the cacti by getting water from the sky when the plant is not getting enough from the ground. The roots can also help to anchor climbing cacti on the stems or the rocks. These roots appear thick and fleshy, and sometimes you might not even realize they’re roots.

Lateral Roots

Cacti also develop lateral roots that tend to branch several times as the plant continues to grow. These types of roots are also known as adventitious roots. The roots enable the plants to absorb water and food easily. They also hold the plant in place to prevent it from being blown off the ground by heavy winds or soil erosion.

The roots branch from other roots that grow outwards. They sprout in all directions from the taproot or other primary cacti roots. Even when the lateral roots grow from the taproots, they remain shallow on the surface. Being on the surface allows them to absorb as much water as possible when it rains. They transport the water they collect to the body of the cacti or the taproot for storage.

Lateral roots tend to appear when it is raining and disappear when it is dry.

Lateral roots look thin, have a hair-like look, and grow in clusters. You’ll find such roots in saguaro cacti, where they spread 7 feet from the main root and don’t go below 4 feet underground. Unlike the primary cacti roots, lateral roots are generally short-lived. They only grow when it’s rainy and disappear when drought comes knocking.

Succulent roots

Apart from the stems, cacti plants also form roots that enable them to save water and food for future use. Some cacti examples that form succulent roots include the Arizona queen of the night. The cactus can form bigger roots that weigh between 5 to 60 pounds. The succulent roots mainly form as a result of the enlargement of some parts of the root. The parts that get enlarged include the xylem tissue or the secondary wood.

Common Cactus Plants Root Questions

Do Cacti Have Deep Roots?

Because of water scarcity, it’s only natural that some cacti will grow deep roots in search of water underground. But not all of them go deep. Other cacti have an extensive but shallow root system. Shallow cacti roots only go about 4 feet down. They can absorb as much water as possible even when it rains lightly. Various cacti species found in the Sonoran Desert go only 7 to 11 cm underground.

Should You Grow Cacti in Big Pots?

The size of the pot depends on the type of cactus you intend to plant. Most species have shallow roots and grow very slowly, so it’ll take time before the roots outgrow the pots. You generally don’t need a very large or deep pot to grow your young cactus.

You should never grow a cactus in a pot that is either too large or too tiny for your plant.

You should also take care not to choose a very tiny pot. If the pot is too small, it will leave no room for the roots to thrive. The pot will also restrict growth. If you choose a large container, there are high chances that you’ll overwater your plant. Always ensure you choose the right size of the pot for your cacti.

How Do Cactus Roots Differ from Other Plants?

Cactus roots are different from the roots of normal plants in many ways. The roots are specially modified to absorb and maintain water in various ways. The extensive and superficial roots are made in a way that they can absorb enough water. Even the light showers that don’t go deep into the soil reach these roots, and they can absorb them to benefit the plant.

The roots of cactus are also made in a way that they alter their characteristics with the rise or fall of water. When it rains, the dehydrated roots conduct water. The plant develops new rain roots which soak up excess water. During drought seasons, the rain roots shrivel and disappear. The extensive roots dehydrate to reduce water use.

Should You Prune Cactus

It reaches a time when you’ll need to change your cactus pot. When this happens, you’ll want to do it carefully without interfering with the roots. Many gardeners wonder whether it’s advisable to cut the long or dense root braids during repotting.

Roots act as the lifeblood of every plant. They’re the plant’s means of absorbing water, nutrients, and oxygen. Many cactus roots consist of shallow or deep roots. These roots also have a dense network of fine and hairy roots. All these help the plant absorb and transport water to the main plant.

Hairy roots in cacti are usually short-lived. They can last a few days or just hours. Many cacti shed off these roots and form them when necessary. If you want to intervene, you have to carefully consider the circumstances under which they shed the roots. These are the only roots that you can cut after very careful consideration. You should not attempt to prune taproots or main cactus roots. Understand that some cacti plants might not survive if you cut out a portion of their roots.

Summary

Cactus roots serve many purposes in the plant aside from providing anchorage. The plants depend on the roots to survive the long drought and thrive in harsh conditions. The roots help the plant absorb, transport, and store water.

Every cactus has its type of root that helps aid the water and nutrient absorption process. Some roots go deep underground while others remain on the shallow surface. Other cacti roots are permanent, while some dry off during the drought seasons. The different kinds of roots serve the same purpose in cacti no matter how they look or how long they last.

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