What Is So Special About Cactus Plants?

Cactus are unique plants, but what makes them so special? While some have been documented to live for hundreds of years, others have become an awe thanks to their bizarre growth patterns, unique shapes and unmatched resistance to harsh conditions.

Ever wondered why a cactus plant is highly referred both in its natural habitat and at home? Well, this prickly plant has remained a wonder to both man and animals, thanks to its unique features.  Any animal or human who has come in contact or seen a cactus will attest that no other plant comes close to it in terms of its uniqueness. It goes against the norm expected for most plants, and this has made it stand out.

So, what is so special about cactus plants? Apart from being one of the longest living plants on earth, it is also one of the most resilient and can withstand the harshest climatic conditions. The plant also grows in unique shapes and sizes seldom seen in conventional plants. They are also nocturnal and display unique growth patterns.

This article will be looking at some of the most notable features that make this plant uniquely special. It will look at how this prickly plant is wired differently, and factors that make it stand out in its growth pattern.

They are nocturnal

 While each plant is wired differently, most of them are known to be active during the day. This is especially so in terms of their ability to take up nutrients and make food. During the day, the sun provides the best environment and conditions for photosynthesis, thus keeping most plants active. However, cacti seem to take a different route since they work best at night.  Unlike most plants that open their stomata during the day, cacti have their pores open at night.  This is an adaptation meant to help avoid water loss that would otherwise happen during the day when the sun is up.

During the night, temperatures are low. This is coupled with the calm breeze that helps them retain as much water as possible.

To avoid water loss, cacti plants open their stomata at night.

They are stem succulents

By virtue of being part of the succulent family, cacti are known to store water within its system. Unlike other succulents that store its water in the leaves, cacti do not have leaves and will let its stems take up this role. The huge, thick stem help function as a water storage ‘tank’.  This explains why most cactus, have huge, round stems. During the dry season, this plant uses up the water already stored in its stems awaiting the little rains that come by occasionally in the deserts.

Unique growth patterns

Cactus is known to display some of the most bizarre growth patterns in the plant kingdom. This may range from its size to shape and texture. Some varieties like the arborescent cacti would take up the shape of the normal tree but will have a single huge trunk coupled by several branches. Then there are the columnar cacti that grow in cylindrical shapes. Depending on the variety, its stems may or may not have branches.

These prickly plants have it all from the massive-shaped cactus like the Saguaro to the smallest varieties like the moon cactus. Each cactus species has a unique growth pattern based on its adaptation and environment.  Some species like the barrel cactus grow into huge cylindrical shapes while others like the pencil cactus depict the smallest of stems, you can almost mistake them for some type of grass. This huge contrast is what makes cactus stand out from the rest.

Depending on the species, cactus plants can grow as tiny as Moon Cactus and as large as Saguaro Cactus.

They are drought resistant

This may be rather obvious, but at the same time, it is a feature you would not find in most plants. Most cactus species are adapted for the deserts. As such, they have developed unique features and characteristics that help them adapt to this environment. Not many plants would survive in the desert, considering the fact that little rains and lack of enough nutrients may be detrimental to plant survival. However, cacti have mastered the art of thriving on such harsh environments thanks to its unique adaptations like succulent stems, lack of leaves and shallow root systems.

They can flower any time

Unlike other plants that have specific blooming seasons, most cacti species do not follow this trend. Their flowering will depend on the weather conditions and availability of food. As such, they tend to flower when they are ‘happy’. This is characterized by enough water and nutrients in the soil.

Usually, some cactus species that rarely flower in their natural habitats would bloom better when grown at home, thanks to close monitoring, water availability, and the right fertilizer. While some would follow up this flowering with some fruits, others would simply fade out awaiting the next appropriate season to bloom again.

Cacti plants are especially loved for their unique and colorful flowers that they produce throughout the year.

Unique skin surface

It is always easy to spot a cactus plant by simply looking at its skin surface. Most cactus plants have a characteristic shiny, waxy skin that helps them survive through the harsh conditions in the desert. In most cases, the outer part of the stem is ribbed. These ribs come in handy to help the plant stretch out and accommodate as much water as possible without the risk of bursting. While the ribs also help in offering shade to the plant’s skin, the shiny waxy skin, on the other hand, comes in handy to help reduce the evaporation rate of the plant.

Multipurpose  spines

Most plants have spines, alright, but for the cactus, its spines stand out, thanks to its functions and positioning.  In most cases, the spines would grow all over the plant’s stem. Apart from offering some aesthetics to the plant, the spines have other special functions in terms of helping the plant survive harsh environmental conditions. Mostly, the spines take the place of leaves and thus help reduce water loss that would otherwise happen through the stomata.

The main purpose of cactus spines is to help the plant survive in harsh conditions and protect it from predators.

On the other hand, these prickly features on the cactus act as a defence mechanism against attack from herbivores. During the dry season, the cactus will be the only green plant remaining. This makes it the main target for herbivores looking for food. With these spines, the plant deters such animals from devouring them. In some cactus species, the spines help collect and direct the little rainwater into the roots. Others have huge spines that also help offer shade to the plants’ skin to avoid unnecessary water loss.

Complex root system

Roots are meant to help a plant tap nutrients from the soil while offering support. Unlike other plants that have extensively deep roots, the cactus depicts a shallow root system. This is a special adaptation meant to help collect as much rainwater as possible. The desert experiences occasional rains, and when it does rain, it comes in small portions that may not seep deep into the soil.

With the shallow roots, it becomes much easier for the cactus to take advantage and use up as much water as possible. These roots would grow exponentially during such wet conditions to help the plant take up as much water as possible. When it dries up, the extra roots will break off from the main root system to help conserve as much water as possible.

Areoles

Areoles are small raised structures visible on the stems of most cactus species. These have become a distinguishing trait for the cactus family as you would not find these in any other plant. Cactus spines originate from its areoles. They are usually oval-shaped or circular and would be covered by sharp spikes or small hairs.

Extensive lifetimes

Cactus is one of the few plant species that have been documented to live for hundreds of years. This may result from their slow growth, but most importantly, their adaptations that help them survive and thrive even in the harshest of conditions. Some species like the Saguaro have been documented to live for well over 200 years.

They use ants as an additional defence mechanism

A cactus’ first line of defence against herbivores is the spines. However, these may not always be effective since there are other predators like mealybugs and other harmful insects and pest that may be destructive to the cactus. As such, most cactus species employ other forms of defence to help them survive the harsh environment. One of these is the ability to attract ants within its vicinity to help deter small animals and harmful insects from feeding on it. It does so by producing nectar and other attractive juices for ants. In their bid to quench their thirst, the ants will flock to the plant thus acting as additional bodyguards to the cactus.

If you are a cactus enthusiast, you will agree that these prickly plants never cease to amaze. With their hundreds of species and respective uniqueness, you would be spoilt for choice on what to go for. Its exotic-looking features are enough to keep you glued to this special family of plants.

read this next

Providing good growing conditions including essential nutrients, are critical elements you need to adhere to when growing cacti plants. Doing things right will give your plants the best chance of staying healthy and happy throughout the year
Succulent foliage comes in a wide spectrum of colors. Most of the time, the colors are very specific to the variety, but there can be many different causes for leaves turning yellow or brown. In this post we will go over some of the most frequent reasons and how to fix them so you can enjoy your succulents again.
The Kalanchoe plant is well know for its beautiful, long lasting blooms. As time goes by, the stems will often dry up and break off naturally at their base or between where they are connected to the leaves. Most people assume that when this happens it means the plant is dead. The secret to keeping your plants healthy and growing is knowing how to take a cutting off one of these dried up stems and getting it re-planted.
When it comes to cacti, there are a few varieties that do better indoors than others. Keep in mind that less is more when cacti are in question—only water when necessary and place them in a window that receives consistent sunlight
If you ever end up being in a desert without even a bit of water, the only cactus you can obtain water from is the Fishhook Barrel Cactus. Be aware that you should use it as a water source in an emergency situation only.
Proper watering is a tricky skill that you can only learn through practice. However, with time, you will start learning about the water requirements of your plant, and you will be able to tell if you are overwatering it
Cactus soil and succulent soil, surprisingly enough, are not the same thing.  While the two soils look similar and may be fine to use for individual plants in your collection, you will want to make sure that you understand how each kind of soil differs from the other before you plant anything in it.
The snake plant, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, is a great houseplant for beginners. It’s pretty tolerant of issues like under-watering and few hours of sunlight. If you cut off a piece of this vining plant, there are some simple steps to take in order to successfully propagate it.
Explore why your cactus is getting sunburned and how to know if it is. Sudden changes in growth conditions and habitat are two primary reasons why cacti might suffer from sunburn. Learn how to take care of your sunburned cactus or prevent it from happening.
Have you been struggling to take care of your cactus? Perhaps you blame yourself and think your lack of care is what led to your cactus dying. It’s possible that you did not give it the best fertilizer. To prevent this from happening again, you should fertilize your cactus more carefully next time.
Wondering how to revive a mushy succulent? Mushy succulents are disappointing, but don’t throw them away! Still, some succulent plants are easier to fix than others. Here are tips on what to do when your succulents go soft.
Most succulents aren’t fussy about sunlight, but Portulacaria afra does appreciate a few hours of direct sun each day. Like most succulents, however, it will generally tolerate light shade, and in fact, will do better if cultivated on the shaded side of your yard where it is protected from drying sun in summertime.
If you follow the steps in this article, your cactus should be in the proper environment for blooming. However, the best way to ensure that your plant is going to bloom is to buy one that already has a bloom present

Receive the latest news

Get Our Cacti Newsletter

Stay updated with the latest facts, tips, advice, and more!

Your privacy is important to us.