Life is tough, but so are cacti!

cactus plants

When you think of a cactus, you usually imagine one in rocky and barren desert landscapes. In contrast to popular belief, cacti are not exclusive to the desert.

Over 2,000 species of cactus flourish in a wide variety of habitats, from grasslands and prairies to rocky outcrops and even on the trees of some tropical rainforests.

Since they’re native, you may see them flourishing across the Americas. Cacti are experts at adjusting to suit their surroundings. They have adapted to not only survive but also thrive in some of the toughest desert climates on Earth.

So, what’s their secret?

Grab life by the thorns

Cactus spikes certainly help them stand out in the wildlife. But more importantly, these spines play a crucial role in the survival of cacti.

Many cacti are found in hot and dry habitats, so these plants must store a lot of water to endure.

cactus plants

Most cacti have spines instead of leaves to help them survive in hot, dry desert climates.

Perhaps the first thing that springs to your mind is that these spines serve to defend the cactus from potential predators. Well, you’re kinda right, but not entirely.

This is because desert animals view cacti as a refreshing thirst-quenching delicacy in the scorching heat. Therefore, the spikes will help the cactus avoid being eaten and damaged by these predators.

However, not all animals are afraid and intimidated by the sharp thorns of the cactus. Most of them don’t even bother!

Most cacti grow under seasonally dry tropical conditions, where they’re exposed to intense sunlight year-round, such as the Opuntia prickly pears that are commonly found to thrive in desert parts of the Americas.

As a remarkable adaptation, these cacti have spines instead of true leaves. Since regular leaves’ wide surface area and thin blades would transpire massive amounts of water under the blazing desert sun, cacti radically transformed their leaves into spines to reduce water evaporation.

Moreover, as a member of the succulent family, cacti also have distinct succulent tissue and thick waxy coating on their surface. The succulent stem acts as a water reservoir, while the waxy skin helps seal in that moisture.

Cactus plants

Looking sharp, feeling sharp.

Cactus’ spines also reduce the hot airflow around the cactus’ surface and even provide shade to the plant.

The clusters of spines form a web-like structure that can block and reflect the sun’s rays away from the cactus, thus regulating the plant’s temperature, even on the hottest summer days. And when the temperature drops to the lowest at nighttime, the cactus’ spines provide insulation, preventing it from becoming too cold.

Growing strong when things are tough

As we take a deeper look at cacti’s water-saving strategy, you may wonder, “Where do these cacti get their water in the first place, given that they live in arid climates with scarce and infrequent rainfall?”.

You’d think cacti would penetrate deep roots into the hard desert soil to find a constant groundwater supply.

Instead, they form shallow root systems that settle only several feet beneath the Earth’s surface.

The mighty Saguaro cactus, which thrives in North America’s Sonoran Desert, is an excellent example. Saguaros have a slow growth rate, yet throughout their long lifespan of up to 200 years, they can reach a height of 40 to 60 feet – true desert giants!

However, they’ve discovered that these giants’ roots are quite shallow, barely a few feet away from the cacti and just below the soil’s surface. Even the taproot, the deepest root, only goes about a meter or so into the ground to anchor the plant.

Saguaro cactus

The extensive root system of this giant Saguaro helps it absorb every drop of water from infrequent rains.

Cacti always know how to make the most of their exceptional environments. After a rare downpour, they spread their roots out laterally.

These temporary rain roots operate like tiny straws to rapidly drink up available rainwater before evaporating in the desert’s intense sunlight and high temperatures.

When the soil dries out after the rain, these rain roots begin to wither and shrink to preserve the plant’s water.

Blooming through hard times

Cactus plants are not just simply weird-looking prickly plants. They are flowering plants that can give rise to beautiful blooms of different colours, shapes, and sizes.

Strange how they can thrive in such a hostile setting and still produce beautiful blossoms. These gorgeous, one-of-a-kind plants have evolved to withstand and even flourish in the most extreme environments on Earth. That’s why cacti are so popular and adored by many green thumbs.

Cacti are the perfect pick if you’re a new plant parent and want something to embrace your prickly side! They’re low-maintenance, and their striking appearance is perfect next to a sunny windowsill.

cactus flower bloom

Do you know cacti have beautiful blooms, even through tough times?

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