Cool Cacti

 

 

 

 

Echinocereus in habitat

Echinocereus in habitat

They come in all shapes and sizes, tall ones, round ones and very small ones.

Some are very tall.

Many cacti grow into giant balls.

But others are not much bigger than your finger tip.

Prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) have many flat pads.

Some cacti grow in rain forests on trees. They look completely different but they’re still cacti.

Some cacti have leaves and look like normal plants with spines.

The plant shown is an Echinocereus growing in the wild. We have some pictures of cacti in cultivation in Cactus flowers and a Spiney gallery.

We have some information on how you can grow cacti at home in Grow cacti.

And a little bit about Where cacti live in the wild.

And finally cacti are different to all other plants. Find out What makes cacti special.

Tall ones

Saguaro

Saguaro

This is a Saguaro one of the largest of all cacti.

It can grow to 15m high and its stem can be up to 60cm thick.

It grows very slowly, no more than about 2-3cms per year, and the largest plants may be as much as
200 years old.

The name Saguaro sounds Spanish, but it actually comes from an Indian word.

 

 

 

 

Saguaro flowers

Saguaro flowers

During May and June a large Saguaro might produce as many as 200 creamy white flowers, each one over 7cm across. Each flower opens during the night and dies by noon the next day.

Each fruit may contain as many as 4,000 seeds.

 

 

 

 

 

Gila Woodpecker on a saguar

 

Two birds, the Gila Woodpecker and the Gilded Flicker will peck holes in the stem of the Saguaro to make their nests. Later these holes might be used by other birds such as the Elf Owl, which is about the size of a sparrow.

The Saguaro is probably the biggest and heaviest cactus in the United States, but the very tallest is known as the Cardon cactus. This can grow up to 20m tall.

Round ones

Many cacti are globular or ball shaped. Some remain small while others can grow very large.

This is a Golden Barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) growing on a windowsill.

This is a Golden Barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) growing on a windowsill.

 

This is one of the most popular cacti in the UK today, and you can buy small seedlings or larger plants in many garden centres and other stores.

Young plants have tubercles (bumps), the ribs only start to grow as they get older.

It usually grows well in cultivation, but it needs to be quite old before it will flower. Unfortunately it probably won’t flower in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After many years this is what it might look like.

Giant grusonii

Giant grusonii

These plants are growing in a botanic garden. The giant plant in the middle could well be several hundred years old.

If you buy a Golden Barrel cactus look after it well. They are now quite rare in their natural habitat, much of which has been destroyed by man.

Flat ones

The large prickly pear cacti (Opuntias) have many flat pads which are joined together.

Opuntia in habitat

Opuntia in habitat

They grow so quickly that they can be used as a living fence. They are also sometimes grown for tortoise food. Tortoises must have very tough mouths to be able to enjoy a meal of cactus!

All Opuntias have an additional defence – small hooked spines (called glochids) which come off when the cactus is touched. If you get these in your fingers try sticky tape to remove them.

Small opuntia in flower,

Small opuntia in flower,

Opuntias have beautiful flowers. They might be yellow, orange or red.Not all Opuntias have large pads, some are much smaller with round stems.

There is more than one plant in this picture – how many can you see?

Some of these small Opuntias live in Patagonia, in the most southerly part of South America. This is the furthest south any cactus can grow.

 

 

 

 

 

Some Opuntias have large tap-roots – in the wild the plant can hardly be seen, except when it flowers, as most of it is underground.

This plant is called Pterocactus tuberosa. The stems are shown on the left and the enormous root on the right.

This plant is called Pterocactus tuberosa. The stems are shown on the left and the enormous root on the right

Cacti that grow on trees

Rhipsalis

Rhipsalis

There are cacti which grow in rainforests. Conditions here are completely different, so these plants look very different.

You may not believe it, but this is a cactus growing on a tree.

A plant which grows on another plant is called an epiphyte. This is an epiphytic cactus called Rhipsalis, and there are many other epiphytic cacti, including the well-known and popular Christmas cactus.

Epiphytic cacti are not parasites. An epiphyte uses another plant or tree for support but does not take nutrients from it. A parasite will take its nourishment from its host tree, and will often kill it.

Little pockets of humus, formed by rotting leaves, collect in hollows and crevices in the tree bark and epiphytic cacti root in these. They also have aerial roots, which absorb water from the moist air.

Some epiphytic cacti have the most amazing flowers.

This is an Epiphyllum. You can see from the picture that it has broad, flat stems that look like leaves.

This is an Epiphyllum. You can see from the picture that it has broad, flat stems that look like leaves.

The beautiful white flowers can be as much as 20cms across. They open at night and are sweetly scented.

Ones with leaves

Some cacti have leaves and look like large bushes or trees.

These are the most primitive types of cacti known as Pereskia. But when you look at them closely they are still cacti.

Note the spines, which emerge from areoles, like every other member of the cactus family.

More Cool Cacti Facts Had enough Cool cacti try Super Succulents


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