15 Amazing Cacti Facts
That Make Them (Almost) Indestructible

Every living thing needs water to survive, so how does a cactus survive in the desert? These facts will blow your mind!

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Jimena Bolívar

April 25, 2021


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What’s This Post About?

It is surprising to know that cacti are one of the very few plants that can thrive in deserts despite the rough weather and inadequate water supply.

To survive in such arid places, it is crucial to be able to absorb and retain water. In this blog, we will tell you 15 amazing cacti facts that make them almost indestructible and superior.

Cactus can survive in deserts using their adaptation techniques. They have stems, leaves, and roots that are highly specialized in adapting to such conditions having the ability to store water for a longer period. These adaptation techniques include the basic characteristics of Cacti such as shallow roots and thick stems.

a growing cactus plant

15 Amazing Cacti Facts That Make Them (Almost) Indestructible

Having about 2000 species all around the world, cactus is included among the most recognizable plants. These plants are widely being used as medicine as well as food.

Their unique features and shapes serve as a source of tourist attraction in desert areas mostly in America, Australia, Europe, and Africa.

Surviving in the least survivable areas, these cacti have developed certain adaptation techniques. In this blog, we will tell you about the fifteen amazing adaptation techniques of these plants.

sunlight on cactus plant

1. The Presence of Spines

Instead of having branches and leaves like other plants, cacti have spines that are a modified form of leaves. A cactus has areoles (small bumps) on its branches from where thorns sprout.

You might be wondering, how can a cactus photosynthesize if they have no leaves? Surprisingly, leaves are not required to do that. They carry out photosynthesis through their stems.

Since the cacti grow in desert-like places, they have enough sunlight exposure for photosynthesis to occur through the stems. Further, evaporation of water is avoided due to the presence of spines.

Although most of the desert plants stop photosynthesizing in hot summers, the cacti keep on producing food which is why you will always find a cactus thriving even in extremely hot conditions.

2. How Do Spines Protect the Cactus?

Spines Trap Air

Spines present on a cactus allow for the trapping of air which enables it to restrict the airflow and hence, reduce water evaporation in hot conditions.

Help in Water Storage

Although listed among the driest deserts, mornings in the Chilean Atacama Desert are foggy. The fog is called ‘camanchaca’. As this fog touches the spines of the cactus, it becomes liquefied, providing water for the leaves to absorb.

This provides the cactus with the nourishment they need to grow and survive in the desert. Another feature of spines that allows for efficient absorption of water is their distributable groove structure.

Spines Provide Shade

These numerous spines on a cactus are also capable of providing the cactus with shade. Although small in size, these spines are densely populated with one plant having several of them.

These needles cover a great amount of surface area of the plant thus providing it shade as well as preventing the loss of water from the cactus.

Prevent Predators from Attacking

Spines and thorns are always a great way of preventing animals from attacking the plant or humans for that matter from plucking the plants. With the presence of many herbivorous animals in deserts, these piercing spines play an essential role in the survival of the cacti.

a fully grown cactus plant

3. Efficient Absorption of Water By Roots

For surviving in a desert, there is a need to absorb and store water for long periods and also, to reduce the evaporation rate.

Many features of a cactus make it easier for it to do so. One of these features is the presence of shallow root systems in a cactus.

The absorption of the maximum amount of water is stirred up by this shallow root system as well as the ability of the plant to grow short-term roots when exposed to damp soil. These roots take only two hours to grow, they absorb the water and then dry up when the rain stops.

The roots of the cactus also can extend to a larger surface for greater absorption of water.

4. Reduced Evaporation Through Stomata

To discourage evaporation from the plant, a cactus only carries out photosynthesis at night when the temperature is cooler.

For photosynthesis to occur, the presence of stomata allows the inhalation of carbon dioxide which together with water and sunlight produces food for the cactus. When photosynthesis is done in broad daylight, the heat causes the plant to lose its moisture.

To prevent this, the cacti photosynthesize during the night when the temperature is not that high. As rainfall in a desert only occurs almost once a year, it is extremely important to store and absorb the maximum amount of water.

Now the question arises that, how is it possible to photosynthesize at night when the process requires sunlight?

The stomata of the plant close in the morning and open during the night to allow for less evaporation and more absorption. For this purpose, the stomata are also smaller in size and are stored deep in tissues.

5. Storage of Water Through Stems

The unusually thick skin of the cactus stem serves as a water reservoir assisting in the storage of water for a longer period.

6. Waxy Skin to Retain Water

The waxy skin of a cactus is another great feature that helps in the reduction of water evaporation. The entire leaves are covered by wax except for the stomata so that it can inhale and exhale carbon dioxide and oxygen efficiently.

This feature also allows the plant to remain cool in extremely hot weather preventing it from drying out.

7. The Stems Are Expandable to Absorb Maximum Water

A cactus stores maximum water during rain. They can do this by expanding their stems and absorbing a great amount of water. They further have a channeling system in their stems which allows them to distribute water to all parts of the plant.

Once all the water is used up by the plant, the stems begin to shrink awaiting the next rain.

Did You Know?

The cacti are spiritually known as a symbol of strength and endurance due to their protective exterior and high tolerance in harsh conditions. People usually keep these at their homes and workplaces to remind themselves to stay strong.

8. Shorter Growing Period

The reason why cacti have a slow growth is that these plants have a short growing season. This means that their growth is only limited to a certain period after which the growth ceases for some time until the next growing period begins. This, however, is not the case with other plants.

multiple cacti plants in desert

9. Reduced Surface Area

A cactus usually modifies to a spherical shape when maximum water has been stored in it. This sphere causes a reduction in the surface area thus enabling only a little part of the plant to be exposed to sunlight. As a result, less dehydration occurs.

10. Thick Tissue Layer

Evolution has caused the cacti to form a thick tissue layer for storing and retaining water within the plant.

11. Ants as Protectors

We mentioned earlier about the spines serving as a shield to protect the cacti from herbivores and even humans. Apart from these, ants also play an important role in protection from predators.

With spines protecting the plant from large animals and humans, ants play a part in protection against small microorganisms such as mealybugs.

For attracting ants, the cacti produce different kinds of nectars. With hot weather and food scarcity in deserts, these plants become the ultimate source of food for the ants.

Ants serve as a bodyguard and shield the cacti from harmful fungi and bacteria as well as small animals.

12. Green Is Not Always the Color

When you picture a plant, you picture it green. We know green is the color of chlorophyll which is needed for any plant to survive.

Despite that, certain cacti are not green in color. These include Gymnocalycium Mihanovichii which are available in different colors such as red, white, and orange.

This makes us question, ‘how do they survive without chlorophyll?’. These plants are survivable only when grafted with other chlorophyll-producing plants.

13. Cacti Thrive in Various Atmospheres

We are always told as kids that cacti grow in deserts and cacti are a desert plant. However, cacti are not just limited to deserts.

With many cacti growing and flourishing in deserts, some survive in other areas such as tropical and snowy regions as well. Their highly adaptive features allow them to adapt to various atmospheres and diverse locations.

a cactus plant in a desert

14. Some Cacti Produce Infinite Flowers

One of the common questions that arise regarding the flowering of cacti is the number of flowers that they can produce.

Although a majority of cacti are unable to produce many flowers due to the areoles becoming incapable of doing so, there are still some species that can flower forever. These include Lepismium cruciform and Rhipsalis russellii.

15. Cacti and Succulents Are Not the Same

People often get confused between a cactus and succulents. Most even consider them as the same and use these two terms interchangeably. That, however, is incorrect.

Since the majority of succulents possess thorns, they are misunderstood as cacti although the only similarity between a cactus and succulent is their ability to store water. So, it can be said that a cactus can be succulent but a succulent is not necessarily a cactus.

The presence of areoles on a cactus is a feature that distinguishes a cactus from a succulent. Areoles are pores that give rise to flowers and spines.

Keep Reading

It is quite exceptional for cacti to survive in deserts with no water and unbearable temperatures. This blog talked about some of the most amazing facts regarding a cactus from their survival strategies to some lesser-known features.

To find out more about these plants and their species, do explore our other blogs.

Jimena Bolívar Picture

By Jimena Bolívar

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Jimena and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Jimena Bolívar Picture

Jimena Bolívar

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Jimena and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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