20 Amazing Facts about the Cactus

by Lynn KirkAug 9, 2021



1. Some cacti can live up to 200 years, despite harsh desert conditions! So surely, they can survive a few years in your household, too?

2. Cactus spines are not thorns; they’re highly modified leaves! But yes, even cactus caretakers have been known to call them “thorns” a time or two.

3. Those wicked spines are designed to protect the desert cactus from predators, such as rodents, birds, bears, insects … and yes, man! That’s why it’s best to keep spiny cacti from the reach of small children and curious pets. If safety is a concern, check out the spineless varieties, such as bishop’s cap.

4. The spines are able to collect hints of water from the wind! Just another miracle of adaptation that’s hard to fathom.

5. The spines also provide shade to help slow evaporation! When you’re living in the desert with its merciless sun, even wee bits of shade are appreciated.

6. Some types of cacti can survive one or two years without water! That’s because almost all cacti are succulents that adapted fleshy leaves, roots, or stems for water storage. So certainly they can tolerate your infrequent watering schedule, too?

7. The saguaro cactus may be the slowest grower ever, taking up to ten years to grow 1 ½ inches — yet it eventually can grow as much as 80 feet tall! Your household varieties won’t get quite as tall, but they’re guaranteed to be just as amazing.

8. The cactus is the only plant with areoles—those small, fuzzy bumps on the exterior—from which flowers, spines, and branches spout. Each areole produces only one flower in its lifetime! And you assumed all those bumps were just for looks?

9. The cactus plant actually needs to rest! During the cactus’s inactive season of October through February, keep the sunlight bright but reduce water, food, and temperature (the latter to around 45 degrees F).

10. The cactus plant can be classified as either a desert or jungle cactus. Your Christmas cactus is a prime example of a jungle dweller, so now you know why it needs less light and more water than typical desert cacti.

11. Almost all cacti are native to the western Americas—not Africa, Europe, or Asia—which explains why some call it a “New World” plant! Bet you assumed cacti were non-natives like all the other succulents?

12. A thin, leggy cactus does not equate to being water deprived! It’s probably just situated too far from a light source, which requires it to stretch its way to the sunshine it requires.

13. The cactus may seem like a simple plant, but its flowers are complex! They're also spectacular in color and form -- but there won’t be flowers unless there’s enough light.

14. With a cactus, water marks are real! Splashes of water can leave unsightly  spots and discoloration. That’s why it’s important to water cactus plants from the bottom.

15. Some cactus fruits and pads are delicious, plus nutritious! Then again, others are toxic, so make sure you know the difference before you boil or fry them.

16. When you have more than one cactus, it’s correct to call them cactuses or cacti! And all this time, you assumed “cactuses” was a typo.

17. The water a cactus holds is far from clear and pure! It’s thick and sticky, yet still drinkable. So all those western movies about cactus juice saving lives are true!

18. A cactus appears on Mexico’s national coat of arms, along with an eagle and snake. That’s because Mexico City’s original name translates as “place of the cactus rock.”

19. The cactus produces a fruitlike berry that holds lots of seeds. In fact, one cactus plant can produce a million seeds! Natural pollinators include typical butterflies, as well as bats and moths.

20. Wild cacti are no-nos to cultivate! All cacti are globally protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

For these reasons and more, greenhouse-grown cacti make awesome houseplants, as well as captivating outdoor plants in select regions. There are very few cactus growers in the United States, except for Succulent Market, where Nico Britsch and his family have been nurturing cacti for the past 50 years! Their inventory features the ever-popular moon cactus, red graft cactus, prickly pear cactus, and mammilaria cactus which are available for order individually and in combo-collections.

Order today from SucculentMarket.com, and you’ll discover even more amazing facts about the cactus family!


Sources: Arizona Sonora Desert Museum; CactiGuide,com; Science Kids; New York Botanical Garden