prickly pear cactus

The Prickly Plant – Cactus

Image Credit: Flickr User Eric Kilby, via CC

Plants need very little from us, don’t they? They just need a little sunshine, rain and fertile soil.  Few plants need even lesser. Cactus is one such plant. It needs only sunshine. Cactus gets its name from the Greek word “kaktos,” meaning “thistle.”  They grow in deserts where there is hardly any rainfall. These plants have evolved uniquely to survive in this extreme hot and dry weather. Today, there are around 2,000 species of cactus in the world. Cactus can be really tall or small.

The Silver Gardens; Cephalocereus senilis (Old Man Cactus)
Image Credit: Flickr User HBarrison, via CC

The cactus has long roots lying near the surface of the desert. This helps the plant to absorb the desert rains (which are really scarce) and store the water.  The bulbous green stem stores the water in the form of a pulpy sap that can be chewed. In extreme situations, people have chewed on the pulp and saved their lives. They have also earned the name as succulent because they store water. The cactus has no leaves. Who handles the process of photosynthesis then? It is done by the skin of the stem:) Needles protect these plants be getting eaten by animals. They also allow the moisture to condense on them which then falls on the ground and is absorbed by the root.

It is extremely interesting that just like young ones of humans need protection, young cactus also need protection from the strong sunlight and so they grow in the shade of a taller Cactus. Cactus plants flower so they can use pollination to produce fruits and seeds.

They are mostly found in North and South America.


Saguaro cactus in Arizona
Image Credit: Flickr User Rennett Stowe, via CC

Since long the Native Americans have found many uses for the cactus. The needles or thorns are used for making combs, sharp objects. The sap is used for medicinal purposes. Some people plant them around the house as a fence. The fleshy fruits of the cactus are most of the times edible.

Christmas cactus
Image Credit: Flickr User spablab, via CC

Some famous cacti:

  • Arizona desert in United States has miles of a giant tree like Saguaro cactus. This tree reaches up to 70 Ft, and its flower is the state wildflower of Arizona. These cacti take 75 years to grow one arm and their life span is 150 years. The red fruit is edible.
  • Prickly pear cacti also known as paddle cactus has yummy fruit that can be eaten. The fruits are usually called cactus fruit or cactus fig. This cactus can really grow into large colonies of cactus and sometimes unwanted.
  • An old man cactus has woolly hair like an old man. It is found in Mexico. Some of the needles have evolved into long coat of untidy hair with sharp yellow thorns hidden inside. This hair protects the plant from heat and frost. They are also used to make wool like clothing in Mexico.
  • Christmas cactus found in the cold mountains of Brazil has become a common house plant. Bright colored flowers blossom on this plant.

Can Cactus coexist with penguins? Yes they can, read an amazing story of a lost penguin.

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