Cacti 101

Almost all Cactus are a succulent, meaning they have thickened stems, leaves, or roots that store water and aid the plant in times of drought. Not all succulents are cactus

Cactus, plants in the family Cactaceae, and are all native to the Americas ranging from Patagonia to British Columbia in Canada.

The one exception in Rhipsalis baccifera, which is also native to tropical Africa, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka, its seeds probably spread by birds long ago.

Most Cactus are evolved to survive periods of drought, though they do not all hail from the desert environments we commonly associate them with.  For cacti adapted to drought, the three main centers are Mexico and the southwestern United States; the southwestern Andes, where they are found in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina; and eastern Brazil, away from the rains of the Amazon Basin. Tree-living epiphytic and climbing cacti have different centers of diversity, as they require moister environments.  They are mainly found in the coastal mountains and Atlantic forests of southeastern Brazil; in Bolivia, which is the center of diversity for the subfamily Rhipsalideae; and in forested regions of Central America. 

The spines that the Cactus family is famous for are actually specialized, reduced branches called areoles, and can help identify cactus as different from other species of succulent. Flowers also rise from the areoles, and are rarely self-fertile. There is a wide variety of flower forms and colors among cactus, though are mostly radially symmetrical (bilaterally symmetrical in some species such as the Christmas Cactus) with many stamens and only one style that may branch and end into more than one stigma. 

The ribbing found on many cactus is actually an adaptation to allow expansion and contraction as the plant absorbs and stores water when available, saving it for dryer times when it shrinks and shrivels back.

Taking Care of Cacti

A towel wrapped around spiny part to form a handle can help save your hands and the beautiful spines as well.

Using pliers to handle the pot and help it slide off when transplanting is another technique to avoid the spines. Long handled pliers are also helpful when weeding and deadheading around your collection!

Good drainage and aeration are key. You can create your own mix by combining 1 part perlite, pumice, or lava rock with 4 parts potting mix.

Your cactus arrangement looks even better with the top of the soil covered a layer of decorative pebbles or gravel on top. This also helps keep the base of the plant clean and dry. 

Water when the soil around the plant is dry. When watering, water thoroughly, so the water saturates evenly throughout the soil. Cactus in the shade will need to be watered less often. Many plants look unsightly with water spots, so it is best to water only the soil as much as possible.

Fertilize with a half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer twice per year or topdress with a slow-release fertilizer or organic fertilizer once or twice per year in the growing season; avoid feeding too late in the fall, and let up completely in the winter. There are specialized cactus fertilizers that deliver extra Calcium and other micronutrients some varieties need. Check in at your local nursery for recommendations!

The perfect site for your cactus plant depends on the plant. Some cactus can tolerate full inland sun, while others would need some afternoon shade. Read the requirements of your plant when choosing where to grow it.

Pest and Disease Control
Cactus can be bothered by insects, just as other plants are. If you have an insect infestation, take some pictures and bag a piece of the plant and consult your local cooperative extension agency for help. Ensuring proper watering and lighting will help your cactus avoid root rot and other common problems.

Deadhead plants after flowering by pulling off dried flowers.  Always make sure to use clean, sharp tools to help your collection stay healthy and the cuts heal more rapidly!

From Wiki:
The central image in this extract from the Codex Osuna of 1565 shows an opuntia used as a symbol for Mexico, i.e. Tenochtitlan. We will be serving up BBQ’d nopales at Succulent Extravaganza!

Various Cactaceae 1-Nopalea coccinellifera 2-Cephalocereus senilis 3-Cereus giganteus 4-Mammillaria longimamma 5-Rhipsalis paradoxa 6-Echinocactus longihamatus 7-Echinopsis oxygona 8-Cereus grandiflorus 9-Echinocereus pectinatus 10-Leuchtenbergia principis 11-Phyllocactus ackermanni 12-Melocactus communis

Julia Bell
Julia Bell