Cactus characteristics , types and other facts

cactus with flower

What is a cactus?

Scientific name: Cactaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae

Cacti make up the Cactaceae family of succulent plants . These species are characterized by accumulating water and nutrients in their tissues, so they can adapt without problems to the habitat in which they develop.

Due to this, they can survive in desert regions and very dry climates.


These are native to America and some of Africa, but have been extended by almost the entire Earth.

There are more than two hundred genera of cactus and more than two thousand species of these, so there are cacti of different shapes and sizes, which we will discover on this website.

One of the characteristics that we must highlight, is its power of acclimatization.

These plants have evolved to survive in the desert.

Currently they have become part of the homes with an ornamental signature  around the world and with different climates.

Properties and Growth Mode of cactus

All cactus- like plants with thorns need not be cacti. The reason they still look the same is that they grow in the same environment. Examples of such a plant, which is not a cactus in the true sense, are Euphorbia trigona or High Chaparral which it is also called. A small rise on the leaves called an areola makes all the difference between cactus and succulents.  It is the one that separates a cactus from another succulent plant. The cactus has its spines growing on areoles . Also flowers and new shoots develop from the areola.

The spines on cacti provide protection against grazing animals and shade against the sun , but also collect the moisture that morning dew and other wetness can provide in dry desert landscapes . The moisture then drops from the spikes’ tips and right down to the roots. The tags can look in many different ways. The devil’s tongue ( Ferocactus latispinus ) has several centimeter-long tags colored in red or black , opuntiors (commonly called prickly pear) have small barbed bristles ( glochids ). In other species, the tags may have been transformed into long silver-white hair. How they look depends on the climate that prevails at the plant site; extreme conditions give extreme plants.

A cactus is often folded in longitudinal ridges, which increases the possibility for the plant to swell if there is good access to water and to shrink together in case of severe drought. The cactus always stores water in the trunk, which can have different forms. Most commonly pelarformer, such cereus Species and Saguaro ( Carnegiea gigantea ) and the round of the mother cushion ( Echinocactus grusonii ). Most cacti that grow epiphytically have stems that are flattened and actually look like leaves. Generally speaking, the highest-most common cacti come from desert landscapes, while the cacti that have flat, leaf-like stems come from forests with a humid climate. Desert growing cacti are able to close their pores to reduce evaporation during prolonged drought. Their root system then stops looking for water , and growth stops. Epiphytic cacti often develop air roots. The stems of the jungle-growing cacti are broadly flattened to absorb as much light as possible.

Most cacti usually lack leaves , but exceptions are found in, for example, the genus Pereskia. Its flowers are often fragrant, colorful and they have many shelf leaves . They can be white, greenish yellow, yellow, orange, red, burgundy, purple or pink. Pure blue pigment occurs only in the species Disocactus amazonicus . The flowers are pollinated using animals and insects, such as bats and bees , which are in search of the flower’s nectar . When the flower is pollinated , fruits are formed with seedsin which are then eaten up by different animals which in this way spread the seeds. The cactus originally comes from America’s warmer parts.



The word cactus comes from the Greek ?????? káktos, used for the first time by the philosopher Theophrastus to name a species of thorny thistle that grew on the island of Sicily , possibly the thistle Cynara cardunculus.

Interestingly, there are also two poetic references of antiquity about this plant. Thus, the poet Theocritus of Syracuse wrote in his Idylls: “To you they leave you like a sheep of the flock, whose leg has been stung by a cactus”. Likewise, Filetas, a poet from the island of Cos , wrote about her: “Those who have lost the affection of a mule should be sorry, for fear of the wounds of the thorny cactus”

The word passed to Latin as cactus through Pliny the Elder , who in his Naturalis Historia took up what Theophrastus wrote about this plant that grew in Sicily . Cactus derived the Latin word carduus, which eventually gave rise to the Spanish thistle.

During the Middle Ages the word cactus was the usual name for the edible artichoke. Later, it was used as a generic name Cactusby Carlos Linneo in 1753 , in which it grouped 22 plants that today are considered within diverse genera of the Cactaceae family .

How is a cactus different from a succulent or succulent?

The main difference between cactus and succulents , is that cacti have an areola, which are auxiliary, visible and protruding buds usually of light or dark colors in which spines emerge.

Types of cactus


The cactus family are the most common and popular succulents in the world. At present, a large number of them are developed, all of them being different in size, shape, stem or flowers.There are cactus with thorns, without thorns, with flowers, without flowers, large, small, etc.But like many other plants with different species to their credit, some are more popular than others. Next we show you the cactus species most used in ornamentation . Surely there is a perfect species for your house or garden.If you are looking for inspiration, you are in the right article.


Genus Opuntia
Genus Opuntia
Genus Astrophytum
Lithops, cactus stone
Lithops, cactus stone
Brain Cactus
Brain Cactus

San Pedro Cactus
San Pedro Cactus
Schlumbergera, cactus christmas
Schlumbergera,  christmas Cactus
Gender Espostoa






We will awaken your curiosity starting with one of the most peculiar cactus.

Lithops , also known as plant stone or living stone , is the clear example of how a species is able to adapt to the environment. As you can guess by its name, this plant has taken the form of stone and the reason is none other than its protection against animals.

Survival instinct!

The Lithops are developed forming groups of two coupled sheets, divided in the middle by a fissure. From this small groove the flowers grow, which can be of different colors. Of flat surface, the stone plants have a conical or cylindrical shape .

They bloom during the autumn.

The flowers of the stone plants are nocturnal, have a margarita shape (although larger) and give off a slight fragrance. Only a single flower grows from each of the cacti.

They are succulents that develop very well in spaces with lots of direct sunlight .

They do not support the excess of water since the waterlogging can  produce root rotting. In addition, during the resting season of the Lithops (that is, in winter) the water needs decrease considerably. Guide yourself to the humidity of the earth and the weather conditions.

Read a detail article : how to cultivate and care for Lithops also known as living stone




The Echinocactus grusonii, also known as the cactus hedgehog or seat of a mother-in-law, is originally from central Mexico. This succulent plant is one of the most cultivated, but weight to it, it is cataloged as a species in danger of extinction in its habitat.

He is the faithful representative of the thorn cactus.

The Echinocactus grusonii is barrel shaped and has very well-defined areolas, a very bright green color and very prominent ribs. Their spines are strong and round and can present a yellow or reddish color.

The hedgehog cactus blooms in summer. Its flowers are red and yellow, are located in the upper areolas of the adult specimens and last approximately 3 days.

And is it easy to take care of?

This species requires low maintenance , like almost all succulents. It needs to be located in a very sunny space (it is a desert plant), it does not survive the frost and it develops better in the soils formed of leaf mulch and coarse sand.




This shrubby plant of the Cactaceae family is native to America but is naturalized in the Mediterranean Basin and in the northern regions of Africa.

The prickly pear cactus is a shrub-shaped cactus that can reach up to 4 meters in height, and the same width! It grows very quickly and produces flat cauline segments , bluish green and without spine.

Like most varieties of this genus, it lacks nomophobic leaves, that is, it does not have the normal leaves of a plant. The prickly pear presents two kinds of thorns . Some are hard and long and the other thin and hairs.

It blooms once a year and develops flowers in the shape of a crown.

Its fruit has a thick and thorny skin and the pulp has numerous seeds. When ripe, it becomes an oval berry that can reach about 10 centimeters.

This cactus needs full sun.

Its best substrate is one that has a porous condition and, above all, that presents a good drainage because the excess water can cause the plant to rot. If you’re interested, you can multiply it by cuttings .




The Christmas cactus is one of the most common species during the winter season. Originally from the tropical regions of Brazil, its uses are mainly ornamental .

It is a fleshy perennial plant, with flattened leaves and flowers that can vary between white, pink, red or purple. Its stems hang by flat items that bifurcate several times as the cactus grows. They have a dentate contour and do not have spines.

It blooms spectacularly during the winter, hence its name.

And his cultivation?

Well, this succulent plant is grown in shady or semi-shaded areas, which makes it a shade plant . If you are given a few hours of light, its flowering will be more spectacular. It needs some environmental humidity and grows better in cool places.

It does not save rest period during the winter.

Being a cactus of tropical origin, it should be irrigated more than others , but always ensuring that the substrate is not waterlogged. The ideal substrate is one that is formed by sand and peat.

It is multiplied by cuttings, grafts or seeds.



The Mammillaria fraileana is a cactus native to Mexico. Its characteristic appearance makes it of great ornamental interest , perfect for decorating gardens and interior spaces.

It is a perennial and fleshy plant (it accumulates water and nutrients in its leaves / stem). It has a cylindrical shape with purple tint pulling reddish and usually forms small cushions.

It can reach about 15 centimeters.

Their areolas, unlike other cacti, do not contain latex. They measure several centimeters and have thorns. The sides are needle-like, soft and white, about 8 millimeters in length. However, the plants are longer and brown.

The mammillaria blooms in spring.

Its flowers are bell shaped, are pink and have tinted sepals. The fruit they produce is red and inside, it keeps a black seed.

This cactus needs a lot of light to grow , temperatures that do not drop below 10? (remember, it is originally from Mexico) and a cool location.

Irrigations are necessary when the substrate is dry. During the seasons of more heat should be watered at least once a week. However, in winter or fall, once a month is enough. It is important to note that, if the temperatures decrease considerably, it is better to have the soil completely dry.

It does not tolerate flooding.

Advantages of having a cactus.

It does not take a large space to maintain a collection. For example, in just one square meter of a terrace anyone can have 64 pots of 12 cm. If you have a garden, in just a few years you can enjoy a magnificent collection.

A Cactus is not a bonsai , but can be adapted to vegetate in small pots if we choose dwarf species that grow only a few centimeters but produce spectacular blooms.

It’s hard to get bored with cactus: There are more than 2,500 different species. If you add the best-known varieties and hybrids, you can easily reach more than 10,000 different shapes.

The situation of the cactus in its places of origin is at least delicate. These plants have often been wildly collected for their illegal trade in commercial circuits of rich countries and are, many of them, in danger, figuring more and more in the CITES lists of protected species.

In addition to its great ornamental value and botanical creations that we can create with them, they bring with them a series of advantages, that all cacti lovers have to know.

Cacti are capable of absorbing radiation from electronic devices.

Therefore, they are ideal as a decorative element, for work or hobby, spend long hours in front of computers and televisions.


They help us to improve the humidity and purity of the air.

This helps to prevent effects derived from the dryness of the environment and in addition to this, they improve the quality of the air.

They are the ideal plant for those people who, due to lack of hobby or lack of time, cannot dedicate  to the care and maintenance of other more specific plants.

These are easy to grow and combining them with pots or other cactus we can achieve very nice results.

That is to say, they do not require as much care as some flowers, and they can become equal or more beautiful, because they can flourish.

cactus with white flower

Care of the Cactus.

The best known feature is that they support the drought very well, but this does not mean that they do not need water.

Another thing is what they are forced to do, after thousands of years of acclimatization, to get and retain water.

They need a lot of lighting, although some species can have direct sunlight. They also like well-ventilated areas.

How to water the Cactus

Knowing how to water properly is something that is acquired through experience and after the sacrifice of some plants. There are no rules regarding how often you have to water. It depends on many factors. For example:

  • If you receive more or less sun .
  • If it is more or less hot.
  • If it rains a lot or little.
  • Of the type of substrate: there are more sandy and dry than others more compact.
  • If the pot is large or small, or if it is made of clay or plastic (the mud “transpires”, the plastic, no).

If you grow on land, outside, you can water once a week in summer. During the springand autumn with the rains perhaps it is not necessary to water (I repeat, on land, in a pot it is different). In case these precipitations do not occur, contribute every 15 days. In winter nothing of irrigation or some very sporadic in general. Of course, when the temperature is less than 10ºC, Cactus and other Crassas should not be irrigated because of the risk of decay. If the crop is in a pot, during the spring and autumn, water every 15 days and wait a week after the substrate dries. During the summer when you see the dry substrate, water. Remember that clay pots dry faster than plastic pots. According to this last information, clay or plastic pot, there are plants that can be grown throughout the year abroad and others must be sheltered in a greenhouse during the winter so that it does not receive too much rainwater .


If the irrigation water is very hard, you can lower the pH of the water, with a bit of a weak acid, such as lemon juice.

Always let the substrate dry , before re-watering.


Irrigation with acid water.

An important trick when preparing the water for watering our cacti, succulents and in general for many of our plants, is watering with ACID WATER.

By this we mean, to slightly modify the pH of the irrigation water.

It is an easy solution, which greatly improves the water quality of our succulents. Prepare the acidic water , adding a few drops of white vinegar per liter of water.

So that we stay in the correct way, that is, leave the acidity of the irrigation water with a pH of 5-5,5 approximately, similar to the rainwater, we will have to contrast them with a water pH meter.

Those who love freshwater aquariums, the issue of water pH is a routine thing.

If you do not know the pH adjustment of the water, its acidity, you can buy pH measurement instrument .

We managed to acidify the water, with a few drops of white vinegar per liter of water.

It will depend on the type of running water in your area, a greater or lesser correction of the acidity of the water.

With this technique of acidity control of irrigation water, you will see the improvement in your plants.

Use the water as soon as you prepare it, as the pH returns to normal after a few minutes.

Thus, we will observe that your plants, will flourish with more vigor and in greater quantity than before, the plants will grow much better and the spots of tartar and lime will be eliminated to a great extent .


What are the parts of the cactus and succulents.


In order to properly manage these plants, cultivation, reproduction, care, it is necessary to have a minimum knowledge of their fundamental parts.

We will distinguish the aerial part, with the neck, stem and leaves and the underground part that are the roots.




The neck, is the border area between the aerial part and the underground, both in the cactus and in the succulents.


There are three main forms of stem :

– Columnar : cylindrical shape. It can be divided from the base, from the middle or from the tip .

Cladodes : the stem is flattened and has the shape of a racket.

– Globose: it is almost spherical.

A simple explanation of the cactus and its parts, separating the most important parts of the cacti, there may be some exceptions in certain varieties, but in the vast majority the parts of the cactus are the following.

Areolas : They are responsible for growing the thorns and flowers in our cactus. Evolutively it is believed that the Areolas were leaves that were adapted to the weather and the attack of herbivores.

parts of the cactus


Thorns : The thorns are an important part of the cactus, they are rigid and they fulfill several functions, among which the most important are: protect from the direct sun and from herbivorous predators.
It also fulfills the function of avoiding the evaporation of water, or vice versa for cactus from humid climatic zones. «Evapotranspiration».

parts of the cactus

Red thorns

Arms:  It is responsible for giving birth to the areolas and therefore to the points of growth of thorns and flowers. This part of the cactus has no tissues although it may be covered by wool in some species such as Ariocarpus.
In addition, in a large part of the globular cactus species, flowers and children grow in the armpits

Armpit parts of the cactus

Cactus armpit

Neck : It is the part that has contact with the earth, and is prepared to withstand the humidity of the earth.
In cactus in its natural state it can be observed that a typical lumber is formed in most cacti.

parts of the cactus

Cactus neck

Roots: The roots are responsible for transporting nutrients and support the cactus. They are in most cases extensive and cover large and deep areas of the place where they are planted to transport the largest amount of liquid and nutrients available.

Parts of the cactus

Cactus roots

If you are interested in more information about the roots of the cactus you can read this type of cactus roots

Vascular tissue : It is responsible for the growth of the cactus, this part of the cactus has living cells and transports and distributes absolutely everything that the roots send. It also has several other functions  .
The shape of the tissue is Ring type, and is the main factor when it comes to achieving a correct graft.

parts of the cactus

Vascular tissue

Tuber : It is the part of the cactus where the total nutrients of the cactus accumulates, besides it is covered by the areolas and protected from the sun (to avoid evapotranspiration) by the thorns. This part of the cactus can not emit children, flowers or thorns.

Partes del CacutsDepending on the genus they can be called ribs, and for certain globose or cylindrical species they are called Tubers.

Crown or apical meristem: It is the highest central part of the cactus, is directly connected with the vascular tissue and is responsible for the growth of the cactus

Thorns functions

The functions of the thorns are:

Protection against predatory animals;

The mice, donkeys, guanacos, and fauna associated with their habitat, etc., find in cactus intake, satiate hunger with succulent stems.

Condensing the water;

They collect the humidity of the condensate when the thorns cool down.

The water runs through the cactus to the base of the stem, where it is picked up by the roots.

Give shade to the body of the cactus;

It is a key adaptation, in high altitude areas. The thorns are transformed into long hairs or whitish bristles, which reflect the excess of sun.

The thorns are born from the organ called Areolas, exclusive of cacti.

In the center of the areola, there are two parts, the external part that gives rise to the spines and the internal part from which the flowers are born.

First, the thorns grow and then the flowers. Occasionally (opuntiodeae) a place of a single spine, multiples of small spines grow. These are called glochids.

The underground part: Roots;

The roots are those designated to fix the soil to the plant, absorb the nutrients and the necessary water so that they can store it in their tissues.

There is the possibility of presenting aerial roots, which either hanging or clinging to the bark of other trees, perform the same functions as if they were buried.

A characteristic of the roots of succulents is that they are porous, that is, they “breathe”, so an adequate substrate is important.

The substrate must be a porous medium.


The thickened roots store a large number of nutrients for the dry season. It occurs in cactus of arid zones and little rains.

4 types of Cactus root

4 most important types of roots

1 ?Axonomorfa: It is the most common of the roots that can be found in almost the entire plant kingdom. There are Cactus and Succulents that have this type of root. Axonomorphic cactus roots

? It is also called «Pivoting Root» by
bonsaifans. It is in general the most difficult to transplant since the top is usually cut at the top of the root.

2 ?Fasciculate:  It is a root that does not have a “main” as the Axonomorfa, is different because they have several roots with the same thickness and are all equally important for the cactus or succulent.


3 ?
 It is the root “carrot”, that is, the main root is predominant over the rest of the roots and grows by accumulation of liquids. It is only found in dicotyledons such as Ariocarpus or Leutenbergia.

? It is advisable to use deeper pots for this type of cactus roots.

 This Cactus Root is complicated to transplant since the most important roots are usually cut by moving the cactus, they are the finest that come out the sides, called “raicillas”.

4  ? Tuberose: Cacti mammillarias pectiniferas are the main owners of this type of roots, and are the most complicated to grow. This root is widened by storing the nutrients and other elements that the earth possesses

What is spin?

Opuntia microdasys

Genus Opuntia