The Cactus is part of the plant family Cactaceae. They are succulent plants that can live in extremely dry areas and survive long periods of drought. They are native to the Americas (North and south) but can also be found on other environments – sub tropical, tropical and are also commonly found in deserts. There are about 2,000 of cactus plants – they vary lots in shape, size and height. The largest ever cactus plant recorded was 19.2 metres and the smallest grows to a maximum diameter of one centimetre.
Cacti have numerous adaptations that can allow them to live in extremely hot and dry areas. These adaptations allow the plant to collect water very effectively and store it for an extended period of time. They conserve this water which minimizes water loss from evaporation.
Instead of having leaves like most plants the cacti have scales or sharp spines (modified leaves). These scales/spines are very good at containing water and do not lose it through evaporation like regular leaves. The spines are great protection against predators.
Cactus plants are used for a number of different reasons. They can be eaten – the stems of some species are fried and then eaten. Some are used for construction purposes as wood and in some places they are used as fences to keep animals in or fend off unwanted visitors. They are also used for ornamental purposes. They make a great gift especially for men. They can also add an exotic feel to your garden or anywhere in your home. Just watch out for their spines!