The plant cactus reminds us of a desert wrapped in the sun’s scorching heat, decorated with sand dunes and palm trees. This is the right place to learn how to take care of a cactus plant.
Cactus plants are popular indoor plants because they are less needy regarding care and attention. It also treats the owners with beautiful flowers. Cactus blooms during the spring and summer seasons, showcasing orange, pink, yellow, or white flowers.
These cacti come in a variety of sizes, making them popular houseplants. Desert cacti are typically highlighted by spines or hair.
Forest cacti are widely prevalent in temperate forests and subtropical and tropical regions. They are climbing or epiphytic plants that make them exceptional indoor hanging plants.
The botanical name of Cactus is Cactaceae. It is a perennial plant with its size varying according to the species.
1. About Cactus Plant
Knowing basic information about cactus plants is essential before learning how to care for them.
Cacti have their place in the plant family Cactaceae. Popularly, cacti are known as xerophytes.
Cacti exist in a wide range of shapes and sizes. These fascinating plants can survive in extremely dry environments, including deserts.
Deserts are one of the driest places on Earth. Indeed, this is possible because cacti show many adaptations to conserve water. Some adaptations are:
- These plants are succulents. Succulent plants are specially adapted with thickened and fleshy parts to ensure water storage.
- In cactus plants, leaves are reduced or modified to spines to serve two purposes. First, to avoid water loss and second, to protect against herbivores. The enlarged stems of the cactus are responsible for photosynthesis.
- Cactus spines are formed from specialized structures known as areoles. These are a kind of highly reduced branch. Areoles are often an identifying character of cacti.
- Numerous cacti have short growing seasons followed by long dormancies.
- The relatively shallow root system of cactus plants rapidly absorbs any water reaching the ground surface.
- Like many other succulent plants, numerous cacti possess a unique mechanism called “crassulacean acid metabolism” (CAM) as a part of photosynthesis.
The 1,500 to 1,800 cacti species (approximately) are classified into one of four sub-families– Cactoideae, Opuntioideae, Pereskioideae, and Maihuenioideae.
Recognizing most members of these four groups as cacti is most straightforward.
Some of the identifying features are as follows:
- Fleshy succulent stems that serve as significant photosynthesis organs
- Absence of leaves or presence of small or transient leaves.
- Presence of areoles
1.2. Adaptations for Water Conservation
A significant part of the cacti is stem succulents. In these plants, the stem is the chief organ used to store water.
Water may comprise up to 90% of the total mass of a cactus. Hence, stem shapes vary significantly among cacti.
Indeed, this ensures reduced water loss and lessens the heating effects of sunlight.
The outer layer of the stem of many of these plants typically has a rigid cuticle reinforced with waxy layers. Waxy coatings help in lessening water loss.
These adaptations make a cactus a sturdy plant that needs less maintenance. It is easy to figure out how to care for a cactus plant.
A mechanism adopted by many succulents that exist on this planet is Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM).
The mechanism CAM uses water much more competently at the cost of restraining the amount of carbon fixed from the atmosphere and, thereby, available for growth processes.
Cacti exist in diverse regions all around the globe.
The range of cacti extends from Patagonia to British Columbia. In the case of cacti adapted to drought, the three chief centres are Mexico, the southwestern United States, the southwestern Andes, and eastern Brazil, away from the Amazon Basin.
Tree-living epiphytic and climbing cacti chiefly exist in southeastern Brazil’s coastal mountains and Atlantic forests.
Many other species of cacti are present in Australia and the Mediterranean region.
The Arabian Peninsula possesses an enormous variety of ever-increasing, introduced cactus populations.
2. How To Take Care of a Cactus Plant
The blooming time of cacti varies depending on the species and the conditions in which they are grown. Some cacti species can bloom regularly every year after maturing in two to three years, while others can take decades to develop and blossom. Some cacti species may not bloom indoors if they do not receive the necessary care and conditions.
Cacti need sunlight to grow and remain healthy, with the amount varying depending on the type of cactus. Cacti need at least two and a half hours of sunlight per day.
It is highly recommended to position the cactus close to a sunny window. The plant must receive bright light during the summer season.
It is advised to put the plant in direct light during the winter season.
Moving the cactus outdoors during the summer is recommended to satisfy the light requirements.
A quick-draining soil combination is highly recommended for desert cactus. These plants show proper growth in consistent potting soil modified with sand or perlite. This helps to improve drainage as well as ventilation.
In the case of forest cacti, using well-draining soil in a regular potting mix is recommended.
Mostly, these plants grow in soil with a neutral pH.
Cacti don’t demand a lot of watering. These plants are famous for thriving in deserts with extreme water shortages.
It is recommended to water it generously during the summer and spring seasons, ensuring good drainage. The cactus is actively growing and blooming during this season.
During the winter, it is recommended to water cacti less frequently, allowing the soil to dry out completely between watering sessions. The watering frequency can depend on various factors, such as the size of the cactus, the species, the type of potting media, humidity levels, and temperature.
2.4. Temperature and Humidity
Cactus is a characteristic plant of the desert, capable of tolerating high temperatures, even up to 158 degrees Fahrenheit in some cases.
During the winter season, cactus favours a cool-down period, with temperatures approximately close to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidity levels of approximately 50 to 60 percent are recommended for a cactus.
2.5. Fertilizer and Pruning
Cacti are one of the most brutal soldiers of the plant kingdom.
These sturdy plants are not very needy of fertilizers. However, organic fertilizers specially created for cacti may help in some cases. It is recommended to conduct proper research about the fertilizer before using it.
Fertilizing the cactus two to three times annually or only during the growing season may help.
Cactus is a highly independent plant that doesn’t need much pruning.
Generally, gardeners trim the cactus only to eliminate new offshoots to propagate new plants. Precautions need to be taken to avoid injury during this process.
2.6. Propagating Indoor Cactus
Offshoots can be used to propagate other plants. This practice not only benefits the health of the mother plant but also helps to reproduce the plant.
The new cactus is expected to mature strong roots in four to six weeks.
Growing a cactus from seed requires a ton of patience.
Most of the time, cactus seeds need to be stratified or duped into thinking they have been through winter before planting.
2.7. Potting and Repotting Cactus
Cacti are slow-growing plants that do not demand repotting. These plants should be repotted at the commencement of the growing season.
To do so, first, put on a pair of protective gloves.
While repotting, the roots can loosened using a trowel.
2.8. Overwintering and Common Pests and Diseases
It is recommended to halt fertilization during the winter dormancy period. Watering should also be reduced, with desert cacti not needing water during the winter, while some winter flowering cacti like Schlumbergera and certain Rhipsalis still need to be lightly watered. Certain cacti like Uebelmannia and Melocactus appreciate a light watering once every 4-6 weeks in winter.
Though cactus is a sturdy plant, every type of cactus can be a victim of infestations of mealybugs, fungus gnats, and spider mites.
The signs of these infestations include shrivelled leaves and the advent of bugs on the stems or in the soil.
In most cases, it is recommended to carefully wash pests off using a spray from the sink hose.
Overwatering the cacti can lead to fungal rot, like dark, sunken spots all over the stem.
2.9. How to Get Indoor Cactus to Bloom
If the cacti are taken proper care of, then they will bloom. Just follow the guidelines mentioned above to make the cactus bloom.
2.10. Common Problems with Indoor Cactus
Overwatering should be avoided; otherwise, fungal rots can attack the cacti.
Also, non-organic unsuitable fertilizers should be avoided because they contain heavy metals.
3. Types of Cactus Plants
Cacti showcases a wide variety of growth habits. Indeed, it isn’t easy to divide cacti into clear and simple categories.
3.1. Arborescent cacti
If a cactus is tree-like, it is called arborescent. This means this kind of cacti typically have a single more-or-less woody trunk topped by numerous branches.
Majorly in other cacti, the branches are more characteristically cactus-like, bare of leaves and bark (covered with spines).
More miniature cacti may be often defined as columnar. These cacti comprise erect, cylinder-shaped stems, with or without branching. An absolute clear division into trunk and branches is absent.
3.2. Globular cacti
Cacti with even smaller stems may be labelled as globular or globose cacti. These cacti consist of shorter, more ball-shaped stems than columnar cacti.
Globular cacti may be solitary, for example, Ferocactus latispinus, or their stems may form clusters that can make large mounds.
3.5. Other forms
In tropical regions, some tropical cacti grow as forest climbers and epiphytes. The stems of these cacti are naturally flattened and nearly leaf-like in appearance, with scarce or even no spines.
4. Uses of Cactus Plant
The plant, now popularly known as Opuntia ficus-indica or the Indian fig cactus, has been an important food source for a long time. The Indian fig cactus is a significant commercial crop in Sicily, Algeria, and other North African countries.
Fruits of other opuntias are also eaten popularly. Flower buds, chiefly of Cylindropuntia species, are also consumed sometimes.
Several species of cacti have been shown to comprise psychoactive agents. These psychoactive agents are chemical compounds.
These psychoactive agents can influence mood, cognition, and perception changes through their effects on the human brain.
Since cacti were brought to the new world, they have been cultivated as ornamental plants.
Rare cacti plants collected from the wild are sold in the market.
Cacti can serve versatile purposes. These plants are used as fodder for animals, frequently after burning off their spines.
Many cacti are also employed in the making of herbal medicine.
A scale insect called Cochineal that lives on species of Opuntia generates a natural red dye known as carmine.
Cacti are also widely used as construction materials in making living cactus fences as barricades around buildings. These barricades prevent trespassers from breaking in.
Some cacti’s very fine and slender spines trichomes were popularly used as a source of fibre for filling pillows. These spines were also used in weaving activities.
4.1. Cactus as Houseplants
Cacti are also extremely popular as houseplants since they need less maintenance. Anyone enthusiastic about gardening can quickly learn how to care for a cactus plant.
The Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera, is quite popular. In the Northern Hemisphere, they are also prevalent as crab cactus and holiday cactus.
Many of the widespread houseplants are cultivars of Schlumbergera rather than species, with white, orange, red, pink, yellow, or purple flowers.
Hybrids of Hatiora gaertneri, also called the Easter cactus, are widely cultivated as houseplants. This Easter Cactus is called so because it booms during the spring season.
The Easter or Whitsun cactus is placed in the genus Rhipsalidopsis. It is also called a holiday cactus. It has flowers in red, pink, orange, and white.
These cultivars are considerably resistant to bugs, pests, and diseases. However, proper care for protection against infections and pests during cultivation is highly recommended.
Indeed, the exceptional adaptions of cacti and the wide range of beautiful flowers make it a fascinating aspect of the plant kingdom. Discovering how to take care of a cactus plant is another exciting story.
A cactus is well-adapted to protect itself. It also showcases gorgeous flowers blooming in bright colours.
Cactus plants are a low-maintenance treat for plant lovers. These plants may last up to many years or more.
The tiny cushion-like structures with trichomes on a cactus are called areoles. This feature makes the cactus unique.
Cacti are believed to be a source of protection in many countries. Hence, they make beautiful gifts on many occasions.