All About the Cactus

Which type of plant has over 1,750 types of species, with all but one native to the Americas?

And the answer is: cactus.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Cacti are native to the Americas, ranging from parts of Canada in the north, down to Patagonia in South America. The one exception is the type commonly known as mistletoe cactus which also grows in Africa and in Sri Lanka.

Did you know all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti? Though the terms are often used interchangeably, cacti are technically in a subgroup of succulents and can be distinguished by the presence of small cushion-like structures called areoles. These structures make it possible for the spines and branches to grow on the cactus, which is their primary form of self defense. Areoles are only present on cacti.

Cacti have many uses. In most cases they are cultivated as ornamentals and popular for their low necessity for water or maintenance, but many varieties of cacti are enjoyed as food, fuel, or even medicine. One variety has been used since pre-Colombian times for its ceremonial hallucinogenic properties.  

Though it may be an ancient plant with some spiritual properties, today the cacti is more popular than ever. Check out this article from the New York Times for more up-to-date discoveries on the remarkable properties of cacti.

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