Cactus is a succulent with thick and fleshy part to store water. They are native of the America and are always found in arid climate. Cactus can also be found in Atacama Desert, which is the driest region on the earth. There are more than 2000 varieties of cactus available in different shapes and sizes. Cactus belongs to Cactaceae family. Generally, cactus has only thorns and no leaves. Cactus has a unique part called as areole which is not present in any other succulent. Today, some or the other species of cactus is found in almost every part of the world. It bears flowers and fruits which are mostly edible. But they are often kept as ornamental plants at homes and offices. Some of the species are used as medicines also.
Technical Details of Cactus:
Scientific name: Cactaceae
Common name(s): Cactus comes in different shapes and sizes. Thus depending on its appearance they are given different names like donkey tail cactus, eagle claws cactus, beaver-tail cactus, ball cactus, fairy-castle cactus to name a few.
Origin: America but very commonly found in Mexico too.
Height: Depends on its type. The smallest is about 1 cm while the tallest can go over 60 feet.
Light: Need sufficient light, up to six hours of direct sunlight
Soil: Porous Soil so that water can drain out easily. Place the soil over a layer pebbles or brick pieces.
Moisture: Less moisture required, so keep the plant in s small pot.
Hardiness: 4 – 9 depending on species
Temperature: They are generally good between 5°C and 35°C. Below freezing point it is hard for them to survive.
Pests: mealy bugs, white flies, red spider mites, scale, snails and fungi.
Diseases: fungal disease like aloe rust, stem rot,
Propagation: There are several ways to grow cactus. Depending on the type it can be propagated by stem, piece of plant and seed. Naturally, birds and insects pollinate the plant.
Uses: Ornamental plant, food, in medicine for weight and against cancer. It is rich in multiple vitamins and helps in overcoming hangovers too.
Cactus belongs to dry and hot regions. They are shaped to be a part of such climate. So, make sure they get sufficient sunlight every day.
Use a fast draining soil to pot the cactus. Cactus absorbs water and store in its stem. Watering once every week is recommended but still check if the soil is dry at the top before watering.
Cactus are hardy plants are do not need much assistance in terms of fertilizers. Use minimal and at rare occasions a mix of natural and diluted fertilizer. Over use of fertilizer kills the plants.
They can bear extreme climates, very hot and very cold. However below the freezing point you will have to take some extra care of these plants.
Propagation Methods of Cactus:
Mostly, the propagation occurs through seeds. Birds, insects and bees helps in pollination. Though there may be thousands of seed but very few are fertile and capable of producing a new plant.
Cactus can also be propagated with the help of stem. Cut the stem and keep it aside for few days to form a scab. Once formed, plant it in a small pot.
For more professional use, they are also grown by the way of grafting. However, plants grown by this technique are not strong enough and die soon.
Common Problems Associated with Cactus:
Cactus is a decorative plant with very little needs. But there are some problems that might occur due to negligence or improper care of the plant.
The plant may become thin and soft or the root may start decaying.
If the plant is becoming soft, it means there is lack of sunlight and more of water. Keep the plant under direct light and avoid watering until the soil is dry on top.
The pot should have good drainage facility and must not hold water. As cactus needs less moisture, use porous soil to keep moisture in control.
If there is discoloration or black dots it might be due to fungal infection. Protection is better than cure, as treating fungal diseases is very tricky and might not be always possible.
In case the root of cactus is infected, it is very difficult to treat. Try to cut the mushy and rotten flesh and allow the plant to dry for few days. Once the root is dry, re-pot in a fresh and good soil.
Tips to have healthy Cactus plant
Cactus comes in beautiful shapes and colors. It is easy to maintain and can easily lighten up your decor. Some simple tips will help you keep this plant healthy for a long time:
Water only when necessary. In winters, reduce the water supply further as plant becomes little inactive.
Provide sufficient sunlight, at least 2-4 hours under direct sun.
They can grow in extreme temperature, however if it goes below freezing point then plant will need some warm place to survive.
Keep the usage of fertilizers to minimum and at regular intervals. Excessive fertilizer will kill the plant.
Cactus grows well in smaller pots. If the pot is big it will retain more moisture that is not required for them.
Keep an eye on bugs and insects. Early detection will help to save the plant from insects attack.
Though cactus is an ornamental plant, it has some uses too. Most of them are used in variety of exotic dishes and cuisines. Few varieties are very commonly used in medicines as they contain psychoactive agents. These substances affect mind impacting person’s mood, cognitive abilities and more. They even help in overcoming hangovers. One of the species, prickly pear cactus helps controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. Certain specific cacti help in reducing weight as well.
Cactus can be planted both indoors and outdoors, but lives longer outdoor. Due to cultivation and irregular care, some species are endangered. But there are still many which make our house, offices, gardens and landscapes more beautiful with their unique appearance and characteristics.