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Cactus Knowledge

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Cactus Types – What Is Columnar Cacti?

Cactus Types – What Is Columnar Cacti?

There are many cactus types located around the earth and in this article I have decided to focus on only one of the common types you will stumble upon in desert climates or a nursery.  Cactus have been cited in many writings that have dated back even to the time of the Aztecs, the notes show us that there was a captivation for the plant species ability to survive in dry and harsh climates.  The cactus is dominant in the Americas, discovered first by a botanist by the name of Carolus Linnaeus.  Linnaeus called the new prickly plant, “kaktos” after the greek word for thistle.  So, now that you know some history lets get started on some cactus type knowledge.

Cactus Type – Columnar Cacti

First type here at Cactus Facts we will explore is our friend the columnar cacti, which represents some 170 species.  Some of the species like Saguaro and Organ Pipe stand out in the minds of people the most when thinking of the  Sonoran Desert.  Not only beautiful to look at, many animals rely on these cacti for food and shelter being a huge part of the ecosystem in some areas.  Birds such as gilded flickers, house finches and Gila woodpeckers live inside holes making nests for protection against predators.  When looking at Columnar Cacti, you will notice that they have cylindrical stems and have ribs running top to bottom.  Another observation is the height vs width being some 10x taller than wide.

Saguaros for instance have long life spans(sometimes over 200 years) and may take up to 75 years to develop side arms.  These side arms are responsible for better chances of reproduction having flowers or fruits being borne at the end of stems.  Usually you will see flowering at the age 55, and will see the blooming white flowers and fruit mostly between the months of May and June.  Saguaros arn’t the only cactus with blooming flowers and fruit.  You will see flowers across the desert being pollinated by bats, birds, and insects.    Most of the floral characteristics are based towards supporting bat pollination.  The flowers open at nocturnal hours and fragrance is emitted.  Also the bloom is very durable allowing for the bats weight and the position is high above the ground.  The fruits produced by cacti are consumed by humans and animals, not only having great health benefits(more detail here) but supplying food to animals.  For more than 9,000 years fossil evidence has show us that cacti have been part of human diet.

How to store your Columnar Cacti Over Winter

It’s easy to understand that an oak tree is dormant for the winter because it loses its leaves, but cacti have dormant states as well.  Cacti dormancy is triggered from a lowering in temperatures.  The easiest way to overcome this would to just move your columnar cacti indoors.  There might be a price though if your cactus doesn’t dip into dormancy.  Even with the best grow light indoors,  you probably wont be able to match the sun.  The thickness of a cactus is dependant on how much light it receives.  If there is low light, then the cactus will stretch to find more.  This is called etoliation.  It is recognizable by very light green color and can cause weakness in the plant.  So, how do you prevent etoliation?  During the below freezing months store your cactus in temperatures from the low 50’s to high 40’s.  If your cactus is dormant it wont require light making storage easy.

What Makes A Cactus A Cactus?

Four requirements must be met to be classified a cactus, it must produce single celled fruit, it must be perennial, it must have an areole, and it must be a dicotyledon(has a two leafed embryo).  Cacti are stem succulants and by design can survive droughts by storing water in the fleshy tissue of their stems, roots, and leaves.  The ribs will contract and expand based on the cacti’s requirement, some holding up to 1,000 gallons of water.  Pretty impressive huh?  After putting all this information down into an article, I am amazed at how magnificent the cactus truly is.  The next post I make will be about another cactus type.  If you have a recommendation, let us know.  Well, its time for me to go outside again.  Have fun exploring.

For more cactus information check out the link below:

  • Containing the Cactus Moth « FieldMarking – Last week I sat in on a teleconference of the Invasive Species Working Group and learned about the threat that cactus moth poses to both the U. The caterpillars attack prickly pear cactus in the genus Opuntia, destroying it from the inside of each pad. There are many native threatened species of Opuntia in the U.


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One Response

01.04.12

Wow, fantastic information on the columnar cacti. I didn’t know bats played such a huge part in pollination.

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