Cactus Care, Gallery and Names

All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. They're an acquired taste, but once hooked (forgive the pun) you'll collect more and more.

About Cacti

Native to deserts and dry regions of the Americas, cacti are succulents at their simplest: a water-storing body and vestigial leaves (spines). These radiate from growth points called areoles, don't photosynthesize---the green body of the plant does that---and they fend off thirsty predators.

Cacti are amazing. Imagine trying to fashion an object that retains moisture despite arid conditions, withstands temperatures upwards of 100 degrees F and below freezing, and doesn't disintegrate under ultraviolet rays. What would it be made of? Glass, plastic, metal or wood? None have a chance. Now, consider that this desert object also grows and reproduces!

True, cacti can be difficult to garden around. But you can easily grow and enjoy small specimens in pots. Give them full sun for most of the day (in all but the hottest climates) and water sparingly. Be sure you have the right tools when it comes time to transplant them.

I'd rather photograph cacti than any other plants. Flowers are big and bright and shapes are intriguing. Spines form patterns and glow when backlit.

Because "cactus" deserves a gentler name, I've come up with "halo plants." That's yet to catch on, but cacti themselves certainly have. You too may find that an appreciation for these succulents' simple, sleek, sculptural forms is a natural progression. Is it any wonder that cactus collectors number in the millions worldwide?

Cacti and euphorbias don't really work, at least for the long-term, in floral-style succulent arrangements. Although they do add contrast and texture, most cacti (tropical varieties are an exception) have different light-and-water needs compared to soft-leaved succulents. So, plant the spikies in their own pots.

Common varieties

These globular cacti, from my Cactus Curio Box project, are commonly found in nurseries and online. For more cactus varieties and IDs, scroll to the gallery.

Common cactus, common names

Common cacti with common names

Common cactus, Latin names

Common cacti, Latin names

Resources

Where to buy cactus

Mountain Crest Gardens  

Leaf & Clay

Altman Plants

Videos

Plant a Trailing Cactus in a Tall Pot (3:45)

Create a Cactus Curio Box (3:54)

At the Cactus & Succulent Society Show & Sale (3:29)

Use Tweezers to Tend Spiky Succulents (2:59)

Articles

Why Grow Paddle Cacti? DLB's 16 Reasons. Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other.

How Cactus Snowflakes Seduced Me. Remarkably, the spination of certain cacti suggests snowflakes...

Why Cactus is Popular. Long a pariah plant, cactus is gaining popularity.

I Come Out as a Cactus Lover. Are you a closeted cactus fancier? Time to be proud!

The Joys of Cholla (Cylindropuntia) "Could there be a more unfriendly plant?" I asked. You'd think I'd insulted the entire state of Arizona...

Cactus Photo Gallery

I've identified and labeled these photos for you according to genus and species, and common names if available. If you think I've ID'd any incorrectly, I definitely want to know. Thanks! — Debra Lee Baldwin

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