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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.

Popular varieties

These globular cacti, from my Cactus Curio Box project, are readily available in nurseries and online. For more cactus varieties and IDs, scroll to the gallery. The plants' botanical names are there and in the post.

Common cactus, common names

Common cacti with common 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...

Hidden Gymnos: My Thai Succulent Mystery  In mid-December a package from Thailand arrived with no explanation...

What You Should Know about Saguaro Cactus  Wondering if you might own this desert icon? Here's what you should know...

 

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

Related Info

I Come Out as a Cactus Lover

When profiled by Garden Design magazine, I took the opportunity to come out as a cactus lover. Well, I had to. They asked about trends in the world of succulents. I believe my progression is fairly typical. Most of us start out loving succulents that look like fleshy roses—echeverias, graptoverias and the like. As people gain appreciation for the…

How to Create a Cactus Curio Box

Cacti are succulents with simple shapes, and none illustrate the plants’ elegantly elemental geometry as well as spherical varieties. To showcase the beauty of these often-ignored succulents, I went with an open wood box with a dozen partitions, each just right for cacti in 2.5-inch pots. My goal was to elevate textural, glowing orbs to the status of jewelry or artwork.

Gymnocalyciums from Thailand

Hidden Gymnos: My Thai Succulent Mystery

Will you help me solve a mystery? I’m wondering why someone would hide valuable, collectible cacti (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii variegata) in a pastry box and ship them to me from overseas.

Saguaro cactus at maturity

What You Should Know about Saguaro Cactus

Are you intrigued by saguaro cactus—those desert icons depicted on everything from bath mats to baby rompers? If you’re wondering if you might be able to grow one, here’s what you should know.

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