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.
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.
Where to buy cactus
Create a Cactus Curio Box (3:54)
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