In my maiden blog, we discover one of the most fascinating plants ma’ nature has to offer. With thousands of different species, many flourishing in dry regions of North and South America. Others in warm tropical climates found in small pockets around the globe, this prickly plant is truly remarkable.
Did you guess it yet? Yes, it’s a cactus!
A succulent perennial with sharp pointy spikes. Cactus are considered succulents, but succulents are not members of the Cacti entourage. They grow small patches, called areoles. Areoles allow spines to grow off of them.
Spines (the spiky, barbed bristles) are essentially modified leaves. They have a multitude of purposes. First and foremost, acting as a defensive mechanism. Spines are razor sharp discouraging herbivores from eating their juicy insides. Another advantage is providing shade for the stem.
Stems makes up majority of the plant. Seems far-fetched, but with so many spines on one cactus, they do indeed offer protection from a scorching sun.
Cactus can grow in an array of shapes and sizes. They sprout in soil, on other plants, even on hard surfaces like rocks. This specific succulent mainly reproduces via seeds. Fruit produced is usually a berry containing a plethora of seeds. Once pollination is complete (thanks to hummingbirds and insects) the floral tube will fall from the top and recycle itself. This can happen accidentally by bird, animals, wind, or even an insect.
Humans use cacti for a wide range of reasons. Most commonly for decoration. If you want to add an element of green to your home, a cactus can be a great addition. They are low maintenance and don’t require much watering. After quenching the thirst of a cactus, let the soil dry out completely before watering it again. You don’t want the soil staying moist, this can cause root rot, subsequently ending the life of your cactus.
One of my favorite things to do with cactus is getting creative with the pots they’re planted in. Try different colors schemes. Plant them in objects other than your standard flower pot. Experiment with old vases, coffee mugs or bowls for example.
Certain cactus are cultivated for consumption by both human and animals. A word of caution, not all cactus are safe for consumption. Certain varieties contain toxic alkaloids, ingesting them can result in vomiting, diarrhea or body aches.
Another innovative use of the cactus is to provide fencing around ones property or live-stock. The spines make for a nasty deterrent for most wild animals up to no good.
Recent breakthroughs in science have paved the way for cactus water to be used in healthcare and beauty products. Cactus juice packs a powerful dose of Vitamin E, which provides skin with important nourishment and healing capabilities.
Cactus water is also found in shampoo and conditioners because it’s high in amino acids and iron. These properties help revive your hair and promote healthy growth.
A few species of cactus are known to have psychoactive agents. Chemical compounds in these agents have the ability to change moods, perceptions or cognition due to effects on the brain. One specific species, which has been used by indigenous people for thousands of years, is the Peyote. This cactus contains mescaline (located in the roots). Many Native American tribes used this plant to make spiritual and philosophical realizations. The powerful plant can have hallucinogenic effects, which are equivalent to the recreational drug LSD.
Culturally, a cactus has played a prominent role in Mexico and the traditions they follow. Cactus can be found in just about every nook, cranny and crevice across the land. Mexicans use the vital plant in foods such as burritos, fajitas and tacos. It is the main ingredient in many delicious juices.
Chinese Feng Shui studies suggest these plants can be good luck. However, it can also cause bad energy if placed in the wrong spot. Be sure to place them in sunny areas on the East and North side of a dwelling.
A cactus represents endurance, toughness and persistence. This plant has truly withstood the test of time. In addition to symbolizing endurance, it is believed to represent maternal love as it not only survives, but thrives in some the harshest conditions imaginable.
A fun fact in closing, the age of a cactus can only be guessed, based on type, shape and size. They do not have growth rings like wood trees. Evidence suggests the cactus evolved millions of years ago and we are forever grateful they did.
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