Cacti are very unique-looking plants, so it is completely understandable that some people may struggle to identify whether it is a flower, a shrub, or a tree.
A cactus is not a flower, but a flowering plant that produces seeds. All cactus species produce flowers, although there are some species that have more prominent blooms than others.
In this article we will discuss the proper categorization of cacti, to make the subject clearer and less confusing.
If you are one of the many who often wonder how a cactus should be correctly identified, just keep reading.
Is a cactus a flower?
No, a cactus is not a flower, but it does produce flowers that sprout from areoles, which act kind of like branches.
Cacti are not considered trees, either, because they do not have hard, woody stems like trees do. Although it is possible for some cactus species to grow as tall as a tree in height, they have succulent stems that do not classify them as trees.
An example of a cactus that can grow up to 60 feet tall is the Pachycereus pringlei. Inversely, the Blossfeldia liliputana is a cactus species that measures less than an inch in height.
How would you classify a cactus?
A cactus is a succulent plant that grows spines on its body. There are over 1,700 species of cactus around the world and they are all classified as plants.
The term ‘plant’ is quite broad and encompasses herbs, grass, bushes, vines, shrubs, and trees.
What makes a cactus a plant?
The first characteristic that makes a cactus a plant is the presence of leaves (in some species), stems and roots, which all plants have in common.
The next characteristic is the cactus’ ability to photosynthesize. Unlike normal trees or other plants that use their leaves to photosynthesize, cacti have their stems and arms to do this job. Also unlike other plants, cacti do not absorb precious oxygen at night; instead, they continue to absorb carbon dioxide, which makes them great indoor plants.
Cacti are also able to produce seeds that they use to propagate themselves, as well as pups, or offsets, that sprout from the sides of the parent plant. The seeds can be collected from a cactus when the flowers have dried out.
Growing a cactus from a pup or a cutting is easier and takes less time, but it is still possible to grow one from seed, which is a characteristic it shares with other plants.
Do all cacti produce flowers?
Yes, all species of cacti have the ability to produce flowers. The question of when the cactus blooms will depend on the age and species of the plant and the care it is getting.
Some species will need decades before they reach maturity and are able to bloom. Other cacti refuse to bloom when they are not getting the light they require. Yet others base their blooming on whether the days or nights are longer.
It may be trickier to get a potted cactus to bloom because it is much harder to find the right combination of ideal light, fertilizer and water conditions to keep the plant happy.
1. Columnar cacti
For the columnar type of cactus, it can take decades before they start to bloom, especially if they were grown from seed.
If you want a columnar cactus to take less time before it blooms, you can take a cutting from an already-mature blooming cactus and propagate that. The mature cactus will also continue to bloom, even if you take a cutting from it.
The Saguaro cactus is one columnar cactus whose branch will, unfortunately, refuse to root if you plant it. This cactus typically takes 40 to 55 years before it flowers for the first time.
2. Round cacti
An example of a round cactus is the Mammillaria. This species takes between three and four years to bloom.
Some round cacti will also form small columns as they mature and this is where the white, green, yellow, pink, red or magenta flowers will sprout from.
Round cacti make great outdoor as well as indoor plants.
3. Short stem cacti
The hedgehog cactus is an example of a short stem cactus that, even when mature, will measure below two feet in height. This cactus will take up to five years before it starts producing red flowers during the spring.
Another short stem cactus is the Easter lily cactus, which has red, magenta, lavender or white flowers.
Can you encourage a cactus to bloom?
Yes, you can help a cactus out to encourage it to bloom. It may be a bit tricky to do this, especially since a huge factor for blooming is the arid conditions cacti get in their natural habitats.
One thing you can do is to buy a cactus that is already blooming. If a cactus is blooming, it is likely to bloom again in the future. Examples of cacti that bloom easily are the dwarf cactus, Bolivian cactus, Easter cactus, Christmas cactus and spiny cactus.
Place your blooming cactus in an area where the temperature is correct for its requirements. You need to do what you can to make sure that your cactus blooms every year.
Most cacti bloom in the summer, but if you want yours to bloom earlier, in the spring, keep it at 50 degrees Fahrenheit all through the winter.
Another trick is to keep the plant outdoors where it gets lots of sunlight during its growing phase. When it gets direct sunlight, it is less likely to suffer from overwatering and root rot.
But, although it likes lots of sunlight, make sure you do not overexpose it either because this can lead to sunburn. Let it get a few hours of shade even when it is kept outdoors.
Also remember that although cacti may be fine with not being watered for a certain period of time, that does not mean you can just neglect their watering needs entirely.
Water your cactus when the soil in the pot is dry to the touch. As long as the soil is well-draining and the pot has drainage holes at the bottom, the chances of overwatering and root rot are low.
Also, adjust your watering schedule to the season and the current weather conditions. This will mean watering more frequently during the spring and summer, and less during the fall and winter.
When fertilizing your plant, only do so during its growing phase. There are commercially available fertilizers designed specifically for cacti, which are typically low in nitrogen and high in potassium. Fertilize your cactus every two weeks during its growing season. Never do so when it is dormant because that can lead to root burn from excess nutrients and minerals in the soil.
A cactus is not a flower; rather, it is a plant that produces flowers. Most cactus species take several years before they are mature enough to bloom.
If your cactus is not yet blooming, do not worry; it may just be too young and it might take a few more years of patience.
Cacti need very specific living conditions, depending on the species, to be triggered to start blooming. The best way to encourage your cactus to do this is to simulate, as best you can, the light, temperature, and watering conditions it might get in its natural habitat.
If you are providing your cactus with all its basic needs and ideal conditions, you just might be rewarded with beautiful red, magenta, yellow or white flowers, which can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Cacti may not produce as many flowers as often as other plants, but when they are perfectly content, they will bring a riot of color and life to your home or your outdoor garden.
Image: istockphoto.com / photos777