Cacti go through five stages of growth. These stages are germination, vegetative growth, flowering, pollination and fruit formation.
In this article, we will discuss each of the stages of cactus growth and how each stage affects the overall progression of a cactus’ life.
If you would like to learn more about the life cycle of a cactus, just keep reading.
The stages of cactus growth
The life cycle of a cactus begins with a dormant seed becoming a seedling. These seeds, which have been dormant for years, will only come out of dormancy when the conditions surrounding them are just right.
They require specific environmental stimuli to know the correct time to germinate; an example of such a stimulus is a change in the soil around the seed. Other conditions that could encourage a dormant cactus seed to germinate are changes in available light, changes in the moisture level of the soil, and changes in the environmental temperature.
The seeds of different cacti also have different requirements for the encouragement of germination.
The coating of the cactus seed will need to absorb enough water for it to break away before the plant can begin growing. Then, there are stored food reserves inside the seed itself that will need to be converted to chemicals that the seedling can absorb.
One more factor that needs to be present to ensure successful seed growth is oxygen. You can make sure a seed has oxygen by choosing soil that is porous and loose.
Keep the temperature around the seed at around 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the temperature required for them to properly germinate. Also remember no to overwater the seed once planted, because this can negatively affect its ability to germinate.
After the seed has germinated, the cactus will take some months to develop its basic shape, depending on the type of cactus it is. During this stage, you will witness the plant’s mature shape starting to become visible. There are even species of cactus that can take five to 10 years to reach the size and maturity required to begin the next stage of development, which is the flowering stage.
The intensity of the light that a cactus gets, as well as the temperature around it while it grows, are the two most important factors that determine the growth of its flowers.
You can actually encourage flowering in cacti, even out of the blooming season, by imitating the desert-like conditions the plants like.
The best time for cacti to flower is during the summer, when it is easier to reach a temperature of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit which is the ideal for cactus flower growth.
If the temperature and sunlight outdoors get too intense and hot for your cactus, you can always transfer it to a shadier area where it will not get sunburnt.
Depending on the type of cactus, its flowers will grow from different parts of the plant. Some cacti produce flowers from stalks that grow separately from the body, while others have flowers growing directly from the body of the cactus.
Unfortunately, cactus flowers typically only last for a few days to two weeks at most.
At this stage, your cactus will want to be watered more often than usual because it is actively growing. Continue doing this until the end of summer. Taper your watering when fall and winter come around, because there should be enough water in the soil to keep the cactus well-hydrated.
Remember that cacti are drought-tolerant and they would rather be underwatered than overwatered. An overwatered cactus’ roots can drown and die if left to stand in waterlogged soil. The dead roots will be susceptible to opportunistic fungi and bacteria in the soil, and this can lead to root rot. The aggressive rot will travel up toward the rest of the plant until the entire plant succumbs.
In order to avoid overwatering and root rot, make sure the soil in the plant’s pot is well-draining and that the pot you are using has drainage holes at the bottom.
It may be difficult to get your cactus pollinated, especially since its flowers do not last for very long.
You could try to encourage natural pollination by making sure there is another cactus also in bloom nearby. You would need to ensure that there are at least two of each kind of cactus near each other, that have been grown at roughly the same time so that they will also bloom at the same time.
The closer the two cacti are to each other, the more likely the pollination is to occur. Wind or rain can help to naturally pollinate your cacti, but it is also a great boost to your plants if there are pollinating insects present in your garden, such as beetles, wasps, butterflies or bees.
Once pollination has been successful, the fruits of your cacti will start to develop. This starts with the formation of a berry with spines on it. The mature fruit of the prickly pear cactus also has spines. The colors of the fruits will depend on the species.
Cactus fruits have plenty of health benefits. They contain antioxidants that can help get rid of cholesterol in your body, they are great for the heart, and they also have anti-inflammatory properties. They are also great sources of magnesium, potassium, and vitamins C and E.
How fast does a cactus grow?
Most cacti grow quite slowly. After six months to a year, a cactus is only around the size of a marble. It will probably grow a couple of inches over three years, depending on the species that you have.
After the third year, a typical cactus will grow around an inch or so every year. This is not a hard and fast rule, of course, since there are also some species that can grow six or seven inches in a year.
A Ferocactus grows about an inch in height every year, while the golden barrel cactus only grows half an inch a year.
The Saguaro cactus, on the other hand, can grow as much as seven inches in a year, which is why it can reach over 70 feet if it lives for more than a hundred years.
Remember that cacti take their time to reach full maturity, so you must learn to be patient when growing one.
Why does a cactus grow slowly?
One of the reasons cacti grow so slowly is because they have adapted like this for survival. These plants grow in deserts where they do not know when the next rainfall will come, and where the climate is extreme.
Because of these conditions, cacti will prioritize survival over growth. They are built to overcome the odds just to have the chance to reproduce in the future. So, if they have to endure decades of difficult conditions just to be able to create more cacti, they will wait and simply survive.
Another reason they grow slowly is due to their lack of leaves. A typical plant has leaves which contain chlorophyll, which allows the plant to produce more energy faster, hence the faster growth.
Cacti, on the other hand, have very small leaves, known as scales or bracts, and they have areoles and spines that do not help with energy production. Normal leaves will not work on a cactus because they will only cause the plant to lose water faster in a desert setting.
Because of their lack of regular leaves, cacti will not grow at the pace of a tree that has hundreds of thousands of leaves on its branches.
The five stages of cactus growth are germination, vegetative growth, flowering, pollination and fruit formation.
The entire life cycle of a cactus can take as long as a hundred years, depending on the species, so if you plan to take on the responsibility of growing one, be prepared to wait decades for it to go through all five stages.
If you are patient and provide your cactus with ideal conditions, it may one day reward you with its beautiful flowers.
Image: istockphoto.com / nattanan726