Cactus plants are fascinating with a variety of uses. Many are edible, and the spines can be used for gramophone needles. Cacti come in a range of shapes and sizes. Some of them can last up to two years without water.
There are almost two thousand species of cactus (Cactaceae). They are indigenous in North and South America. Only one cactus species, Rhipsalis, grows indigenously in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Madagascar. Most cacti grow in dry areas, but many people are surprised to discover that some cacti grow in forests and jungles.
Cacti have thick fleshy stems and can be described as herbaceous perennial plants. They are covered in hair and spines. Tiny cushion-like structures called areoles give rise to hairs that cover the cactus stem. Areoles take the place of side branches, and flowers may arise from them. Most cacti have fine shallow roots, although some may have tap roots.
Cactus spines are modified leaves and cannot photosynthesize like most plant leaves. The cactus stem contains chlorophyll and carries out photosynthesis. Cacti are interesting ornamental plants with over one thousand eight hundred species. They range in size from less than an inch to sixty-three feet tall.
Cacti are pollinated by birds, insects, and bats. They are suitable as indoor or outdoor plants where they thrive in dry conditions inhospitable to most other plants. They grow in most well-drained soils. Waterlogged soil or too much moisture can cause them to rot.
1. Spineless Yucca
Spineless yucca (Yucca elephantipes) is a succulent similar to cacti, sometimes known as stick yucca. They have thick trunks that broaden as the plant matures and resemble an elephant’s foot, giving rise to the Latin name. They are native to Mexico and Guatemala.
Spineless yucca can grow to thirty feet high and twenty-five feet wide. They can be grown indoors or in gardens if the climate is suitable. Spineless yuccas have narrow, blue-green leaves arranged in spiral rosettes on the trunk. The evergreen leaves are smooth, tough, pointed, and spineless.
Flower stalks or spears develop, which can be as long as three feet. They are covered by masses of creamy white flowers. The flowers can be eaten in salads and are a valuable source of potassium and calcium. The plants are toxic to horses, dogs, and cats.
Spineless yucca needs a lot of sunlight and should be planted in full sun or exposed to as much sunlight as feasible if the plant is indoors. They require considerable water in summer but much less during winter. They do not cope well with freezing temperatures. They are resistant to most diseases but vulnerable to black spot and aphids.
Related: 7 Plants That Look Like Yucca | Are Yucca Plants Poisonous?
2. Century Plant (Agave americana)
Century plant is also known as Agave americana and has other names like American Soap plant, American Aloe, Maguey, and Flowering Aloe. Century plant is indigenous to Texas, USA, and Mexico and has become naturalized to many countries and continents. It belongs to the family Asparagaceae.
Century plant is large, growing six feet high and ten feet wide. This evergreen perennial consists of thick leaves, which may be blue-green, have a pale central stripe, or green with yellow striped edges. The leaves are pointed and end in a sharp spine responsible for stabbing many gardeners and animals. The leaves are often approximately six feet long and have thorny margins.
Agave americana plants mature and only flower once towards the end of their lives. The plant lives for ten to thirty years and develops a tall flower spike just before dying. The spike may be as tall as fifteen feet and is covered by clusters of green-tinged yellow flowers. They grow in dense stands because they develop suckers, giving rise to new Century plants.
Century plants, like cacti, are drought-tolerant due to their thick fleshy leaves. They grow best in full sun and can tolerate high environmental temperatures. Century plant grows in many different soils as long as there is good drainage.
Related: 6 Plants That Look Like Agave
3. Splurge (Euphorbia Canariensis)
Euphorbia canariensis is native to the Canary Islands. It is commonly called Splurge, or Canary Candle Splurge. It is often confused for cacti as the two plants look very similar. All species of Euphorbia have a viscous latex sap which is irritating and toxic to animals and people. This gives rise to them sometimes being referred to as milk bushes.
Euphorbia Canariensis has no leaves and multiple thick fleshy stems. The stems have four to six sides and the margins have sharp ridges edges with thorns or spines. The stems are usually light green with reddish margins. Dark red or purplish flowers appear in late spring or early summer.
The clumps of stems may become six feet wide and up to eight feet tall. They make an impressive and novel garden display. Euphorbia canariensis is very popular in rock gardens and may be planted alongside cacti and other succulents.
Euphorbia canariensis is a hardy plant that is resistant to most diseases. It grows well in almost all soils except clay or boggy land. It has minimal water needs, and gardeners can forget about it, watering it infrequently. It does best in sites that have full sun and good drainage.
Gasterias are unusual plants that many people confuse with cacti. They are native to the coastal plains, forests, and semi-desert conditions in South Africa and Namibia. They are part of the Asphodelaceae plant family. There are five family groups in Gasteria. One of the most common is Gasteria croucheri, also known as Forest Gasteria, Forest Ox-tongue, Lawyer’s Tongue, and Natal Gasteria.
Gasterias get their name from their flowers which are said to resemble the shape of a stomach. The thick leathery leaves remind the onlooker of a tongue. These novel plants can vary in appearance depending on their age and growing conditions. Each plant is truly unique and changes over its lifetime.
Gasterias easily form hybrids within the family or with Aloe and Haworthia, making them difficult to describe in generalizations. The flowers hang from angled stalks or racemes and are often reddish pink, although the color may vary.
These plants prefer dappled shade in hot climates but can grow in full sun in more temperate climates. They cope with variable water levels but are not cold-tolerant and are easily killed by frost. Like most succulents, well-drained soil is important to prevent rotting.
Aloes come from the Asphodelaceae family, and there are approximately six hundred and fifty different species. Aloes are flowering succulents native to South Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Jordan, and islands in the Indian Ocean. The most commonly known aloe is Aloe vera, sometimes called the True Aloe.
Aloes have thick fleshy stems that allow people to confuse them with cacti. The leaves vary in color being grey-green, bluish-green, yellow-green, or even speckled. Aloe leaves contain a thick gel that is bitter but has many medicinal properties. Traditional healers and modern medicine have used it topically and internally for many centuries.
Aloes have eye-catching flowers which often resemble candles. They vary in color but almost always have vibrant colors such as red, orange, and yellow. Aloes are long-lived plants specially adapted to survive the many bushfires that rage through southern Africa in winter and early spring before the rains come.
Aloe flowers are popular with sunbirds and insects that are attracted to their sweet nectar and bright colors. Some aloes develop berries which birds eat. Aloes can live for one hundred and fifty to two hundred years. They vary in size, with some, such as Aloe marlothii, considered trees while others are much smaller.