Written by: on May 26, 2020 @ 6:00 am

When picturing a desert landscape, one plant stands apart from the barren desert horizon: the cactus.  Most people hear the word cactus, they think of a resilient, thorny plant in a lifeless habitat. There are more than 2,000 species of cactus that vary in shape, color, size, and type of habitat! While cacti are native to the dry regions of America, from the most southern tip of South America to Canada, the hardy cactus can be found throughout the world today.

How is it possible for a plant to thrive in a climate that receives little to no water? Cactus plants have the capability to store large amounts of water to survive their habitat, conserving water in its roots, leaves and stems.  Cactus plants also have a thick, fatty, waxy outer layer preventing water loss in the high heat. Humans can only survive 3-4 days without water while the average species of cactus can survive two entire years without a drop of water!

The defining feature of cacti are their cluster of spines. Cactus spines are a modification of leaves that contain no living cells, allowing the cactus to conserve additional water. The spines create shade for the cactus while also acting as a defense mechanism. Sharp spines ward off most potential predators, but wild pigs, desert tortoises, and bighorn sheep still make room for cacti in their diets! Cactus spines also help to collect water during the occasional desert rainstorm, trapping fog and dew in their specialized grooves.

Cactus can also be of a healthy option for humans to munch on! Cacti are full of vitamins and nutrients and are a food staple in Latin America. Cactus leaf has been found to lower cholesterol, decrease blood sugar levels and fight diabetes, improve digestion, and reduce inflammation. Cactus leaves are high in phenolics and flavonoids, these compounds are high in antioxidants that fight cellular damage from cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Cacti are a super food!

Cacti are a resilient, hardy plant who overcome the most extreme environment on our planet but are unfortunately succumbing to one adversary: human beings. Almost one third of the 2,000 cactus species are threatened with extinction, making cacti more endangered than pandas. Illegal trade and land conversion are threatening the livelihood of this marvelous plant who has adapted against the odds. More than 86% of threatened cacti being used in gardening come from wild populations, and rare species such as the Ariocarpus are being sold for as much as $1,000 per plant. While wanting to grow a cactus from home may seem like a harmless passion, the continued survival of cactus depends on protection. Cacti are listed as the fifth most threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Many animals depend on cactus for nourishment including coyotes, lizards, bats, and hummingbirds. Rural indigenous cultures have used cactus as a food and medication source for thousands of years, highlighting the importance of conserving cactus for future generations. Continue to appreciate the wonder of the cactus where they are found in nature and remain vigilant in protecting biodiversity to ensure cacti are protected!

Join our HTHT @ Home Science Experiment and learn more about cactus survival: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/EOTD_Cactus_Survival_Lesson.pdf

Catogories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply