Cactaceae is the name of the plant family that includes the cactus. Most types of cacti are indigenous to North and South America, but some varieties are native to areas of Africa and Asia. These plants are visually distinct and usually grow in desert-like climates, and they have adapted over time to the arid conditions. With approximately two thousand different species, the cactus takes on many forms, and humans have utilized various types for a number of purposes.
Members of the cactaceae family are known as succulent plants. This term describes any plant that possesses the ability to reserve water inside its stem, leaves, or roots. Most species of the cactaceae family can survive in harsh climates because of the natural adaptation that permits the internal storage of water.
Cacti have adapted to dry, hot climates in other ways as well. The body of many cactuses has become denser over time, which aids in water conservation. A waxy coating on the body also aids in defending against water loss. Some plants have the ability to absorb water through their outer skin and spines, allowing them to capture moisture in the air.
Other helpful developments include distinctive root structures and the transformation of leaves into spines. The root systems allow cacti to grow in areas with scarce and sporadic rainfall. Many cactus plants have roots that remain close to the surface of the soil so that they can absorb water as quickly as possible. Some larger types of cactus may have longer vertical roots which develop to aid in stability and reach deeper water sources. The spines found on almost all cactus plants protect the plant and serve in the preservation of water by offering shade from direct sunlight.
Appearing in many shapes and sizes, the spines and flowers of a cactus sprout from bump-shaped buds called areoles, a feature exclusive to cactaceae. All cacti can grow flowers, although their colors may differ. The flowers may remain in bloom for different durations, depending on the type of cactus.
The spines and flowers are not the only visual differences amongst members of the cactaceae family. The bodies and overall appearance of various cactus plants may be unique as well. Some forms of cacti can grow to almost twenty meters in length. Conversely, some cactus varieties may be extremely diminutive in size, sometimes growing less than three centimeters in height. Plants in the cactaceae family also appear in a wide variety of colors and have an assortment of structural characteristics.
Humans have used a number of cactaceae species for a variety of purposes. Indoor or outdoor decor is one of the most common uses for cacti. Some cactus varieties yield fruit, whereas others are entirely edible after the removal of spines. People sometimes use cactus plants to construct fences or structures in areas with warm climates. A number of cacti also have medicinal properties, and people use them for homeopathic remedies or religious purposes.