The Different Types Of Cactus

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In the prickly world of plants, the cactus reigns supreme. Cacti are among the many varieties of easy to care for plants that come with a rainbow of colors and a multitude of textures. A sunny window and well-drained soil are all it takes to successfully grow cacti indoors. The cacti family contains about 2,000 members and all of these plants are succulent perennials that can go for long periods without water. Cacti are also distinct from other plants in their flowers and spine cushions.

Basic Care for Cactus Plants

Do not select plants that have damaged spines, bruises, a lopsided appearance or uneven growth. Also avoid plants that have produced new growth while being on the gardening center shelves. Growth that occurs under dimply lit conditions is spindly and will never recover from being stunted.

Different types of cacti have different care requirements. Provide cacti with conditions that are similar to their native climate. Most cacti are either sun-loving cacti or shade-loving cacti. Cacti with spines, fuzz or hairs prefer full sun. The smooth and soft leafy types of cacti can tolerate partial shade. Cacti can be set outdoors in the summertime, but move the plants to a sunny indoor room in the winter.

Here are a few tips to growing healthy cacti:

  • All cacti prefer the same type of soil. Container-grown cacti enjoy a potting mix containing equal parts of coarse sand, peat and perlite.
  • Plant cacti with a vertical growth habit in a container that has a diameter that is half the height of the plant. Plant round cacti in a container that is 2 inches wider than the plant.
  • Avoid root rot by transplanting cacti into dry potting soil and waiting a week before watering.
  • Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Plants will require more water during the summer growing season and less in the winter when the plants are dormant. Let the soil dry out between watering and do not let the pots stand in water.
  • Fertilize with a weak solution of liquid fertilizer once a month during the spring and summer.

The Different Types of Cactus

There are thousand of different types of cacti, each has its own unique flower, shape and texture. Take time to learn the care requirements for each individual cactus and provide conditions that closely match its native environment. Here is a sample of the many types of cacti available.

Low Growing Cacti: Some of the smallest types of cacti are the lithops, or living rocks. These small rock looking cacti are about an inch tall. Other types of small, rock-like cacti include titanopsis, lapidaria, penestraria and gibbaeum. Chin cacti are compact plants that are well-suited to windowsills and small spaces.

Shade-loving Cacti: Christmas cactus, Easter cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and Whitsum cactus thrive in low and medium light conditions. Plant in a mix of compost and sand to retain moisture. Reduce watering when the plants start to bud in the fall. In the spring and summer, mist occasionally to provide humidity.

Star-shaped Cacti: These cacti are green and spineless with white flakes on the outside of the ribs. The Sea Urchin and Bishop’s Cap cactus have bright yellow flowers. The spines of the Goat’s Horn cactus twist around the plant.

Barrel-shaped Cacti: Barrel cacti grow to 5 inches in diameter and have large flowers. Candy Barrel cactus has either yellow, orange or red flowers and tolerates a significant amount of neglect. Crow’s Claw cacti have cream to purple flowers.

Cacti for the Beginner: Hedgehog cacti are small globe-shaped cacti that have short spines and produce a large number of flowers that grow from the sides of the stems. Claret Cup Hedgehog cacti have a spreading growth habit that can reach 2 feet wide. Rainbow cacti sprout red and white bands of short spines with a ring of pink flowers at the crown of each stem.

Fragrant Cacti: The Orchid cactus has fragrant flowers that can grow to be 8 inches across. This plant prefers temperatures between 45 and 70 degrees. In hotter climates, move the plant to a shaded area and provide it with high humidity.

Pincushion Cacti: These cacti have a profuse number of spines and many varieties have a hairy appearance. Giant Snake cactus creates a low mound of long stems. Snowball Pincushion cactus grows in a small clump and has dense white spines with pink tips. Rose Pincushion cactus grows in clusters, has a white and hairy appearance, and produces red-violet flowers.

Cacti are a pleasing addition to any garden or collection of houseplants. The variety of shapes and colors makes it easy to blend these unique plants with other flowering and foliage plants. Cacti have sharp spines and should be kept away from children and pets. As a precaution, wear gloves when handling a cactus plant and hold the plant where it has the fewest spines.

Last Updated: July 22, 2012
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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