Why Are Cactus Important In The Desert

Any member of the flowering plant family Cactaceae that is native to North and South America and is characterized by reduced-sized or ephemeral leaves, enlarged plant stems, and spines that develop from areoles—a structure specific to cacti—is referred to as a cactus (plural cacti, cactuses, or cactus). With 2,000 to 3,000 species, cacti are distinctive and odd plants. Most have numerous unique adaptations to survive and grow in hot, dry circumstances because they reside in desert or semi-arid habitats.

Many desert species depend on cacti as a source of food and water, and they play a significant part in the ecology of the desert. Since the beginning of time, some cactus species have been used by humans for food and medicine among other things. They are also widely used as indoor and outdoor plants. Some species have become endangered due to human activity, while others have caused issues when they were introduced to regions where they are not native.

Cacti aid the desert in what ways?

A cactus may endure in the desert because it has the following characteristics: I It has lengthy roots that bury themselves deeply in the ground to capture water. (ii) In order to reduce water loss through transpiration, the leaves have spines. (iii) To hold onto water, the stem of the plant is wrapped in a thick waxy covering.

What makes cacti significant?

In addition to their medical use, cacti are known for their nutritional worth. Both cactus pads and cactus fruit have anti-infective properties that can assist with everything from hangovers to high cholesterol problems.

The following are a few of the cactus’ health advantages:

The cactus fruit and pad are both rich in fiber, which can reduce blood cholesterol levels. According to a study, eating cactus can lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and body fat. Your chance of developing conditions including stroke, coronary heart disease, and peripheral vascular illnesses can be lowered by include cactus fruits in your diet.

Iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and more are all found in cacti. This extensive spectrum of nutrients and others can aid in lowering inflammatory levels in the body. According to research, taking cactus extract after consuming five to seven alcoholic beverages helped reduce the severity of hangover symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, or dry mouth). The body’s inflammation, which is frequently related to alcohol consumption, was also decreased by the cactus extract.

A number of diseases, including diabetes, a stroke, and heart disease, can all be indicated by high blood sugar levels in the body. A Mexican study compared the diets of those who regularly ate cactus pads to those who didn’t, and it found that those who did had significantly lower blood sugar levels than those who didn’t. According to the study, eating cactus may be a cheap approach for those with diabetes to lower their blood sugar levels.

Particularly cactus fruits are a great source of vitamin C, one of the finest immune enhancers. White blood cell production is boosted by regular vitamin C intake, which can lower your risk of infection and help your body fight off viruses if you become infected.

What impact do cacti have on the desert?

The plant’s odd shapes and lovely blossoms draw travelers to the desert each year. The plant is indigenous to Africa, America, Australia, and Europe, and the arid climate is home to a variety of distinct kinds.

It’s amazing that cacti can survive in the scorching desert climate for up to 200 years, isn’t it? The plant’s capacity for adaptation allows it to not only survive but also thrive in its surroundings.

Stomata on the stem, waxy skin, spines, shallow roots, and other traits make the plant a reservoir despite the severe environment.

Spines instead of leaves

The plants lack the actual branches and leaves that other plants have. Cacti, on the other hand, have spines on modified leaves. The areoles, which are tiny bumps on the cactus plant’s branches, are where the plant produces its thorns.

This raises the issue of how the plant can perform photosynthesis in the absence of leaves. In contrast to other plants where the process is carried out by the leaves, these plants perform photosynthesis through their stems.

Cacti do not, like other plants, require leaves for photosynthesis. The desert offers abundant sunshine, which has the extra benefit of making it simple for the stems to access sunlight.

The majority of desert bushes droop and cease photosynthesis in the heat. the cactus plant, not so. The cactus still stands tall even during the sweltering summer months because the plant continues to produce food.

The roles that spines play in a cactus’s survival

Air is trapped around the spine by the spines’ creation of a buffer. Without the air trapping, the water may leak out of the plant while the airflow is being restricted.

The moist air in the buffer is essential for keeping water from evaporating from the plant in the scorching desert heat.

One of the driest deserts on the planet is the Atacama in Chile. But in the morning, there is a lot of fog in this desert. The dense dew is referred to as “camanchaca” by the locals.

Once the fog’s dew has accumulated on the spine, it will liquefy in the water before dripping onto the ground below. This water is subsequently absorbed by the cactus roots, aiding in the plant’s hydration and survival.

A hierarchical groove structure is also seen in the spines. the cactus plants’ distinctive grooves for collecting water.

The cactus spine’s small radius may give the impression that it can’t provide much shade. However, there is a reason why there are so many needles—one plant can have thousands of them.

The population is dense in order to cover as much ground as possible. Thus, the shade that is provided by these spines helps to prevent the plant from losing water.

There are many herbivorous animals in the desert that would enjoy munching on the vegetation. The fact that the spines are sharp and can pierce through the skin makes them great deterrents for these creatures.

Shallow root systems for quick water absorption

There are occasional rainfall in the desert. The shallow roots of cactus plants allow them to absorb groundwater.

When the earth is wet, the plant also develops fictitious roots in an effort to absorb a lot of water during the rains. A cactus plant may develop these roots in just two hours. The roots shrivel up when the rains stop.

The roots are stretched to allow them to cover a vast area in addition to being near to the ground for maximum water absorption. Following water ingestion, the roots move the water to the stems for storage.

Stomata on stem to discourage evaporation

Are you perplexed as to how the cactus manages to conserve water in the scorching desert climate that may otherwise promote evaporation?

On the leaves of every plant are stomata for the uptake of carbon dioxide. In a process known as photosynthesis, plants use the gas along with light, water, and bacteria to create food.

A plant breathes in carbon dioxide, breathes out oxygen, and loses a lot of moisture in the process. For plants that thrive in locations with consistent rainfall, moisture loss shouldn’t be a major concern, but for the desert-dwelling cactus plants, this is a different story.

For survival when there is no rain, desert plants must conserve as much water as they can. Keep in mind that the desert only gets rain very infrequently.

The plants only do photosynthesis at night because of this. Nighttime temperatures are significantly lower.

Sunlight is required for photosynthesis. So how does the plant do the procedure if there is only one stomata open at night when there is no light?

The stomata of cactus plants only open at night because the desert is scorching during the day, which reduces the likelihood of water loss. The term “crassulacean acid” is used by scientists to describe the night photosynthesis process.

The stomata open and close on a regular basis. The pores close by daybreak and open by themselves at night.

The stomata of cacti are exceedingly tiny, which further prevents water loss. Furthermore, it is situated deep within the tissue, not at the surface, where it would ordinarily lead to water loss.

Stem water storage

Because the stem typically has thicker skin than typical leaves, cacti use it as a reservoir. The characteristic enables the plant to store water for extended periods of time before the next shower because sporadic rain falls in a desert.

Waxy skin for water retention

The skin of the plant is waxy on its surfaces. Aside from the stomata, which are required for the plant to breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, this skin covers the majority of the leaves. This wax prevents water from evaporating.

In the hot heat, the wax also aids in keeping the plants cool. If not, the plant would dry out from the intense heat.

Expandable stems for maximum water intake

The cactus has an expanding stem that enables the plants to retain as much water as possible for use during the rainy season. In order to absorb as much water as possible for usage on days when it doesn’t rain, these stems stretch.

You would see that the plant looks like an accordion if you were to cut it up. Water can be channeled through the structure to different areas of the plant.

As the plant continues to take up water in preparation for the upcoming rainy season, these stems get smaller.

Short growing season for water conservation

Contrary to most plants, which grow continuously, cacti occasionally cease growing. Water availability is already constrained in the plant’s habitat, which makes growth difficult.

Due of this, plants only develop for a season before ceasing to grow until the following growing season. It makes sense that cactus plants develop slowly but live longer than most other plants.

Spherical shapes to reduce surface area

Particularly during seasons when it has accumulated a lot of water, the plant’s body takes on the shape of a sphere. Because of the reduced surface area due to the sphere form, only a tiny portion of the plant receives sunlight, preventing dryness.

Thick tissue for maximum water storage

The plants have developed a thick layer of plant tissue as a result of evolution. Deep within the plant, the thick tissue is crucial for water storage and retention.

What feature of a cactus is most significant?

Every plant has leaves, which are crucial to its ability to produce the food needed for growth and life. If you’ve ever been in close proximity to a cactus plant, you might be curious about how it manages to survive without leaves.

A cactus plant contains spines rather than leaves as a strategy for the plant to survive. There are several different types of spines, including:

  • Awl-like
  • Straight
  • Curved
  • Needle-like
  • like a bristle
  • Hair-like
  • Round
  • Hooked

The cactus plant prefers the spiky protrusions over leaves for several very significant reasons. The following functions of spines in a cactus plant are listed.


Numerous herbivores in the desert rely on various desert plants for food, and cacti are no exception. The plant’s mushy appearance is bound to draw various creatures, which is where the spines come into play.

Poachers pose a harm to flora in addition to animals. Cactus trade on the illegal market is lucrative and results in the eradication of the plants. If the cactus is repeatedly destroyed, it can go extinct.

The plant uses its spines as a form of protection. Upon close contact, the needles thoroughly pierce the flesh. Any animal can only imagine how excruciatingly painful a spine puncture is.

After being punctured, the spines are difficult to remove from the skin and could result in subsequent infections. Some spines have the potential to inflict several wounds at once.

Water collection

This is how spines assist in water collection in misty deserts. The fog becomes the water that eventually trickles down onto the earth below as it touches the spines. The plant then stores this water in its roots for later use.

Air trapping

Spines help break up the passage of air around a cactus plant, which can cause water loss. The plants would otherwise lose a lot of water due to excessive water evaporation in the absence of the buffer that the spines provide.


The spines collectively offer shade in the desert’s sweltering heat. The absence of shade would prevent the plants from surviving because the desert heat would quickly dry out all of their moisture.


The growth of new plants in the same species depends on propagation. Strong desert winds frequently move the spines that penetrate animals or are blown around by those spines. After that, the spines develop into cacti plants, ensuring that the plants live on after the older ones pass away from aging.

How does cactus vegetation conserve water?

Cacti have numerous adaptations that enable them to survive in arid climates; these adaptations enable the plant to efficiently gather water, store it for a long time, and conserve it (minimizing water loss from evaporation).

Cacti have thick, succulent stems with rigid walls that store water when it rains. The stems are fleshy, green, and photosynthetic. Either the stem’s inside is spongey or hollow (depending on the cactus). The water inside the cactus is prevented from evaporating by a thick, waxy layer.

Long, fibrous roots are common in cactus, and these roots take moisture from the earth. Some cacti, such as ball cacti, have smaller, more compact roots that can capture dew that falls from the cactus.

Most cacti feature scales or spines in place of leaves (which are modified leaves). These scales and spines do not evaporate their water (unlike regular leaves, which lose a lot of water). Predators (animals that would like to consume the cactus to gain food and/or water) are kept at bay by the spines. On a cactus, areoles are a circular collection of spines. An areole is where flowers bud, and it is also where new stems branch.