Why Do Cacti Have Shallow Roots

Here are several types of roots that can be found in cacti. While some remain on the soil’s surface, others penetrate deeply. Here are the different kinds of roots and how they help plants live.


One of the most typical types of roots in succulent plants, like cactus, are taproots. Soon after they sprout, cacti send down their long, strong roots deep in the ground. The plant can firmly establish itself thanks to the roots’ strength. Cacti thrive in environments with high wind speeds and occasionally occuring hailstorms. The strong anchoring that the taproots offer prevents the cactus from being thrown off the ground under any of these circumstances.

The root aids the plant in absorbing moisture and nutrients from deep underground in addition to serving as an anchor. The entire root system is supported by the roots. The taproot, which persists throughout the life of the plant, is longer and thicker than all other roots combined. Saguaro cacti and Mexican cereus are two examples of cacti having taproot systems. The taproot continues to grow and branches into other roots.

Fibrous Roots

The roots of many cacti plants spread widely and can extend up to 15 feet from the parent plant. The fibrous roots stay on the top for one main reason—water collection—and do not penetrate very far down. Even in the absence of much rain, these roots continue to grow on the soil’s surface and draw moisture from it.

You must be aware of the fact that rainfall in the desert is slow to arrive and, when it arrives, may be insufficient. The plants are aware of this and have designed their roots to hold onto water even after a light drizzle.

When it rains, the cacti’s first wrinkled roots rehydrate and begin to gather water. The fibrous roots boost their ability to absorb water by growing additional lateral roots when the rains are sufficient. In less than two hours, the roots can start to take shape and begin to work to scavenge every last drop of water for the plant. These lateral roots dry out and separate from the plant when the rains stop in order to reduce water loss.

Fast water absorption is adopted by the fibrous roots. To ensure the process of hydration, they cover a sizable portion of the ground. Make sure to get your plants in large pots if you want to grow them indoors and they will grow fibrous roots.

Aerial Roots

Aerial roots are not common in cactus plants, but some do have them. These roots are primarily seen in epiphytic cacti plants and develop on tree branches. These cacti include the orchid cactus and the night-darkening cereus. On the sides of plant stems, primarily where the leaves grow, you’ll notice some fleshy sources.

These roots’ primary function is to aid cacti plants in absorbing moisture from the humid environment. When the plant cannot acquire enough water from the ground, they develop to maintain the cacti by obtaining water from the sky. Climbing cacti on stems or rocks can also be anchored by the roots. Sometimes you might not even recognize that these roots are roots because of how thick and meaty they look to be.

Lateral Roots

As the plant grows, cacti also produce lateral roots that frequently branch out multiple times. Adventitious roots are another name for these kinds of roots. The roots make it simple for plants to absorb water and nutrients. Additionally, they maintain the plant’s position to stop it from being uprooted by erosive soil or strong winds.

From other roots that spread outward, the roots branch. From the taproot or other main cacti roots, they grow in all directions. The lateral roots are still shallow on the surface even after they emerge from the taproots. They can soak up as much water as possible when it rains because they are on the surface. They move the water they gather to the taproot or cacti’s body for storage.

Lateral roots appear thin, like hair, and develop in masses. Such roots are seen in saguaro cactus, where they extend 7 feet from the primary root and don’t bury themselves deeper than 4 feet. The lateral roots of cacti, in contrast to the central roots, are typically transient. They only flourish during periods of rain and vanish when a drought strikes.

Succulent roots

Cacti plants develop roots in addition to stems, which allow them to store food and water for later use. The Arizona queen of the night is one example of a cacti that can grow succulent roots. The cactus can have larger roots weighing anywhere from 5 to 60 pounds. Succulent roots mostly develop as a result of the expansion of specific root regions. The xylem tissue or secondary wood are examples of the sections that enlarge.

Are the roots of cacti deep or shallow?


Cacti have shallow roots, with the average depths for their diverse native Sonoran Desert species ranging from 7 to 11 cm and 15 cm for cultivated opuntioids; the cultivated vine cactus Hylocereus undatus has even shallower roots.

Although this shallowness makes it easier to absorb water after light rains, it also exposes the roots to high temperatures near the soil surface.

Extreme temperatures reduced the uptake of the essential stain neutral red into root cortical cells, with 50% inhibition (LT50) occurring for Nopalea cochenillifera, Opuntia ficus-indica, and O. robusta at an average of 7C for low temperatures and 57C for high temperatures, and for H. undatus growing at a moderate day/night air temperature of 25/20C, at 2C and 52C, respectively. The opuntioid LT50s showed seasonal adaptation to changing ambient temperatures, declining 1.2C as day/night air temps were lowered by 20C and rising 4.4C as they were raised by 20C.

In order to measure root growth, respiration, and layers with deadly temperatures, an equation is proposed to estimate soil temperature as a function of soil depth and time.

In this regard, the ability of most cacti to be cultivated today and in the future should not be constrained by the roots’ sensitivity to low temperatures.

Although fewer cacti roots may be found in the topmost soil levels as a result of rising air and soil temperatures brought on by global climate change, other (non-CAM) perennials should experience far larger restrictions.

Succulents have shallow roots for what reason?

Succulents’ shallow roots indicate inadequate watering when they are not deeply rooted in the ground. Although these plants don’t need to be watered frequently, you still need to make sure the soil doesn’t get too dry. Furthermore, excessive watering might cause the roots to rot. To make the roots healthy, water them three times every week.

Additionally, when you water your succulents, be sure to properly saturate the soil; nevertheless, you must plant them in soil that drains well. It makes it possible for extra water to immediately drain out, reducing soil ponding.

Remember that it takes the plants a few weeks to develop new roots when it comes to growing your succulents.

Why do surface-dwelling cacti develop roots?

Cacti typically have a type of root system that is widely dispersed but not very deep. They have fiber-like roots that are specially designed to more readily absorb the moisture in the environment. They only go a very small way into the ground. For instance, a young Saguaro has a root system with a diameter of 2 meters, a height of 12 meters, and a depth of 10 meters. The key reason for its ability to survive in the hard weather and water shortage is because of its extensive root system.

The majority of cacti have root systems that resemble fibers and spread out around the plant rather than penetrating deeply into the ground. However, other species have a taproot system, which has deeper, thicker, and bigger roots.

Cactus roots have two main purposes: to store food and water like the stems of succulent plants, and to absorb water and nutrients from the soil. Since cactus plants typically thrive in dry climates with little access to water, roots are crucial to their survival. Therefore, the roots system must remain robust for the plant to live. The plant doesn’t live very long if the roots are destroyed by a disease or an incest.

The following describes various root systems that cacti have:

Many cacti immediately produce a long, powerful taproot following germination. A taproot supports a plant to prevent it from being washed away during storms and transports more moisture to the underground soil layers. Taproots are primarily found in the Copiapoa subgenre.

For instance, the Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) and Mexican Cereus (Pachycereus pringlei), both of which are enormous, tree-like cacti found in the Sonoran Desert.

Roots with the ability to repeatedly branch as they develop are known as lateral roots. Some cacti that lack tap roots rely on laterally growing roots to get food and water.

Succulent Roots

Some cacti have succulent roots that can store food and water in addition to their stems. Expanded roots, or succulent roots, can weigh anywhere between 5 and 60 pounds. The area of the root that enlarges is secondary wood or xylem tissue.

Aerial or accidental roots can be found in epiphytic cacti that grow between tree branches. Epiphytic cacti include night-blooming cereus (Hylocereus undatus) and orchid cacti (Epiphyllum sp.). The fleshy roots that protrude from the sides of the stems serve to secure the climbing cactus stems to the trees or rocks that provide support for the plant.

How far can cactus roots travel?

Cactus roots can spread out up to three feet horizontally and up to three feet deep into the earth. Cacti are succulent plants that can withstand the arid, hostile atmosphere of the desert.

What is a succulent?

Plants known as succulents have distinctive fleshy leaves that store sap. They have those leaves because it helps them retain as much moisture as possible. They can be found all throughout the world, but are most common in desert regions.

Succulents include a wide range of plant species. Succulents include cacti, aloe plants, and even orchids. Succulents are typically found in the same family as ZZ plants and other popular indoor plants. They are well-liked because they take little care, little pruning, and some species only need very little light to survive.

How did succulents get their name?

The thick, fleshy, sap-filled leaves that are the defining characteristic of succulents are what give them their name. Compared to plants with thinner leaves, they can hold and retain water more efficiently because to their leaves.

Where do succulents come from? Where did they come from originally?

Succulents initially originated in arid, dry regions like deserts. Even while certain succulents, like orchids, grow in places where the rain may not easily reach them, they do receive rainfall. Many succulents originate in Africa and other continents with protracted dry seasons when plants have developed means of more successfully storing and utilising water.

Why are succulents so popular?

Of course, succulents have been around for a very long time and have been used in indoor gardens and as office plants for a very long time. However, it appears that their popularity has increased in recent years. There are several causes for this:

  • They require little upkeep. They require minimal to no pruning and less watering.
  • They are available in a range of shapes, sizes, and colors. This includes really tiny plants in little pots that are perfectly suited for a desk.
  • They don’t draw as many pests. Plants frequently attract pests as a result of the ongoing requirement for irrigation. The risk of pests drastically decreases when you don’t need to water the plants as frequently, such with succulents. Succulents’ thick, waxy leaves make it more difficult for pests to pierce and feed through them.
  • It is simpler for greenhouses and shops to sell them. They are easier to transport because they can go for extended periods of time without water and can stay on a truck for days at a time. Because many succulents are tiny, producers can export huge quantities of them for less money. Some can even be shipped across the country in plastic bags. Additionally, they can be kept at the garden center for a lot longer and survive a lot longer.
  • Most people find it very challenging to outgrow. Some common indoor plants, like Pothos, have issues because they grow and eventually start to vine. This can be inconvenient and takes a lot of maintenance.

Where’s the best place to buy succulents?

Due to their growing popularity, succulents are now available almost wherever that sells plants. This can include everything from smaller big box stores to garden centers. Succulents may even be sold in some grocery stores that also offer plants.

How can you tell a succulent from other plants?

A unique class of plant is the succulent. They simply don’t look like other plants. Their leaves are one of the main variations. When you touch a succulent, the leaves are typically thicker than those of other plants and can have a rubbery feel to them. They often do not sit in extremely damp soil, and their roots tend to be relatively shallow (in fact, soil that is too moist is bad for them).

They are available in many different types, shapes, and colors. In order to be sure, ask an expert any queries you may have or study the labels that have been placed on the pot or in the plant’s soil.

Is there a difference between succulents and cacti?

It does appear that there is some debate among plant scientists over whether or not cacti are succulents. Although the majority of gardeners believe them to be a separate category of plants, some horticulturists disagree.

In the end, cacti do meet the criteria for being considered succulents. They don’t need a lot of water. Cacti lack leaves in favor of thick, green stems, but they have a special method for making the most of the little water they do receive. Some of them blossom, which makes them popular among plant lovers who prefer to have low-maintenance plants.

Is there a difference between succulents and air plants?

Succulents and air plants (Tilandsia spp.) are essentially in the same class and can both be categorized as succulents. Air plants frequently grow atop other plants or structures, such as tree branches, and have essentially no roots. They require almost no water at all and are quite robust.

Air plants only sometimes need to be misted, and the majority of the water that falls on their leaves is retained. They keep the little moisture they do receive by absorbing it. These days, they are highly popular since they can survive when delivered in groups in boxes or bags by absorbing the water released by other air plants.

Are succulents easy to take care of?

Succulents are quite popular for a variety of reasons, one of which is how simple they are to maintain. They don’t need to be replanted or require a lot of water (although you can if you wish to for aesthetic reasons). They require no pruning because of their slow growth.

Only the propensity for individuals to overwater succulents needs to be avoided. Despite the fact that it is quite obvious that plants don’t require a lot of water, people naturally want to water their plants every day. Succulents shouldn’t let this to happen. Just check to see if the soil is dry.

If you choose to water your succulent while keeping it in a saucer, take it out, hold it under the faucet, and let the water drain. Alternatively, if you use a watering can, water the plant, then check to see if it is still submerged later. If so, take it off the saucer and discard it. Avoid light watering (also known as “splash and dash”) when the soil is dry. Always water the plant properly when necessary, and drain any extra water.

Contact Ambius for more information about how we can provide succulents for your environment. We know how to properly care for succulents, so get in touch with us.

Are succulents expensive?

Succulents are often not extremely expensive, but because the family is so large and diverse, there are always outliers. There may be certain uncommon varieties of succulents that command a premium price. But generally speaking, the majority of succulents are fairly inexpensive. They may cost a little bit more than you would for a more common plant because they are special and frequently have unusual colors and shapes, but you get a more intriguing plant in exchange.

Make sure the plant is in good condition to make sure you get your money’s worth. Make sure to check the plant to see whether it appears to be in good condition if you want to buy succulents from a big-box retailer. Like any other plant, they become brown or yellow when they are ill or about to die. Despite being tough plants, if left unattended for too long, they may suffer.

Because succulents grow slowly, a small plant could be highly valuable and shouldn’t be given a fixed price merely because of its size. Succulents are generally more valuable per unit of size than the typical houseplant.

Are succulents poisonous?

Generally speaking, most succulents are not toxic, and they have a variety of health benefits.

For instance, the sap from the leaves of the succulent Aloe is recognized for treating burns and has been used to manufacture cosmetics like face creams. However, certain people may occasionally experience allergies to plants, even succulents. People with latex allergies should be extra cautious around sap-producing succulents (particularly succulents in the genus Eurphorbia). Anyone who has an allergy will most likely experience a cutaneous reaction like a rash.

Which succulents are safe for pets?

Once more, given the enormous variety of succulent species, most plants should be maintained as far away from animals as possible. Some succulents with long, sharp, stiff stems that could cause more bodily harm to pets provide the greater risk (such as to eyes). Succulents are generally safe for animals, though.

Which succulents prefer shade?

Even though it is well knowledge that succulents don’t require much water, some varieties can survive without much sunlight. But bear in mind that the majority of succulents thrive in hot, dry settings like deserts and other arid regions.

For more information about a plant’s light needs, always refer to the information that came with the plant.