The cactus family is known for its prickly spines, which are actually altered leaves. The kind of leaves that a maple or oak tree has are not present on cacti. But in the distant past, they might have had leaves that were at least somewhat more similar. Due to the fact that they aid the plants in surviving in hot, dry situations, those leaves eventually changed into the prickly spines we see on cactuses today.
“They could serve as a defensive strategy to prevent herbivores, or animals that consume plants, from consuming the cactus. But spines also produce shade! “Kimberlie McCue says.
“When you are covered with spines, those spines are throwing shadows on the cactus’ body as the sun moves across the sky. They are tiny umbrellas for shade.”
All cacti are native to arid regions, and some can even survive in dry climates. How do they acquire water to exist, then? Kimberlie informs us that these plants can be found close to the water.
“There will be fog coming off the ocean in the morning. Water condenses on those spines, forming tiny droplets, which then flow down the spine, to the plant’s body, to the soil, and to the roots.”
As they hold the soil in place and offer shelter to birds and other creatures, cactuses are also crucial components of their desert ecosystems. In exchange, such animals and birds assist in pollinating the cactus flowers. Cacti are a significant local source of food for people.
Cactuses are unfortunately threatened by people who illegally steal natural plants from their surroundings. According to Kimberlie McCue, being cautious when purchasing cactus plants is one method to ensure that cacti remain healthy and numerous. Before you buy, find out where the cactus came from and confirm that the vendor is being a responsible steward of these plants.
Why are cactus spikes present?
The prickly pear cactus found in Mexico has the potential to become a fantastic energy source in the future.
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Cacti are among my favorite plant species, and their needles undoubtedly make them distinctive. In many respects, the needles that cover cactus are essential to their survival. Since many cacti are found in dry environments, these plants need to store a lot of water in order to thrive. In fact, according to scientists, water makes up between 90 and 94 percent of a cactus plant. Cacti are ideal treats for thirsty species due to their high water content. Animals that consume cactus in the wild include quail, kangaroo rats, sheep, desert tortoises, as well as a variety of insects. In order to stop thirsty or hungry animals from eating or harming the plant, cacti contain needles.
Additionally, you could see that the color and texture of cactus spines might vary. While some spines are fluffy, others are stiff. The color of the spines can also vary, from white to gray to pink! Because of these variations in spine color and texture, cactus can more effectively blend into their surroundings (i.e. camouflage). Therefore, a second reason cacti have needles is to enable them to conceal from harmful species.
Heat is a significant issue in desert regions where there are many cacti. The needles of a cactus can offer protection from the sun so that it can thrive in these scorching temperatures. Although it may not seem like a single needle may offer much shade, several cacti species have needles that are grouped closely together. The plant is shaded by these spine clusters, which resemble small umbrellas. These spines provide shade for the cactus, which helps keep water from evaporating and causing water loss.
All in all, cactus use their spines as protective and hiding mechanisms against potential predators. Additionally, they give the plant shade, which keeps it cooler and prevents water loss.
Why do cacti lack leaves in favor of spines?
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.
Cactus without spikes: is it possible?
based on the type of cactus. The glochid, a tiny, fragile spine, is the most dreaded and hazardous spine.
These areoles or spine cushions may have sustained injury on a cactus without spines. In other instances, cactus plants have their spines intentionally removed. Of course, accidents sometimes happen, and the plant’s spines could have been damaged. But can cactus spines grow back?
A cactus’ method of defense?
The protection of cacti from predators is one of the spines’ primary roles. Most animals will avoid them because of their sharp spines, but not all. The sharp spines don’t deter javelina (wild pigs), pack rats, desert tortoises, or bighorn sheep since they eat cacti.
Unexpectedly, the cactus itself receives shade from the spines of the plant. It can be difficult to believe at first that the small cactus spines provide any actual shelter from the scorching desert sun. But it is simpler to think that the spines help to protect the surface of cacti when you realize that each spine offers a modest bit of shade and then multiply that by 1,000 or more per cactus. Additionally, the spines lessen water evaporation.
The spines of some Cholla species actually have a second function; they aid in reproduction. Chollas have small barbs at the terminals of their spines that are extremely responsive to adjacent movement. As a result, the cholla’s segments “leap out” and attach themselves to anyone passing by (animal or human). Although they don’t truly “jump,” it sure feels like they do. The dislodged cholla segment will eventually take root in the soil and develop into a new Cholla when it falls to the ground from whatever was dragging it along.
How do cactus spines aid in desert survival?
Being a desert plant, your goal is to prevent water reduction. As strange as it may appear, cactus spines really work to prevent water loss in cacti.
Cactus spines primarily stop cacti from losing water by decreasing air flow around the plant. Air flow is broken up by spines, which can aid in lowering evaporation. A buffer zone with air that is a little bit more humid can also be produced by the trapped air surrounding the cactus.
This is significant because plants lose a lot of water as it evaporates off their leaves.
Why do plants in the desert have thorns?
The thorny plants, like cactus, are attractive to look at but difficult to manage because most people are reluctant to admit they would enjoy having one because of the potential for intense discomfort. Cactus, agave, and mesquite are examples of desert plants that must endure in areas with little water. To live, these desert plants must contend with a variety of strange situations.
Other plants lose moisture through the pores on their leaves and stems, which they have. Therefore, in order to lock in the meager amounts of moisture they have, these desert plants must avoid those pores. As a result, these leaves lack pores and develop hard, dry spines or thorns. By not releasing any moisture at all, these thorns save water. The lower, greener portion of a leaf has the least amount of activity, assisting the plant’s survival. To protect themselves from being nibbled on, the spikes also cover the pores.
- They are short because of a slower development mechanism.
- Desert plants must make efficient use of their limited water supply.
- Even still, they develop much more slowly than typical plants do.
As a result, these clever prickly bushes develop slowly while protecting themselves and preserving resources.
Do cacti have water to drink?
There are five places to look, three places not to look, and one reason to disregard it all.
Water balloon fights and, of course, the desert are two areas where you don’t want to be caught without water. But occasionally things don’t turn out as expected. Perhaps you miscalculated how far you’d be hiking, got lost in Zion’s backcountry, or, worse, your water bottle spilled. You’re currently outside in one of the hottest, driest, and most oppressive settings in the nation without a drop to drink. For advice on where to look for water in the desert, we turned to Tony Nester, a survivalist and the proprietor of the outdoor survival school Ancient Pathways in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Never leave your house without it. He used the occasion to remind us that the best course of action is to be ready and bring adequate water in the first place, waving a (friendly) finger in our faces. The most crucial thing to keep in mind is that, because there isn’t much water out here, the most dependable water supply is the tap at home or in your hotel room before you go.
Look within canyons that face north “Try looking for north-facing canyons if you have a topo map or if you can see them off the land from a ridgeline. Because they don’t have southern exposure and are shielded from sunlight for a considerable portion of the day when they fill up with snowmelt or rainfall, they have a tendency to retain water in large amounts, sometimes for months at a time. We’ve discovered pour-offs in canyons that face north and have practically more water in them than a Jacuzzi. Even if the water is sluggish, muddy, and likely home to pollywogs, it is still preferable to the alternative.”
Look for trees with large leaves that enjoy water.”
If you’re in the Mojave Desert, Africa, or the Middle East, look for the bright green foliage of cottonwoods, willows, aspens, or palm palms. You’re searching for broad-leaved, vibrant green foliage, which is very different from evergreens. When I take kids on a vacation, if we see a cottonwood, sycamore, or willow from a distance and it jumps out as a green assault on your eyes because it’s the only thing nearby that isn’t sand- or rock-colored, we frequently stake some time on walking to those. At the absolute least, you can dig a hole down to the roots underground and it will fill with water. They either have water on the surface in the form of a spring, have a water hole nearby, or both.”
Look for insects and birds “Look for insects and birds. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of luck in places like the Grand Canyon and the Sonoran Desert, where we’ll be hiking for five or six miles through an incredibly remote and desolate area when all of a sudden, we come around a bend and see a hummingbird, followed by a wasp, and then perhaps a butterfly. It’s crucial to pay attention to when life suddenly appears after several hours of nothingness. That’s how we’ve found water holes. Situational awareness will aid you in noticing this kind of thing because those animals are there for a reason.”
Get to a higher location “Getting to a vantage point is the final item that can truly assist. It doesn’t entail scaling a ridgeline or anything, but if you can stand a little higher on the trail and gaze around, you may occasionally catch a glimpse of the cottonwood and willow trees as well as reflections in the water. I always have a small pair of 8×24 binoculars with me. They are a vital element of my desert equipment because they allow me to focus on a water source that is trustworthy rather than worrying about something I see in the distance and using a lot of energy to get there.”
Never take a sip from a cactus.”
Solar stills are useless. Cacti cannot be made to produce water. These are the two myths that recur frequently in books and television. Cactus does not provide “water,” only a stomachache and vomiting. In movies, you may have seen a cowboy cut off the top of a large, barrel-shaped cactus—also known as a beach ball cactus—dip his ladle in, and take a sip of water. But that’s not water. It is a poisonous fluid with a high alkalinity level. That’s an issue because if you add any of that material to your body while you’re already experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stress, you’ll put more strain on your kidneys and put yourself in danger of developing heat stroke. In essence, you’re consuming something that your body must metabolize, which is not advised. Only one of the five varieties of barrel cactus—the fishhook barrel—is non-toxic, yet you can drink from them.”
Don’t rely on the cactus fruit, but do eat it “There are many cactus fruits that can be eaten, like prickly pears. In the summer, we’ll gather those in large quantities on our courses. To remove the tiny hairs and spines, you roast them in the coals for 30 seconds before eating them. But it won’t make up for the massive amounts of fluid you’ll need in the heat—the 2 or 3 liters of water.”
Don’t follow this advice. “The bottom line is that research from the Grand Canyon and search-and-rescue operations out here demonstrates that a person who is lost and runs out of waterin the summer, with triple-digit heatcan live up to 48 hours if they are wise with their own sweat. We’re talking about this person in a situation where they run out of water. So, adopt a cowboy mentality and wait for rescuers by hiding out in the shade, remaining hidden, and avoiding the wind. However, if you choose to continue looking for water in the heat of the day without doing that, you run the risk of suffering from heat stroke and passing out within three hours simply from overworking your “engine.” So, if you’ve told someone about your hiking intentions, be patient and wait for assistance.”
Through his Ancient Pathwaysschool, Tony Nester has been instructing outdoor survival courses throughout the arid southwest and Rocky Mountains for more than 20 years.