A cactus (or in plural – cacti or cactuses) are the member of the Cactaceae plant family which is native to the Americas. However, there is one exception which is the Mistletoe cactus which is native to Europe. Cacti are usually used as an ornamental plant, however there are some varieties that are used as a crop plant for fruits, forage, fodder, cochineal, and more. There are also numerous species which have been used by indigenous peoples for their psychedelic effect since ancient times.
Cactis are distinctive, unusual plants which are adapted to either extremely arid or semi-arid environments. It has also adapted to tropical environments. Due to this, they have both anatomical and physiologicla features which helps them to conserve water. Their stems are photosynthetic and succulent, and its leaves have spines. Cacti flowers are large.
Cactis come in many shapes and sizes. The tallest cacti is Pachycereus pringlei which has been recorded to grow up to 19.2 metres tall. The smallest cacti is the Blossfeldia liliputiana, which is only 1 cm in diameter at maturity!
The lifespan of a cactus varies. It can be longer than 300 years, but it may be as short as 25 years. The cactus is believed to have evolved in the last 30 to 40 million years. Many succulent plants in the “old world” and the “new world” look like cacti. However, cacti in Africa is rather rare despite the fact that this continent is known for its arid environments. This may be due to the fact that unique species of cacti may have developed just before or after all the continents moved apart and seperated.
Remains from the Aztec civilsation deict cactus-like plants in drawings, sculptures, and pictures. Many of these plants resemble the Golden Barrel Cactus. The ancient city of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City) means “place of the sacred cactus”. In fact, the Mexican coat of arms shows and eagle perched on a cactus while holding a snake, which is an image of the Aztec origin myth.
It has also been traced back that the Aztecs economically exploited the cactus. North American Indians use the alkaloid contenct of some cacti species for religious ceremonies. Today, it is used as a jam, fruit, and vegetable or dyes. It is used as a dye in Campari and high quality lipstick. In addition, it is used in South America as a valuable type of wood for construction. Some cactis also are useful for pharmaceutical uses.
Ever since Christopher Columbus brought the first melocactus to Europe, scientific interest began. By the 20th century, many people were interested in and admired the cactus so its commercial interest rose. Nowadays, many people use it as an ornamental plant in their houses or in their gardens.