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Cactus Family

Cactus Family

Cactus Family

What are those prickly plants that lend their name to the nickname Israelis proudly bear (Tzabar)?!

Cacti (from the Cactaceae family) are succulents, meaty plants that store fluid in various parts of the plant, allowing them to live in dry habitats. They thrive mainly throughout desert areas of the new world (Americas). The cactus family first developed 30 million years ago and currently includes approximately 150 genera and more than 2200 species. One of the most typical characteristics of this family are the areoles, sort of withered stems, from which the spines and flowers sprout.

Opuntia

The most common and familiar genus in the Cactaceae family. This genus has nearly 200 species that grow throughout the Americas, in the Caribbean and in the Galapagos Islands. Shortly after its discovery in the 15th century, the Opuntia was distributed around the world as a garden plant. These plants have many purposes: the fruit and other parts are eaten, juice from the stems of some species is used in folk medicine, a few species have hallucinogenic properties, and in the past Opuntia plants were used to form hedges to mark borders.

 

Mammillaria

One of the largest genera in the cactus family, with more than 200 species, mostly in Mexico. The Latin name means “nipple”, from the shape of the bumps on which the groups of spines sprout. The popular name in English is Fishhook Cactus or Nipple Cactus.

Most of the plants in the Mammillaria genus are small, but due to the diverse shape of their spines and their colorful blossoms, this genus is very popular among cactus growers.

Ferocactus

The name of this cactus means “Savage Cactus” due to its threatening spines. It is one of the round “barrel cacti”, which can grow to impressive dimensions. There are nearly 30 species in this genus and they grow wild in the southern U.S. and Mexico. They are typically found in dry riverbeds and low areas in hot, dry deserts. These plants can be uprooted by floods, but they manage to stabilize in a new spot thanks to their strong hooked spines.

Echinopsis

The name of this cactus means “Hedgehog-like” because it is covered in dense spines. This genus has approximately 130 species that grow in the southern and central regions of South America, in sandy or stony soil. Their large prominent flowers come in many different colors. Some Echinopsis species contain the hallucinogenic substance mescaline used in religious and spiritual ceremonies and in folk medicine. 

Thelocactus

These plants are common in the dry areas of Mexico. The genus includes 13 species, most of which are small and round. The flowers are mostly large in relation to the size of the plant itself and they bloom for extended periods. The name comes from the word theles, which means “nipple” in Greek due to the shape of the bumps on which the groups of spines sprout, like the Mammillaria. These species are easy to grow and are very popular among cactus growers.

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