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Cactaceae

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Cactaceae   -   Cactus Family
Greek: kaktos = a prickly plant (Spanish artichoke) from Sicily. Linnaeus (1737)

The Cactaceae is one of the most distinctive familes of dicotyledenous flowering succulent plants, with around 90 genera and 2500 species, ranging in size from less than half an inch to tens of feet in height and exlusively native to the American continent including the West Indies. The solitary exception to the New World distribution is that of the epiphyte Rhipsalis baccifera which is distributed in Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka as well as in America. Most species of Cactaceae are spiny stem succulents, although there are a few woody shrubs (Pereskia) and more or less succulent epiphytes. The family contains numerous genera, which seem to be constantly under revision.
 
The Cactaceae are distinguished by modified buds that have become transformed into specialised areoles from which grow multiple spines and glochids (top right). These should be distinguished from solitary spines or thorns, sometimes branching above the plant body, on other plants e.g. spiny Euphorbias. In some species spination is minimal, or occurs only during some phases of the succulent plant's life or vestigal spines are present as hairs. Leaves where present are alternate, but usually reduced or absent. Fruit are generally berries with multiple seeds, which may be surrounded by juicy flesh or by a more or less dry membrane and may have external spines.
 
Betalain pigments are present and characteristic of the family Cactaceae and of the Order Caryophyllales in which they are included, as is absence of anthocyanin pigments found in other families of flowering plants. Betalains and anthocyanins never occur in the same plant. Betalains are responsible for the red or violet colouration of some cacti when stressed.
Ferulic acid in the cell walls of Cactaceae is also a characteristic.
 
Several species are cultivated for their juicy fruit (e.g. Opuntia ficus-indica, Selenocereus sp., Hylocereus sp.) and through introduction Cactaceae, especially Opuntia are found throughout the tropics. In some places cacti have become invasive weeds.
 
Many species of cacti are cultivated as ornamentals and are grown from seed in vast numbers. Some species e.g. Echinocactus grusonii are far more common in cultivation than in their habitat, much of which has been destroyed. All species of cacti are protected as CITES 1 or CITES 2 plants, which presents a barrier to free trade even for nursery grown cacti and artificial hybrids with no natural distribution.
 
Cactus taxonomy appears to follow a record of their assumed evolutionary history. However, as there is little evidence of cacti in the fossil record, this logical sequence is based mainly on morphology. Recent DNA studies support the general groupings, but suggest some taxonomic rearrangements of species. Cacti generally have 22 chromosomes.

 
spine cluster
 
spine cluster
 
spine cluster
 
Examples of
cactus spine clusters

Summary of Cactaceae

  • Subfamily Pereskioideae: broad leaves, no glochids.
    Pereskia, Maihuenia
    (or Maihuenia may be separated into Subfamily Maihuenioideae.)
     
  • Subfamily Opuntioideae: fleshy round leaves present or absent, glochids present.
    Austrocylindropuntia, Brasiliopuntia, Cylindropuntia, Cumulopuntia, Grusonia, Micropuntia, Opuntia, Pereskiopsis, Pterocactus, Quiabentia, Tacinga, Tephrocactus, Tunilla.
     
  • Subfamily Cactoideae: no leaves*, no glochids.
    Ariocarpus, Astrophytum, Aztekium, Carnegiea, Cereus, Cleistocactus, Coryphantha, Echinocactus, Echinocereus, Echinomastus, Epithelantha, Escobaria, Ferocactus, Geohintonia, Hylocereus, Leuchtenbergia, Lobivia, Lophophora, Mammillaria, Matucana, Neolloydia, Obregonia, Parodia, Pelecyphora, Pilosocereus, Pediocactus, Rebutia, Rhipsalis, Sclerocactus, Schlumbergia, Stenocactus, Strombocactus, Thelocactus, Trichocereus, Turbinocarpus, Uebelmannia and all other genera.
     
    *Except that some species have seed leaves.
     
 
 
go to top  Subfamily Pereskioideae
 
Maihuenia poeppigii - RBG Kew

Maihuenia poeppigii - RBG Kew

Pereskia grandiflora - RBG Kew

Pereskia grandiflora - RBG Kew

 
go to top  Subfamily Opuntioideae
 
   
Opuntia
Opuntia dactylifera - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Opuntia dactylifera - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Opuntia engelmannii

Opuntia erinacea var. hystricina - near Salt Flats, Tx

Opuntia engelmannii

Opuntia engelmannii - near Marathon, Tx

Opuntia microsphaericus

Opuntia microsphaericus - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Opuntia sp.

Opuntia sp. - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

 
go to top  Subfamily: Cactoideae
 
   
Ariocarpus
Ariocarpus fissuratus

Ariocarpus fissuratus - Big Bend National Park, Texas - in bud

Ariocarpus fissuratus

Ariocarpus fissuratus - Big Bend National Park, Texas - in bud

Ariocarpus retusus

Ariocarpus retusus - cultivated, flower

Ariocarpus scapharostrus

Ariocarpus scapharostrus - cultivated, flower

   
Astrophytum
Astrophytum myriostigma

Astrophytum myriostigma - (Turk's Head Cactus) - cultivated, Photo: Benno Stander 2014

   
Copiapoa
Copiapoa barquitensis

Copiapoa barquitensis - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

   
Echinocactus
Echinocactus grusonii seedlings

Echinocactus grusonii - seedlings

Echinocactus horizonthalonius - Maverick Mountain, Tx.

Echinocactus horizonthalonius - Maverick Mountain, Tx.

Echinocactus polycephalus - Death Valley Ca.

Echinocactus polycephalus - Death Valley Ca.

   
Echinocereus
Echinocereus berlandii

Echinocereus berlandii- Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Echinocereus engelmannii - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Echinocereus engelmannii,- Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Echinocereus enneacanthus - Big Bend National Park

Echinocereus enneacanthus - Big Bend National Park

Echinocereus lauii - cultivated, flower

Echinocereus lauii - cultivated, flower

Echinocereus lloydii - N. of Marathon Tx.

Echinocereus lloydii - N. of Marathon Tx.

Echinocereus stramineus - Dog Canyon, Big Bend National Park

Echinocereus stramineus - Dog Canyon, Big Bend National Park

   
Escobaria
Escobaria tuberculosa - West of Terlingua

Escobaria tuberculosa - West of Terlingua

Escobaria tuberculosa - Dog Canyon, Big Bend National Park

Escobaria tuberculosa - Dog Canyon, Big Bend National Park

Escobaria tuberculosa - cultivated

Escobaria tuberculosa - cultivated

Escobaria strobiliformis seedlings

Escobaria strobiliformis seedlings

   
Gymnocalycium
Gymnocalycium aichrasense - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Gymnocalycium aichrasense - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Gymnocalycium friedrichii

Gymnocalycium friedrichii - cultivated

Gymnocalycium lafeldense = bruchii

Gymnocalycium lafeldense = bruchii - cultivated

   
Lobivia
Lobivia wrightiana

Lobivia wrightiana - cultivated

   
Lophocereus
Lophocereus schottii

Lophocereus schottii - Organ Pipe Monument Az.

   
Lophophora
Lophophora williamsii Lophophora williamsii

Lophophora williamsii - West of Terlingua, Tx.

   
Mammillaria
Mammillaria bocasana (yellow flower) - cultivated

Mammillaria bocasana (yellow flower) - cultivated

Mammillaria bocasana (pink flower) - cultivated

Mammillaria bocasana (pink flower) - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Mammillaria glassii - cultivated

Mammillaria glassii - cultivated

Mammillaria gracilis - cultivated

Mammillaria gracilis - cultivated

Mammillaria grusonii - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Mammillaria grusonii - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Mammillaria hahniana  - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Mammillaria hahniana - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Mammillaria heyderi - in fruit, Dog Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Tx.

Mammillaria heyderi - in fruit, Dog Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Tx.

Mammillaria heyderi var meiacantha - West of Terlingua, Tx.

Mammillaria heyderi var meiacantha - West of Terlingua, Tx.

Mammillaria microhelia - cultivated

Mammillaria microhelia - cultivated

Mammillaria prolifera - cultivated

Mammillaria prolifera - cultivated

   
Mediolobivia
Mediolobivia eos var. roseiflora - cultivated

Mediolobivia eos var. roseiflora - cultivated

   
Morangaya
Morangaya pensilis - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Morangaya pensilis - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

   
Notocactus
Notocactus succineus - cultivated

Notocactus succineus - cultivated

   
Rhipsalis
Rhipsalis pilocarpa

Rhipsalis pilocarpa - cultivated

   
Selenicereus
Selenicereus anthonyanus

Selenicereus anthonyanus - cultivated

   
Stenocactus
Stenocactus crispatus  - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Stenocactus crispatus - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Stenocactus multicostatus  - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Stenocactus multicostatus - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

   
Rebutia
Rebutia albiflora

Rebutia albiflora - cultivated

Rebutia heliosa x albiflora

Rebutia heliosa x albiflora - cultivated

   
Thelocactus
Thelocactus bicolor var flavidispinus

Thelocactus bicolor var flavidispinus - cultivated

Thelocactus bicolor var flavidispinus

Thelocactus bicolor, - West of Terlingua

   
Toumeya
Toumeya papyracantha - salt flats, Tx.

Toumeya papyracantha - salt flats, Tx.

   
Weingartia
Weingartia neocummingii var neocummingii

Weingartia neocummingii var neocummingii - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Weingartia neocummingii var riograndensis

Weingartia neocummingii var riograndensis - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Weingartia neocummingii var sucrensis

Weingartia neocummingii var sucrensis - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

Weingartia neocummingii var trollii

Weingartia neocummingii var trollii - Holly Gate Cactus Nursery reference collection

   
Wilcoxia
Wilcoxia viperina

Wilcoxia viperina - cultivated

   
Zygocactus
Zygocactus truncatus

Zygocactus truncatus (probably a hybrid) - cultivated