A Prickly Subject

September 13, 2012 at 11:58 am Leave a comment

A Prickly Subject

Smithsonian Garden Succulent Exhibit located in S. Dillon Ripley Center

Did you know…All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

The adaptability of succulents makes them a popular choice as a house plant.  The fact that they do so well with so little care or resources enables even those without a lot of plant growing experience to be successful in keeping them alive. Succulents are a very interesting and diverse group of plants!

Succulents are plants that store water in their leaves and stems, and generally live in dry or arid conditions.   They can be found in assorted sizes, shapes, textures and colors.

  • Cacti are a specific type of succulent, with fleshy stems that store water for the plant to use during a drought.  Cacti grow best in sandy soils with bright light. 
  • Since they do not have leaves, cacti use their stems to perform photosynthesis (or convert light energy into chemical energy).
  • Some cacti and other succulents are epiphytic, meaning their roots do not have to be planted in the ground.  They have adopted the ability to live in trees and other above-ground locations.
  • It is well known that the thorns of many types of succulents and spines of cacti are used as protection from predators; but these structures are also used to collect water as dew drops that slowly drop water to the shallow-growing roots of these plants.
  • Cacti and other succulents can be found in grasslands, lowlands, and deserts as well as rainforests.
  • The stems of cacti have the ability to expand as they collect water and contract as they use up some of that water.
  • Some types of cacti are edible.  The prickly pear cactus, for example, has edible pads and fruit.

Post written by Alex Thompson, Horticulturist, Smithsonian Gardens’ Greenhouse

Entry filed under: Collections, Education, Horticulture. Tags: , , .

YES! Experience with D.C. High Schools The Tomatillo (tohm-ah-TEE-oh)

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