What Is A Succulent?
A succulent is a plant that produces flowers or fruit. There are many kinds of plants that produce these things, but there are only two types of succulents, those with petals and those without. Most people think of lilies and roses as examples of both types, but they’re not true succulents! They’re actually dioecious (male and female) varieties of the same species. For example, daisies are true succulents, while tulips are dioecious.
The other type of succulent is called a bromeliad. These plants have small leaves and stems that grow from one flower cluster rather than multiple ones like most succulents do. Bromelias are commonly grown indoors because they don’t require much care and their foliage is easy to work with.
There’s another kind of succulent called a fern, which is actually a group of related plants known collectively as the fern family. These include such familiar garden favorites as sunflowers, chrysanthemums, and pansies.
What Succulents Are Found In The Desert?
The short answer is none. That’s because succulent plants store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. Since there’s not a lot of rainfall in the desert, succulents would quickly wither and die if they grew there. They’re much better suited to grow in areas that get more precipitation or where it doesn’t rain very often such as the coastal regions or mountain crests.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow succulent plants in your desert garden. In fact, many of the cacti and other succulents people grow in their gardens are native to desert regions. In fact, many aren’t even succulents at all!
There are a lot of things that make a plant a succulent, not just how much water it stores in its leaves, stems, and roots. As long as a plant has some of these qualities, it can be considered succulent.
Part of the reason for the misconception that succulents don’t grow in desert regions is because as a general rule, cacti are not actually succulents. While they’re related, the difference is that cacti store water in their stems and only have tiny bits in their leaves. Because of this, cacti can survive in rainfall as infrequent as once every two years!
What Are Some Other Plant Types That Are Found In The Desert?
Most plants that grow in the desert are what you’d expect. They’re all kinds of different cacti, along with some types of small shrubs and other low-lying plants. There are a few trees that grow in very specific regions, but most of the trees you’ll find in the desert are much smaller and don’t even have leaves, like the Saguaro cactus.
Desert plants also have to have some very unique ways of gathering food, storing water, and protecting themselves from the sun. For example, the barrel cactus has small needles that grow along its edges. It gathers moisture from the air and whatever rain does fall and stores it until it’s enough to sustain the plant. It can also close its pores to prevent too much water from entering so it doesn’t drown itself!
Other plants have small tentacles that pull in dust and pollen from the air to be used as food. Of course there are also the more familiar methods of photosynthesis solar panels gather light and use it to create sugars, as well as storage tanks like the roots of a tree.
What Makes A Plant A Cactus?
While many people consider all succulents to be cacti, this isn’t always true. Cacti are a very specific kind of succulent, and grow differently from other succulents. While most succulents start off as a ball or teardrop shape with soft skin and slowly grow into their permanent shape, cacti start off as they will look when they grow up.
Cacti have a lot of adaptations to allow them to survive in dry conditions. Most obviously, they’re covered with spines to keep away animals and allow moisture to escape from the plant. They also have very shallow roots that often extend out a far distance from the cacti so they can find whatever moisture is available.
Unlike most succulents, cacti store their water in their fleshy body rather than their roots. This allows them to survive long periods without any water at all as long as there’s some moisture in the air.
Cacti also have very shallow root systems that spread out wide so they can find whatever water is available. They are very slow growers, only increasing in size by less than an inch each year, so they often live a very long time. That means there are some cacti that are older than any people alive today!
In some areas, like the desert of California, there are forests made up of only cacti. These forests are so different from the forests most people are used to, that they seem like they’re made up of a completely different type of plant!
Desert plants have to be able to store enough water and nutrients to survive long periods without any rain at all. They have to fight hard against the constant barrage of sand and dust that permeates the air. They even have to deal with animals that browse on them or try to uproot them so they can eat during times of drought.
But it’s in these conditions that desert plants are at their most spectacular. It’s only when they have to fight against such terrible odds that they can reach such incredible beauty!
Desert plants also have other adaptations for survival, like sleeping for months or even years without water, then blooming suddenly when it rains. Most cacti bloom in the spring and summer, while most other desert plants bloom in the winter. This is because in the winter there is more moisture in the air to help them grow and bloom.
When it does finally bloom, a plant will often do so all at once. The flowers might only last a day, but while they’re open they can be seen by many different kinds of animals, all of which might help it spread its seeds.
These plants have had to adapt over and over again to fit their unique niche in the desert, and each new change has made them even more interesting and beautiful.
Cacti may seem slow and boring compared to other plants, but in reality they have a lot of hidden depths. Each one has its own set of challenges it has to face, and over time it has found its own way of dealing with them. Even if two cacti look very different on the outside, they may have a lot more in common than you’d think.
Sources & references used in this article:
SUCCULENTS for most gardens Part 1 by RAY STEPHENSON – Cactus and Succulent Journal, 2005 – BioOne
Contemporaneous and recent radiations of the world’s major succulent plant lineages by …, R Nyffeler, A Lendel, U Eggli… – Proceedings of the …, 2011 – National Acad Sciences
Leaf wax n-alkane distributions in arid zone South African flora: environmental controls, chemotaxonomy and palaeoecological implications by AS Carr, A Boom, HL Grimes, BM Chase… – Organic …, 2014 – Elsevier
Theoretical aspects of surface‐to‐volume ratios and water‐storage capacities of succulent shoots by JD Mauseth – American Journal of Botany, 2000 – Wiley Online Library