A little education never hurt anyone so I think people should learn of a few facts about the plants they love to grow.

1) All cactus are succulents but not all succulents are cactus. This is because to be considered in the family 'Cactaceae' you must have an areole. An areole is one of many points on a cactus where either a spike, leaf, hair, flower, fruit, or branch can grow from. Although some succulents have spikes they grow not from the areoles, but from the succulent tissue. Euphorbias are also often mistaken as cacti or succulents yet they too do not have 'areoles', and are found in the family Euphorbiaceae.  Another small note, Agave is often thought to be in the cactus family but it is actually in a family of it's own named Agavaceae.

2) Europeans first encountered cacti in the form of Melocactus in the 16th century. In 1753 a taxonomy with 20 species was created.  (According to Marcus Schneck, in 'Growing Classic Cacti') Today the Cactaceae family has thousands of species divided into 3 sub families; Peireskioidae, Opuntioideae, and Cereoideae. From here the subfamilies are broken into Genera, species, and variety. Many hybrids are constantly being discovered due to cross pollination of species, so identifying your cacti may not always be very easy.

3) Root systems for cacti do not extend very far down but they grow wide along the surface so to absorb water as soon as it hits the dirt. They must develop roots like this to survive since they grow in such dry areas. However I personally have all my plants in pots so I can control their environment. The most important aspect of soil in a pot should be good drainage. Start with a commercially sold cactus dirt and add sand and perlite. A regular potting soil can be used but more sand and perlite must then be added. This is because most potting soils are made to retain water while we want our soil to dry quickly. Water the plants until soaked but then allow them to dry for an extended period of time. Most cacti can be watered once a month in the summer, and not any water through their dormant winter. All cacti and succulents are different and need to be read about for specific care.

4) Fertilizers and Cactus: Your fertilizers will have 3 numbers on the bag, for example, 5-10-5...This refers to 5%,10%,5%, by weight of the primary elements in the bag. The rest of the 75% of the bag by weight is actually sand, or other fillers. One fertilizer "Cactus Juice" has it's balance at 1-7-6, along with 4.5% Calcium, which it recommends for cactus. If you are going to use miracle grow or other fertilizers make sure the 3 primary element ratios are not to far off and delude the mixture much more than recommended. Cactus need only a very small amount of fertilizer to flourish.

5) Fertilizers and Succulents: As with all cactus and succulents fertilizing should only be done when the plant is growing and not while they are dormant. According to (Tex Buckner & Associates, San Diego Ca. "Easy succulent care instructions") a good fertilizer ratio for succulents is 13-13-13, time release pelts.

6) Pharmacological Significance of the Cactus Family

Cacti are remarkable producers of chemicals, the most famous (and
significant) of which are the alkaloids. Alkaloids are nitrogen-containing
compounds from plants which carry a basic charge (due to nitrogen's
acceptance of a proton in solution). More specifically, alkaloids may be
described as compounds derived from amino acids which have at least one ring
and one nitrogen. Some examples of important alkaloids are: morphine,
serotonin, quinine, cocaine, nicotine, and the cactus alkaloid mescaline.
There are countless others of varying complexities and effects.

Why do Cacti Have Alkaloids?

This question may receive a variety of answers, depending on to whom
it is asked. A follower of the Native American Church might respond by
explaining their role as a link to the heavens. On the contrary, a botanist
might explain that alkaloids tend to localize near the skin, and that their
bitter taste and often noxious effects would keep them from being eaten by
hungry animals. A chemist could quite possibly explain how the alkaloid is
the biological bi-product of amino acid metabolism, and his biologist friend
would inform him that an evolutionary advantage has led to the variety of
interesting alkaloids that are seen today in the plant kingdom. All of these
provide useful insight into the reason for alkaloids in cactus.

What Alkaloids are in Which Cactus?

This site has no intention of being the paramount source of info
for cactus or chemistry, but perhaps we could be of some use. Two basic
(basic... haha...get it?) types of alkaloids exist in cactus: the
phenethylamines and the tetrahydroisoquinolines. Included in the
phenethylamine family are:


Some THIQs:


Mescaline, the famous and illegal psychedelic is contained in numerous
species, like peyote (Lophophora Williamsii). Varying amounts of this exist
throughout the cactus family, making control of this substance rather
ambiguous and ineffective.

7) Characteristics of different genera.


1)      Native to Mexico, all 6 species flower in the fall.

2)      The six species are; agavoides, bravoanus, fissuratus, kotschoubeyanus, retusus, and scaphirostris.

3)      Henri Galeotti sent Ariocarpus from Mexico to Europe in 1838.

4)      Greek ‘aria’ is a kind of Oak tree, and ‘carpos’ meaning fruit, perhaps referring to the fruit.

5)      The internal mucilage of the species kotschoubeyanus was soaked in alcohol and then applied to wounds by native Americans as a type of glue to help heal wounds.



1)      Only 4 species of Astrophytum exsist, originally found in Northern Mexico by Charle Lemaire.

2)      The 4 species are; asterias, capricorne, myriostigma, and orantum.

3)      Astrophytum was first described in the first half of the 1800’s.

4)      Greek ‘aster’ for star, and ‘phytom’ for plant, thus meaning ‘Star Plant’

5)      The flower over several weeks in the summer.



1)      Phillip Miller describer Cereus in 1752.

2)      It is the oldest name among cactus.

3)      There are 34 species of Cereus.

4)      Cereus is Latin for candle or torch.



1)      Charles Lemaire first described Cleistocactus in 1861.

2)      Cleistocactus contains 48 species including 1 naturally occurring hybrid.

3)      Greek for ‘kleistos’ for closed, referring to the often closed red flowers.

4)      Flowers often open all day or all year.

5)      Cleistocactus may include Borzicactus, Hildewintera, and other genera.



1) Mostly occurring in Central American rainforests.

1)      John Lindley described Discocactus in 1845

2)      Greek ‘dis’ meaning twice refers to how well it branches.

3)      16 species of Discocactus exsist including the genera; Ackermannia, Aporocactus, Noplaxochia, and Wittia.




1)      Native to the North American deserts.

2)      Characterized by having densely wooly crowns at the stem tips, unlike Ferocactus.

3)      Henrich Link and Christopher oto described Echinocactus in 1827.

4)      Greek ‘echinos’ for hedgehog or sea urchin, meaning simply ‘Spiny Cactus’

5)      Today only 6 species are accepted in the genus, however at one time there were over 1000 different cactus in this genus.

6)      Flowers are mostly yellow and bloom in the spring and summer.



1)      A North American cactus, first described by George Englemann in 1848.

2)      There are 60 species and 1 naturally occurring hybrid.

3)      Wilcoxia was created from within the genus Echinocereus then later put back.

4)      Greek ‘Echinos’ for hedgehog or urchin referring to the spiny fruits.(much different than those of cereus.)

5)      Plants flower during the spring and summer.



1)      Joseph Zuccarini described Echinopsis in 1837.

2)      Greek ‘echinos’ hedgehog or sea urchin, and ‘opsis’ is apperance. Thus referring to the spiny nature of the plant.

3)      128 species exsist including 1 natural hybrid, All native to South America.

4)      Based on seed work and flower charateristicsa people believe the genera Echinopsis should include; Trichocereus, Lobivia, Rebutia, Heliathocereus, pseudolobivia, soehrensia.



1)      Adrain Haworth first described Epiphyllum in 1812.

2)      There are 19 species of Epiphyllums.

3)      Many ‘Orchid Cactus’ people believe to be Epiphyllums are actually; Schlumbergera, Selenicereus, Discocactus, and Pseudorhipsalis.

4)      Greek meaning for the name is ‘upon a leaf’.

5)      Common name ‘Christmas Cactus’ has flowers that open at night.


1)      Nathaniel Britton And Joseph Rose described Escobaria in 1923 in their book “The Cactaceae.”

2)      The name is in honor of Romulo Escobar of Mexico cCity and Numa Escobar of Juarez.

3)      Escobaria contains 23 species and flowers in spring.

4)      Coryphantha is very similar but still a separate genus.



1)      Nathaniel Britton and Joseph Rose described Espostoa in 1920. 

2)      Espostoa is a coulmanr cactus form South America

3)      The name was to honor the Peruvian botanist Nicolas E Esposto.

4)      There are 16 species and possibly 1 naturally occurring intergeneric hybrid.

5)      Flowers usually open at night in the summer.



1)      Phillip Miller described Ferocactus in 1759.

2)      Ferocactus is native to the North American deserts and contains 30 species.

3)      Latin for ‘ferox’ for wild or fierce, referring to the red ad spiny nature of the plant.

4)      They flower during the day in the sprig and summer.



1)      Ludwig Pfeiffer described Gymnocalycium in 1844.

2)      It is native to the area east of the Andes in South America.

3)      Greek ‘gymnos’ for naked, amd ‘calyx’ for bud is referring to the smooth flower bud.

4)      There are 71 species of Gymnocalycium.

5)      Flowers are open during the day, funnel form, bell shaped, and white or pale pink.



1)      Carlos Spogazzini described Parodia in 1923.

2)      The name was given to honor an early student of the Flora in Paraguay.

3)      There are 66 species of Parodia including previously separate genera; Eriocactus, Notocactus, Wiginsia, and Brasilcactus.

4)      Blossfeldia, and Frailea were once included within Parodia but are now separate genera.

5)      Flowers are open during the day and funnel form or bell shaped and brightly colored.



1)      One of the largest and most studied genus containing 171 species.

2)      Described by Adrain Haworth in 1812.

3)      Latin ‘mamilla’ is nipple or teat, referring to the tubercles.

4)      Common names include; Fish hook, Nipple cactus, and Pincushin.



1)      Native to the western hemisphere it is the most widespread cactus.

2)      Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in 1700 described 11 species of Opuntia but it was until 1754 when Joseph Rose first published its name was it known.

3)      A greek region ‘Locris Opuntia’ was the capital of Opus where many spiny plants grew.

4)      There are 180 species of Opuntia and 10 naturally occurring hybrids.

5)      Its common name is Prickly Pear.



1)      A South American cactus containing 41 species.

2)      Karl Schumann was the first to describe Rebutia in 1895.

3)      Karl Schumann created the name to honor Monsieur P. Rebut a wine maker and cactus grower who lived in Chazay d’ Azergues.

4)      Karl originally thought Rebutia to be a sub genus of Echinocereus, but later he separated them.

5)      Flowers are open during the day and are small and funnel form.



1)      Joseph Gaertner described Rhipsalis in 1788.

2)      Rhipsalis is native to humid tropical rain forests and seasonal forests in many regions in South America

3)      Greek ‘rhips’ or wickerwork, referring to the slender flexible stem segments.



1)      A poorly defined group of 28 species.

2)      Plants are thin stemmed and very unique.

3)      This is 1 of 4 night flowering hylocereoid cacti.

4)      Nathaniel Britton and Joseph Rose described Selenicereus in 1909.

5)      The name was described from the Greek moon goddess, referring to the flowers that bloom at night.

6)      Selenicereus are called ‘MoonCereus’ and are grown by Epiphyllum and Orchid cactus growers.



1)      Native to Mexico, Stenocactus is now recognized as having 10 species.  The status of 3 are uncertain. (S.hastatus, S.rectispinus, S.sulfurous)

2)      George Lawrence first described Stenocactus in 1841, but he called it Echinofossulocactus.

3)      Stenocactus used to be a thought of as a subgenus of Ferocactus, or Echinofossulcactus.

4)      Greek ‘stenos’ means ‘narrow’ thus meaning ‘Narrow Cactus’.

5)      Flowers open during the day in the summer.



1)      Stenocereus contains 23 species.

2)      Alwin Berger first described Stenocereus in 1905

3)      Greek ‘stenos’ for thin, and ‘cereus’ for torch, meaning a tall thin torch.

4)      Flowers at night in the summer, flowers can last to the following midday.