A cactus is a plant that grows where the soil is dry and rocky—most usually in the desert. A cactus doesn’t have leaves like other plants do. A cactus has spines or thorns. The plural word for cactus is cacti. Plural means more than one.

There are about 1,500 different kinds of cacti. Some are thin and very, very tall, and others are short and round like a ball…a very spikey ball. There are even cacti that look like bushes and some that look like ping pong paddles.

Cactus Facts for Kids

  • There are different types of species of cactus and some can live between 15 and 300 years.
  • Some cactus have been found in rainforests and even in countries like Canada.
  • You will find lots of cacti in Arizona and California.
  • It is estimated that there are 1750 different species of cacti.
  • They are very good at conserving water especially during long dry periods.
  • The outside of a cactus is a waxy skin texture which helps it hold in water.
  • The spikes on the outside can be very sharp.
  • Some spikes can be even poisonous to humans.
  • Some cactus can be eaten and some grow fruit.
  • The vast majority of cacti have no visible leaves.
  • Scientists have discovered fossils of cacti dating back 25 million years.
  • The cactus can also be used for fodder for animals once the spines have been removed.
  • In some countries like India they will use to cut this in herbal medicine.

It’s a rough life

A cactus is a succulent. A succulent is a plant that has spongy roots and leaves. They have spongy roots and leaves so they can hold the water they get and save it for later. They have to be able to do this because most cacti live in hot, dry areas that don’t get much rain.

The tap root (main root) on a cactus is longer and stronger than the tap root of mostplants. This lets a cactus find and drink water that is deep down in the ground. The tap root soaks up the water and holds on to it; sending little drinks at a time to the rest of the plant. A cactus also has lots and lots of small roots that run close to the surface of the ground. This lets the roots soak up any rain that falls quickly.

Poky…but pretty, too

Most cacti produce flowers. The flowers a cactus produces can be as small as a dime or as large as a dinner plate. Cactus flowers are also very colorful; bright yellow and pink, deep red and orange. Some even have white flowers or striped flowers.

Some cactus flowers last for a few days or even weeks like other flowers do. But some cactus flowers only last for a few hours.

The spines or thorns on many cacti are poisonous. Getting poked by them can make you feel dizzy, cause you to loose feeling where you were poked or even make you sick.

Go ahead…take a bite

Many kinds of cacti are edible. This means you can eat them. The juice and pads of the prickly pear (minus the spines, of course) is a favorite food for people living in Mexico and other countries in Central and South America.

The juice and pads of a prickly pear are low in calories and high in fiber and vitamins.

They fill you up without making you gain weight.

The juice is full of vitamin C—just like oranges.

Grow your own cacti

Cacti are easy to grow and take care of because they need so little water. They love the sun, but if you live somewhere where it gets cold in the winter, you can bring them into your house and they will be fine until it gets warm enough for them to go back outside.

Cacti can live for many, many years, though, so be sure you are willing to take care of them for a long, long time.