The homeland of cacti: where did they get on our windowsills?
It’s worth starting with what can generally be called a cactus. You yourself, most likely, know that a characteristic spiny plant can theoretically take completely different forms. Given the kind of confusion sometimes happens in biology, it is not surprising if some species that are considered cacti are actually not, and vice versa. So, according to modern biological classification, cacti or cacti is a whole family of plants belonging to the order of cloves, the approximate number of species as a whole reaches about two thousand.
All these plants are perennial and flowering, but they are usually divided into four subfamilies, each of which has its own characteristic features.
Interestingly, the word "cactus" is of ancient Greek origin, although, looking ahead, these plants do not come from Greece at all. The ancient Greeks called this word a certain plant that has not reached our times - at least, modern scientists cannot answer what is meant by this term. Until the 18th century, what we now call cacti was customarily called melocactus. Only in the classification of the famous Swedish scientist Karl Linnaeus did these plants get a modern name.
Now let's see what is a cactus and what is not. It is wrong to confuse the concepts of cactus and succulents - the former necessarily relate to the latter, but the latter represent a broader concept, that is, they can include other plants. Cacti, like all other succulents, have special fabrics in their structure that allow them to store a supply of water for a long time. Actually, cacti are distinguished by areoles - special lateral buds from which spines or hairs grow. In a real cactus, both the flower and the fruit are, as it were, a continuation of the stem tissues, both organs are equipped with the aforementioned areoles. Biologists still identify no less than a dozen signs that are characteristic only for this family, but it is almost impossible to see and evaluate them without an ignorant person.
If a cactus can mistakenly call many spiny plants, which in fact are not related to them, then sometimes you can completely disagree with the representative of cacti in green spaces, which do not look like a typical indoor variant. Suffice it to say that a cactus (from a biological rather than philistine point of view) can turn out to be a deciduous bush and even a small tree. And it can consist practically of one root with a barely noticeable aerial part. The sizes, respectively, can differ strikingly - there are tiny specimens several centimeters in diameter, but in American films you most likely saw multi-meter branchy cacti weighing several tons. Naturally, all this diversity is not cultivated at home - only those species that meet two basic requirements are usually selected as a houseplant: they should be pretty and relatively small. Moreover, everything also depends on the region - in some countries, species that are practically unknown in our country can be massively grown.
The birthplace of thorns
Cacti grow in the tropics, savannah, deserts, in the mountains. The homeland of indoor cacti is North and South America. Various species grow in Europe, in the tropics of Africa and on the island of Madagascar, but the arid areas of the following states are the homeland of a house cactus plant:
The most primitive species belong to the Pereskiev subfamily, more precisely, to the tribe Pereskieae. They grow in the tropics of America and southern Brazil. In Chile and Argentina, the Pereskiev tribes grow - Maihuenieae. A similar seed structure has species of the South American genus Freilay and Mexican - Astrophytum, they are separated from each other by 2700 km.
About the homeland of succulents and their distribution
Today, these cacti grow on any continent, where there are suitable climatic conditions for them. But even where the climate is inappropriate, they are successfully grown in greenhouses and as indoor flowers.
It is interesting! As for the first historical references to the country of origin of cacti, back in the second half of the 16th century, the German scientist, “father of botany” Jacob Theodor Tabernemontanus released his own herbalist, which gained immense popularity. In it, he described some varieties of these succulents, originally from the shores of South America.
So it turns out that cacti became known outside the country of origin no earlier than the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. And South America is recognized as the homeland of indoor cactus. It was from here that these plants began to spread throughout the planet, taking root even where the climate differs from the usual. Some species were first discovered in North America, as well as on the islands of the West Indies.
Raccalis baccifera grows not only in America, but also in Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka. They came here without human help, because it is believed that the seeds of these plants were carried by migratory birds.
But the most beautiful prickly pear prickly pear, consisting of flat leaf-palm trees, can be found in India, the Mediterranean countries, Germany, Austria, Mozambique, the islands of the Malay archipelago and even in Australia, thanks to the intervention of human hands. The species of prickly pear Opuntia humifusa grows far from its native coast, and not only in the Mediterranean, but also on the shores of Crimea, in the southern regions of the Volga region, on the Russian Black Sea coast, in the regions of Gelendzhik and Novorossiysk.
And although their homeland is in a different place, cacti almost everywhere feel at home, including on home windowsills. Especially if they receive proper care based on their needs.
The geographical location of the homeland of indoor cactus
For most of us, these lovely and at the same time menacing spiky plants are associated with arid desert conditions, which are many in Africa. That is why many inhabitants believe that the place where the cactus is home is the so-called “black” continent.
In fact, the "thorns" prefer the desert regions, but not Africa, but other continents. Surprisingly, the desert of America is the birthplace of cacti. More specifically, the plants came from arid places, primarily South and North America. Scientists report that cacti appeared in South America a very long time ago - about 35 million years ago.
Then, about 5-10 million years ago, cacti appeared in the northern part of the continent. In Africa, including the island of Madagascar, and the rest of the world, for example, Asia (Sri Lanka island) and Australia, excluding, of course, Antarctica, cacti were naturally moved by birds much later. The Europeans became the most recent with the prickly representatives of the flora.
It is interesting that cacti are found not only in the Mediterranean, but also on the Black Sea coast, for example, on the Southern coast of Crimea, in Gelendzhik.
An interesting fact is that throughout the continent, where the color family comes from, the distribution of "thorns" is extremely uneven. You will not find cacti at all in humid tropical regions, in particular, they are not in the lands belonging to the basin of the great Amazon river.
But Mexico is famous for its special variety of species. By the way, of the known two thousand species of "spines" a little less than a thousand can be found in the arid regions of this country.
A lot of cacti grows in such Latin American states as Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia.
The main types of cacti: the country of origin determined the development of varieties
Despite the fact that the cactus originates from the hot and arid areas of Central as well as South America, it has become a familiar inhabitant of many domestic apartments. And in wildlife, strangely enough, he quickly took root.
In our area, cactus flowers, whose birthplace is Argentina and Bolivia, can be found in Crimea, especially in the vicinity of Sudak, and some especially tenacious members of the family managed to take root even in the Astrakhan region, where the ambient temperature sometimes drops to minus twelve degrees Celsius .
Specialists of all such plants are classified into four large groups, which are worth a little understanding.
- Opuntia ones are distinguished by rather simplified, reduced leaves, as well as extremely thin and brittle spines, which are covered with tiny notches.
- The Mauchienites are distributed exclusively in their native Patagonia, they are very small, and their foxes grow in length by no more than ten millimeters.
- Peresvy species have quite full leaves. Scientists consider these species a kind of connecting link between cacti and ordinary deciduous plants.
- The most common species in the world are considered, in fact, cacti, which reliably "nestled" on our windowsills. For the most part, these species have a spherical, or cylindrical shape, are covered with thorns of different sizes, and bloom with magnificent flowers, in the form of a raster.
It is remarkable that many indoor cacti, whose homeland has long become blurred and uncertain, can be used as the basis for shampoos, drugs, because of their useful qualities and properties, they also make perfumes and hormones. A lot of tasty and nutritious dishes have already been invented from prickly pear, all parts of the plant are suitable for food, and candied fruit, which is extremely saturated with vitamins, is even made from melocactus and echinocactus.
Where cacti grow in nature: environmental conditions
The birthplace of the prickly plant cactus (from Greek cactos) is South and North America. The center of the formation of the family is still considered South America, from where they spread to the North American continent. Where cacti grow, there can be completely different conditions, because these plants have a huge distribution area, covering different natural zones. This in itself determines a wide variety of plant growth conditions: climatic, zonal, and soil. Cacti inhabit tropical forests (epiphytic species growing on tree trunks), savannas, various types of deserts and semi-deserts, and in the mountains rise to an altitude of 4,500 m above sea level. And where else do cacti grow in the wild? Most of these succulents are adapted to life in desert conditions, with little rainfall and a sharp temperature drop from day to night. Particularly severe environmental conditions of cacti are characteristic of high-mountain deserts with their negative night temperatures and the difference between day and night temperatures on the soil surface up to 45 °. To the north, the range of cacti extends to 56 ° C. N, and south to 54 ° S. w. The extreme points of the range are reached mainly by the representatives of the Opuntsevo subfamily.
The habitat of cacti on the continents is extremely uneven. The greatest species diversity is characteristic of Mexico, the mountain deserts of Peru, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.
Cacti are plants that have high environmental plasticity. Certain signs of the fitness of cacti allow them to survive not only in North and South America, but also in different natural zones of other continents. So, some types of prickly pear were brought to Western Europe and successfully acclimatized. In the former USSR, prickly pears were acclimatized in the Crimea and the Astrakhan region, as well as in Turkmenistan. Some species of epiphytic cacti are found in the forests of Africa, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and the islands of the Indian Ocean. However, it is believed that they were brought to these places by man.
The natural conditions of the homeland of a home cactus
If we talk about the natural conditions that these perennials prefer, then these are mainly arid areas, as mentioned above. Incidentally, there are species that prefer not only mountain and desert regions, but also the steppes.
Even more - epiphytic cacti prefer tropical forests with high humidity. As for the acceptable composition of the soil in the homeland of indoor cactus, it is usually poor and light land. The soil is characterized by a small amount of humus, but there is an abundance of mineral salts there.
But here the types of cacti that can be found in forests and steppes grow well on heavy clay soils.
It is also interesting how differently plants with spines grow. Most often, whole thickets are found. Some species form so dense forest colonies through which it is simply impossible to get through. This is primarily characteristic of carpegias, turbinicarcuses. There are such representatives of the cactus family that prefer to "settle" at large distances from each other. Sometimes cacti are locally placed in columns or rows.
The shape of the green “hedgehogs” that are found in America is also diverse: spherical and slightly elongated, straight, bushy, flat or volumetric, some species even with real leaves or with bare roots.
Indoor plant cactus: the birthplace of the plant and the history of its distribution
Today, numerous representatives of the prickly fraternity have very successfully spread around the world.
We can say that they now grow on every continent in any part of the world, if not even counting those that are rooted in window sills and flower slides.
For example, the brightest representative of cacti, prickly pear, feels great in Spain and India, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Mozambique, Bali and even got to Australia. However, the birthplace of the cactus is not at all in these countries.
The first historical references to the country of origin of cacti date back to the distant sixteenth century. In 1958, a brilliant German scientist, whom the descendants would call the “father of botany,” Jacob Theodor Tabernemontanus, published his famous herbalist. It was in it for the first time that various species of cacti were described as exotic plants from the distant shores of South America.
Thus, it turns out that these plants became known no earlier than Christopher Columbus discovered America, and there is a very specific answer to the question of where the cactus is home.
That is, the homeland of the home cactus is South America, from where it slowly spread throughout the planet, and even in rather harsh external conditions, where such plants, by definition, could not grow, spiky green hedgehogs found their place in people's apartments and houses, but this will happen much later, when the cactus plant’s homeland has already remained far behind it.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the cactus and its homeland were a real curiosity for European residents, however, local, for example, Aztec Indians managed to very successfully use this impregnable plant for a wide variety of purposes.
These amazing, more like alien, plants ate, treated them for a wide variety of diseases, and some people who practice magical rites, without thinking about which cactus’s homeland, even considered it a guide to other worlds, a source of spiritual and mystical power connecting our world with the other world.
In our country, a cactus, and the native land of the plant Bolivia, Argentina and Peru, Mexico and British Columbia, appeared much later, approximately at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the so-called Pharmaceutical Garden opened in St. Petersburg, where various curiosities were grown, along with medicinal plants Russia and other countries.
The real homeland of the cactus, as a houseplant, was a country not very similar in climate to ours, it was necessary to create special conditions for its growth, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the garden was transformed into the Imperial Botanical Garden, there were already more than two hundred seventy species and types of cacti.
Where are you from?
Since a cactus is not one species, but many varieties, it is difficult to isolate a common homeland for all this biological abundance. It is often said that the origin of the cactus is due to the whole continent - North and South America, where it grows in arid conditions from the arid Wild West of the USA to Argentina and Chile. For most species, this statement is true, but some species that appeared in continental Africa and Madagascar are also cactus species. In addition, through the efforts of Europeans, these plants dispersed all over the world, therefore, in some warm countries of the same Europe, certain species are found in the wild. Even in the south of the Russian Black Sea coast such plantings come across.
However, Mexico is considered to be a kind of capital of cacti. First of all, there are really a lot of them on the territory of this country, the plant is found almost everywhere even in the wild, with about half of all known cactus species growing here. In addition, in most regions of their origin, cacti were wild-growing, while the ancestors of modern Mexicans (not to mention our contemporaries) actively bred some species for various needs, turning the plant into an indoor one. Now representatives of the cactus family as indoor plants around the world are perceived exclusively as a decorative decoration. The ancient Mexicans also used this property of green spaces, but the possible use of cacti was not limited to this.
From the sources of the Spanish conquerors and the legends of the local Indians it is known that different types of these plants could be eaten, used for religious ceremonies and as a source of coloring matter. In some regions, cacti can still be used for the same needs. For the Indians, however, the cactus was everything at all - hedges were made from it and even houses were built. The European conquerors did not care too much about the classification of crops grown by the conquered peoples, but we got information that at least two species of cactus were grown in Central America exactly.
Today, this plant in its various forms is considered the national symbol of Mexico, so if you consider any one country as its homeland, then this one.
There is also a theory that cacti originally appeared in South America. According to the authors of the assumption, this happened about 35 million years ago. These plants came to North America, including Mexico, relatively recently - only about 5–10 million years ago, and even to Africa and other continents they came even later, together with migratory birds. However, the fossilized remains of cacti have not yet been found anywhere, so a similar point of view should still be confirmed by weighty arguments.
It is known that wild cacti are more preferable to arid semi-arid regions, as well as to deserts in Africa, Asia, South and North America. In addition, you can meet them on the Mediterranean coast and in the Crimea.
Cacti live in the following natural conditions:
1. With sharp fluctuations in day and night temperatures. It's no secret that in the deserts it is very hot during the day and too cool at night, there are sharp temperature drops of up to 50 degrees.
2. Small humidity level. In regions where cacti live, up to 300 mm of precipitation falls annually. However, there are some types of cacti that live in tropical forests, where the humidity level is high, about 3500 mm per year.
3.Loose soil. Cacti can also be found on loose soils that contain a large amount of sand. Moreover, such soils usually have an acid reaction.
Cactus habitat, how did they adapt in the process of evolution?
Due to the low rainfall, the cactus family has a very fleshy stem and thick epidermis. It stores all the moisture during a drought. In addition, cacti have thorns, a wax coating on the stem, the ribbing of the stem, all this prevents the cactus from evaporating moisture. In addition, in most species of cactus, the root is very developed, it goes deep into the soil, or simply spreads to the surface of the earth for moisture collection.
How did you get to Russia?
Like many other American cultures and inventions, the cactus came to Russia indirectly, through Western Europe. Unlike many other continents, in Europe, historically, cacti did not grow at all - even those species that do not remind us of the familiar "spine". Some travelers could see something similar in Africa or Asia, but even in these regions adjacent to Europe with a species diversity of cacti did not work out very well. Therefore, it is generally accepted that Europeans became acquainted with these plants at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, when America was discovered.
For European colonialists, the appearance of a new type of plant turned out to be so unusual that cacti were one of the first plants brought to Europe.
As mentioned above, the same Aztecs had already used some species of this family for decorative purposes, so beautiful specimens that fell into the Old World soon became the property of wealthy collectors or avid scientists. One of the first lovers of cacti can be considered the London pharmacist Morgan - at the end of the XVI century he already had a full-fledged collection of cacti alone. Since the plant did not require special care, but had a non-trivial look, it soon became the decoration of the rapidly growing popularity of private greenhouses and public botanical gardens throughout the continent.
Cacti appeared in Russia a little later, but rich people, of course, knew about them from their European trips. They really wanted to see the overseas plant in the St. Petersburg Botanical Garden, for which in 1841–1843 a special expedition was even sent to Mexico, headed by Baron Karvinsky. This scientist even discovered several completely new species, and some of the copies brought by him cost twice as much in gold equivalent as they weighed. Until 1917, the Russian aristocracy had many private collections of cacti that were of real scientific value, but after the revolution, almost all of them were lost. For many decades, the only Russian cacti were those that were preserved in large botanical gardens of cities such as Leningrad and Moscow. If we talk about the widespread distribution of cacti as domestic plants, then in the Soviet Union a similar trend was outlined around the end of the 50s of the last century. Some cactus lovers' clubs have existed continuously since then, even the special term “cactusist” has arisen, indicating a person for whom these succulents are a major hobby.