Cacti are notorious for their ability to survive in hot and dry desert conditions with minimal rainfall. This is what makes the cactus special over other species of plants.
But how long can a cactus live without water?
It is estimated that a cactus can survive without water for two years. Cacti have developed a set of unique adaptations that are specific to the plant and enable it to withstand long periods without water.
Cacti are defined as succulents, which means they are drought-resistant plants.
But what makes cacti unique?
Let’s take a look at some of the special qualities of a cactus and find out.
They Have Spines Instead of Leaves
One reason a cactus can do so well without water is that they don’t technically have leaves. They have what are called spines. The spines of cacti do not lose water through evaporation like most plants, therefore they retain water.
Not only do they retain water, but they also provide protection from animals trying to harm the cacti’s precious water storage system. Spines also restrict airflow to the cacti, preventing dehydration of the plant.
They Have Thick Stems To Store the Water
Whenever it rains, the cactus plant absorbs the rain and stores it mainly in the stem. The inside of the stem is hollow or made of a spongy material to soak up as much water as possible.
The cactus has what is called mucilage cells, which are cells that help the cacti retain water. The cacti’s stomata, which are tiny openings in the stem, are protected against high winds and hot weather through shading to assist the cacti in water retention also.
The stomata are only open at night to reduce the chance of losing water to evaporation powered by the daytime sunlight.
Cacti have what are called areolas, which are bumps in the stem. They give rise to the self-defense mechanisms that protect the cacti and keep them living so long.
It is the cacti stem that stores the water, not the leaves. Cacti have an expandable stem to retain extra water for the days that there is hardly any water to come by.
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Cacti’s Widespread Shallow Root System
Another reason cacti can live without water for such a long time is their advanced root system. Shallow in nature it is also long enough to be able to retrieve water from long-range areas to feed its thirst.
When it rains, cacti’s roots tend to expand to absorb up all the available water. When it is a dry time of year, the roots retract allowing the cacti to save as much water as possible. The cactus itself becomes more hydrated than the soil around it to preserve its health.
A large cactus can soak up hundreds of gallons of water with its root system with just one downpour.
Cacti Cuticle / Skin
Cacti have a thin, waxy covering also known as a cuticle. The cuticle serves as a protective barrier from germs from the outside world. More importantly, this coating protects the plant from evaporating precious water that it needs to keep itself alive for so long without water.
how long can a cactus live without water?
Cacti are indeed unique.
It is estimated that a cactus can survive without water for approximately 2 years. Cacti have developed a set of unique adaptations that are specific to the plant and enable it to withstand long periods without water.
With its unique adaptations ranging from the stem to the spine, stomata, and areolas, cacti have no match for their determination to stay alive in the barren deserts of North and South America.
They are truly the survival species of the plant world.
Whether it is a wild plant or a plant you have in your home, a cactus is sure to survive for many years. The best part is, you don’t even have to remember to water them (that often)!
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