Written by Daiv Freeman, a friend and cactus expert.
It is said all that glitters is not gold. It can also be said that all
that’s sharp is not a cactus. These statements seem obvious, but we can take it one step further and say that all plants that are succulent and covered in thorns or prickles are not all cactus either. After all, we know that rose bushes have prickles, but we don’t confuse them for cactus.. Even so, there are many plants that get mistakenly referred to as cactus plants that are just as distant from a true cactus as is a rose bush.
This article will examine the common factors which lead to this error, and discuss the unique features of cactus that will help us avoid errors. As mentioned above, every “spiky” plant is not a cactus. In my experience, there are two other main factors, in addition to the presence of spines or thorns which lead to this mistaken identity.
One factor is succulence – meaning plants with thickened stem or leaf tissue used for storing water. The other has to do with the plant’s location, specifically those that live in a desert setting. Of these three factors – “spikes”, succulence, and habitat -succulence contributes to the most misidentification, followed by “spikes”, and finally desert habitat. When any of these factors are combined, such as both succulent and living in the desert – or even all three factors – then the chances that a plant will be considered a “cactus” increases dramatically!