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Cacti in Poolside and Patio Gardens

A Perfect or Painful Choice for Landscaping?


picture of cactus.

Barrel cactus plants.

Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor
In arid, Mediterranean and desert climates, homeowners spend much of their time outside year 'round. Cooking, dining, entertaining, relaxing and exercising often take place outdoors, and yards and exterior spaces are designed to accommodate and enhance the outdoor lifestyle. Plants suited for arid landscapes include succulents, some of which may be cactus.

Cactus plants are prized for their exotic and dramatic shapes, textures and colors. Provided they are planted in a location where they can be admired but out of the way of bare-skinned swimmers, children and passers-by, cacti can be excellent choices for poolside landscaping. They also provide consistent color and form for patio, deck and porch container gardens. A tall, narrow cactus -- or any shape, for that matter -- can thrive on a city balcony or rooftop garden.

Here's where it gets tricky. Cactus plants -- or cacti, as they are known collectively -- are considered succulents, but not all succulents are cactus. True cacti have areoles -- from which spines, glochids, branches and flowers may sprout. Succulents, on the other hand, do not.

Parts of a Cactus

Spine: The sharp needle or thorn-like parts of a cactus plant that makes it prickly. Spines grow in clusters and are believed to have evolved from leaves. There are two types of spines: centrals, which are thicker or heavier and darker, and radials, which are usually straight and concentrated near the centrals. Spines also keep the plant from being consumed by most animals.

Areoles: Cactus flowers and branches originate from aeroles.

Cuticle: The outer layer of the epidermis, which is often waxy.

Tubercles: A small rounded projection or protuberance on the cactus plant.

Plants That Aren't Cacti

Some people call any desert-living plant a cactus. But, of course, they aren't. Let's look at the plants that are mistakenly referred to as cacti:

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