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Cactus and Other Succulents

Cactus and Other Succulents

A cactus (plural: cactuses, cacti) is any member of the plant family Cactaceae, native to the Americas (with one exception, Rhipsalis baccifera, which is native to parts of the Old World). They are often used as ornamental plants, and some are also crop plants for fodder, forage, fruits, cochineal, and other uses. Cactuses are part of the plant order Caryophyllales, which also includes members like beets, gypsophila, spinach, amaranth, tumbleweeds, carnations, rhubarb, buckwheat, plumbago, bougainvillea, chickweed and knotgrass.

Cacti are unusual and distinctive plants, which are adapted to extremely arid and/or semi-arid hot environments, as well as tropical environments as epiphytes or hemi-epiphytes . They show a wide range of anatomical and physiological features which conserve water. Their stems have adapted to become photosynthetic and succulent, while the leaves have become the spines for which cacti are well known.

Cacti come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The tallest is Pachycereus pringlei, with a maximum recorded height of 19.2 m, and the smallest is Blossfeldia liliputiana, only about 1 cm diameter at maturity. Cactus flowers are large, and like the spines and branches arise from areoles. Many cactus species are night blooming, as they are pollinated by nocturnal insects or small animals, principally moths and bats. Cacti range in size from small and globular to tall and columnar.

Uses

Cacti, cultivated by people worldwide, are a familiar sight as potted plants, houseplants or in ornamental gardens in warmer climates. They often form part of xeriphytic (dry) gardens in arid regions, or raised rockeries. Some countries, such as Australia, have water restrictions in many cities, so drought-resistant plants are increasing in popularity. Numerous species have entered widespread cultivation, including members of Echinopsis, Mammillaria and Cereus among others. Some, such as the Golden Barrel dekha Cactus, Echinocactus grusonii, are prominent in garden design. Cacti are commonly used for fencing material where there is a lack of either natural resources or financial means to construct a permanent fence. This is often seen in arid and warm climates, such as the Masai Mara in Kenya. This is known as a cactus fence. Cactus fences are often used by homeowners and landscape architects for home security purposes. The sharp thorns of the cactus deter unauthorized persons from entering private properties, and may prevent break-ins if planted under windows and near drainpipes. The aesthetic characteristics of some species, in conjunction with their home security qualities, makes them a considerable alternative to artificial fences and walls.

Description

Cacti are perennial and grow as trees, shrubs, or vines. Most species are terrestrial, but there are also many epiphytic species, especially in the tribes Rhipsalideae and Hylocereeae. In most species, except for the sub-family Pereskioideae (see image), the leaves are greatly or entirely reduced. The leaves may also be tiny and deciduous as can be seen on new shoots of Opuntia. Spines found in the cacti are actually modified leaves; the stems (the green “pads” of many cacti) have also evolved to photosynthesize. The flowers, mostly radially symmetrical and bisexual, bloom either by day or by night, depending on the species.

Their shape varies from tube-like through bell-like to wheel-shaped, and their size from 0.2 to 15–30 centimeters. Most of them have numerous sepals (from 5 to 50 or more), and change form from outside to inside, from bracts to petals. They have stamens in great numbers (from 50 to 1,500, rarely fewer). Nearly all species of cacti have a bitter mucilaginous sap contained within them. The berry-like fruits may contain few to many (3,000), seeds, which can be between 0.4 and 12 mm long.

The life of a cactus is seldom longer than 300 years but may be as short as 25 years, (although these flower as early as their second year). The Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) grows to a height of up to 15 meters (the record is 17 meters 67 cm), but in its first ten years, it grows only 10 centimeters. The “mother-in-law’s cushion” (Echinocactus grusonii) reaches a height of 2.5 meters and a diameter of 1 meter and – at least on the Canaries – is already capable of flowering after 6 years. The diameter of cactus flowers ranges from 5 to 30 cm; the colors are often conspicuous and spectacular.

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Lotus flowers

Lotus flowers

Lotuses are perhaps the most spectacular plants in aquatic environments. The Chinese say that, once having seen the growing lotus, you never forget it. The lotus flowers have color from red, pink, pale yellow to creamy white.

A separate, long, tubular stalk supports each flower and each large round leaf.The sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is an extreme important spiritual symbol in Eastern religions.

It represents purity, divine wisdom, and the individual’s progress from the lowest to the highest state of consciousness.Seeded in muddy waters, the lotus rises above the mud and produces beautiful and fragrant flowers. The big showy bloom may be 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) in diameter.

The flowers open for just three days. Then each petal falls silently into the water, one by one, at a short period. The large green seed head or pod remains on the top of the stalk for a long time, and gradually turning to dark color and ripe.

The seeds impeded in the cone-shape pod with flat surface at the top. The pod then reverts to the water, where it floats face down, allowing seeds to take hold in the mud. The seeds then germinate in the following Spring and give rise to new lotus plants.

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Monarda

Monarda

Monarda (bee balm, horsemint, oswego tea, or bergamot) is a genus consisting of roughly 16 species of erect, herbaceous annual or perennial plants in the Lamiaceae, indigenous to North America. Ranging in height from 1 to 3 feet (0.2 to 0.9 m), the plants have an equal spread, with slender and long-tapering (lanceolate) leaves; the leaves are opposite on stem, smooth to nearly hairy, lightly serrated margins, and range from 3 to 6 inches (7 to 14 cm) long. In all species, the leaves, when crushed, exude a spicy, highly fragrant oil. Of the species listed, M. didyma (Oswego Tea) contains the highest concentration of this oil. The genus was named for Nicolás Monardes who wrote a book in 1574 describing plants found in the New World.

Blackfoot

Menominee

Bee Balm

Uses : Several bee balm species (Monarda fistulosa and Monarda didyma) have a long history of use as a medicinal plants by many Native Americans including the Blackfoot, Menominee, Ojibwa, Winnebago and others. The Blackfoot Indians recognized the strong antiseptic action of these plants, and used poultices of the plant for skin infections and minor wounds. A tea made from the plant was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by dental caries and gingivitis. Bee balm is the natural source of the antiseptic Thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwash formulas. The Winnebago used a tea made from bee Balm as a general stimulant. Bee balm was also used as a carminative herb by Native Americans to treat excessive flatulence. An infusion of crushed Monarda leaves in boiling water has been known to treat headaches and fevers.

Although somewhat bitter, due to the thymol content in the plants leaves and buds, the plant tastes like a mix of spearmint and peppermint with oregano, to which it is closely related. Bee balm was traditionally used by Native Americans as a seasoning for wild game, particularly birds. The plants are widespread across North America and can be found in moist meadows, hillsides, and forest clearings up to 5,000 feet in elevation.

Flowers, species, cultivars : Monarda species include annual and perennial upright growing herbaceous plants with lanceolate to ovate shaped leaves. The flowers are tubular with bilateral symmetry and bilabiate; with upper lips narrow and the lower ones broader and spreading or deflexed. The flowers are single or in some cultivated forms double, generally hermaphroditic with two stamens. Plants bloom in mid- to late summer and the flowers are produced in dense profusion at the ends of the stem and/or in the stem axils. The flowers typically are crowded into head-like clusters with leafy bracts. Flower colors vary, with wild forms of the plant having crimson-red to red, pink and light purple hues. M. didyma has bright, carmine red blossoms; M. fistulosa—the “true” wild bergamot—has smokey pink flowers. M. citriodora and M. pectinata have light lavender to lilac-colored blooms and have slightly decreased flower quantities. Both species are commonly referred to as “Lemon Mint.” There are over 50 commercial cultivars and hybrids, ranging in color from candy-apple red to pure white to deep blue, but these plants tend to be smaller than wild species, and often developed to combat climatic or pest conditions. Other hybrids have been developed to produce essential oils for food, flavoring, or medicine. “M. didyma” species can grow up to 6 feet tall. Seed collected from hybrids—as with most hybridized plants—does not produce identical plants to the parent. A number of hybrids also occur in the wild.

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