Cacti in Horticulture

Cacti fascinated Europeans as soon as they were discovered in the fifteenth century, and almost immediately cacti found their way into the collections made by aristocrats, royalty, and other wealthy people throughout the Continent. People of the New World, however, held a somewhat different view of cacti, having always been associated with them. Clearly, cacti were an important natural resource, but it is less clear whether the indigenous people planted and grew them for aesthetic purposes. To many people in the United

States and Mexico, cacti are often unpleasant to touch and of little importance. This has been a major problem in conservation activities throughout Latin America and parts of the United States: convincing people that cacti are worth preserving. People in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world have a far different view of these remarkable succulents, for they have long been prized in horticulture as rare, unusual, and beautiful.

More than 300 species of cacti are cultivated as ornamentals, with many others available in the nursery trade as collector's items, especially in Eu

Cochineal insects on Opuntia

A commercial cactus nursery, C & J Nursery, Vista, California rope and Japan. Like orchid fanciers, many people vie to have collections of cacti with as many different species (or names) as possible. Vast numbers of plants of Echinocactus, Echinocereus, Epiphyl-lum, Gymnocalycium, Mammillaria, and Rebutia are propagated commercially in nurseries, especially in southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Cactus nurseries produce wonderful specimens in short periods of time, making the industry a profitable one. Many nurseries distribute catalogs of their current offerings as well as selling specimens locally. Several million plants are produced annually worldwide.

Supermarkets and general nurseries may also sell cacti, sometimes in neatly packaged planters. Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, for example, has several shops that sell attractive cactus planters. Weekend markets in Europe have cacti for sale because of their popularity.

Historically, cacti were collected in the wild and brought into the trade or added to one's collection. Serious conservation problems resulted from collecting wild plants, in some cases whole populations being dug out up and sold. Most New World countries now have strict laws regulating the field collecting of cacti as well as their transport across international boundaries. This is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.

Cactus and succulent clubs and societies exist throughout the world, with growers and avid collectors attending regular meetings, holding competitions to determine who has the best-grown specimens, and trading plants among friends. Most of these organizations also publish newsletters or journals that provide cactus enthusiasts with much interesting reading. Organized field trips are often conducted so that members may see and photograph cacti in the wild. These clubs and societies have also become important in conservation and research, even providing funds for scientists to carry out their research.

Cacti and other drought-resistant plants have become popular in landscaping, especially in arid regions of the southwestern United States. Plants are watered by drip irrigation, conserving water.

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