Skip to Content

Cactus Roots Are Bigger and More Complex Than You’d Imagine

Cactus Roots Are Bigger and More Complex Than You’d Imagine

Share this post:

Disclaimer: Some links found on this page might be affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, I might earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Chances are that you may not realize it until you are actively caring for plants on your own, but there is actually quite a bit involved in the finest details of gardening.

Not only do you have to make sure that plants get the right amount of light, shade, water, and nutrients from the soil, but you often need to make sure that they are in good health too.

Making sure that your plants are in good health can be difficult when you are not familiar with how a plant should look, which is one of the many reasons why it is important for people to learn about their plants before they invest in them.

Take the cactus as an example. It is often hailed as one of the easiest kinds of plants to care for, especially considering that they can go without water for long stretches of time.

However, if you are not entirely sure how a cactus should look underneath all of the soil, you might not know if there is something going on with the plant’s health. For that matter, you may not even know if cacti have roots in the first place.

All plants have roots that take form in one way or another, and cacti are not exclusive to this. Their roots are simply a little bit different than what you would typically imagine, but this is because cacti have evolved from living in dry, arid environments.

Rather than building long, intricate systems with roots, cacti roots are actually quite distinct.

What Do Cacti Roots Look Like?

As you begin to look into the idea of cacti having roots of their own, you will probably want to get a good idea of what those roots look like. Typically, a cactus will have two types of roots, although there are some roots that are exclusive to certain variants of cactus.

Traditional cacti will have both taproots and lateral roots. Taproots are going to be one of the strongest roots of the cacti plant, and their job is to anchor the cactus and to tap much deeper below the surface than most roots normally do.

This trait is a reminder of how cacti have evolved over time. They are most prominent in the iconic column cacti that are associated with deserts.

Lateral roots can be considered a supportive type of root that goes along with the taproot, although some variants of cacti will only have lateral roots. These roots function much more along the lines of standard roots that you would come across for any plant, with variations on thickness and intricacy of the web of roots.

These roots, due to the nature of a cactus’s environment, can be incredibly massive, with a six-inch cactus having a six-foot root system. These root systems tend to be wider than they are deep, and with the six-inch cactus, that six-foot root system remains only a little more than three inches under the surface.

Specialized Roots

The above roots are going to be the standard for roots when it comes to cacti both large and small. Most cacti will have either one or the other type of root, although there are a fair few that can have both, depending on the environment of the cactus.

With that being said, there are some roots that are specialized for specific variants of cacti, where taproots and lateral root systems are not as good for the plant’s needs.

The two kinds of specialized root systems are known as succulent roots and aerial roots. As the name might suggest, succulent roots tend to be more prominent in cacti that are close to the succulent family of plants.

Likewise, aerial roots can be seen above ground, rather than traditionally underground like most root systems are.

Succulent roots do not always have to be located on succulent plants though. These root systems differ from most others in the fact that they not only transport nutrients to the bulk of the cactus plant, but they can also act as long-term storage for food and water.

For cacti in the desert, where food and water is incredibly scarce, this long-term storage can be vital to allowing the plant to live.

Because these roots tend to store a considerable amount of nutrients and water, they tend to be incredibly heavy. This is noticeable when you decide to dig up a cactus that has a succulent root system.

Most succulent root systems can weigh anywhere between an extra five pounds all the way to an additional 60 pounds depending on how intricate the roots are and just how much storage the roots have amassed.

On the other hand, there are aerial roots. These root systems have an appearance similar to branches on a tree, and they can occasionally be known as adventitious root systems.

These roots can be found on the sides of most applicable cacti and can help very young cacti stems anchor to a guide in the same way squash vines will grip nearby surfaces when growing.

More often than not, aerial root systems are used in conjunction with other rooting systems that can be found below the ground, so if something happens to the cactus and it appears as if a root has fallen off, you will not have to fear as much for the cactus’ safety.

Aerial root systems are also used when the climate includes very little rainfall for the underground root systems to use to gather water, but are more commonly used when it is humid so that the cactus can still get its water as necessary.

What Makes Cacti Roots Different From Other Plants?

Cactus roots differ immensely from other plants that you might come across, and this is due to the nature of cacti as plants. Traditionally, cacti can be found in incredibly dry and otherwise considered uninhabitable locations.

In areas that get only an inch of rainfall in a good year, the cactus is going to have to form some way to collect and utilize the meager amount of resources that there are.

One of the most prominent differences between cacti roots and other plants is the sheer size and scale of the root systems. Regardless of if you have a lateral root system that spreads six feet around the base of a six-inch plant or if you have a succulent root that weighs 50 pounds, it can go without saying that these are remarkable sizes for root systems.

If most plants that you can purchase at the garden center had features like this, you could imagine just how few plants there would be to purchase because of this kind of upkeep.

Cacti that are found naturally in the desert are going to have expansive and intricate rooting systems that search out for the nearest form of water and allow for the 10-foot-tall pillar cacti to thrive in the otherwise uninhabitable desert.

Some certain types of roots that a cactus can have can also be quite different from most other roots that you would find. As mentioned earlier, the type of root that is going to be most similar to what you imagine when you hear the word “root” is going to be the lateral root system.

When you think about the comparison between lateral root systems and what you might find in other plants, the lateral root system might be considerably more condensed and closer to the surface, the idea remains the same of having roots branch out as far as they need to go, often in a web-like pattern.

Some types of cacti, typically the most well-known variants of them, are going to have some of the largest and richest root systems out there. For instance, the most widely noticed cactus, the saguaro, is known to produce root systems that breach the 50-foot depth of any building permit.

Other types of roots, such as aerial roots, are pretty noticeable when you know what to look for. Unless you are someone who lives in the desert or if you know someone who is an avid gardener, you are likely not that familiar with a cactus’ spikes.

This means that there may have been a time where you saw the thorns of a cacti and mistook them for an aerial root. Surprisingly enough, some types of aerial roots can even be pink.

These are just a few of the different ideas and knowledge to consider when you are thinking about teaching your children about gardening and taking care of plants. Knowing that plants are more than just a stationary pet can make caring for the plants far more fun than it otherwise would be.

By choosing to make sure that you do some good research on what exactly makes cacti and cacti roots different from the rest of the root systems that you might find outside, you can strengthen your knowledge of how raising and caring for a cactus works.

If you want to learn more about one of the most widely liked home decoration pieces, understanding what you can do for your cactus is going to do you extremely well in the future.

Share this post: