Cactus

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See also taxonomy of the Cactaceae

A cactus (plural: cacti, cactuses or cactus) is a member of the plant family Cactaceae. Their distinctive appearance is a result of adaptions to conserve water in dry and/or hot environments.[1][2][3] In most species, the stem has evolved to become photosynthetic and succulent, while the leaves have evolved into spines. Many species are used for ornamental plants, and some are also grown for fodder, forage, fruits, cochineal, and other uses.

Cacti come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The tallest is Pachycereus pringlei, with a maximum recorded height of 19.2 m,[4] and the smallest is Blossfeldia liliputiana, only about 1 cm in diameter at maturity.[5] Cactus flowers are large, and like the spines arise from distinctive features called areoles.

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Distribution

The cactus family is native to the Americas, where their range extends from Patagonia to southern Canada, but they are densest and most diverse in the regions of northern Mexico and the southern tropics of Argentina and Bolivia. Rhipsalis baccifera is the one exception; it is native to both the Americas and the Old World, where it is found in tropical Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka. It is thought to have colonized the Old World within the last few thousand years, probably by being carried as seeds in the digestive tracts of migratory birds. Many other species have become naturalized outside the Americas after having been introduced by people, especially in Australia, Hawaii, and the Mediterranean region. Cacti inhabit diverse regions, from coastal plains to high mountain areas, and from the sub-tropics to the deserts.

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