Your Guide to Buying Cactus Plants

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Your Guide to Buying Cactus Plants

While the climate of the United Kingdom is far from an arid desert such as Mexico or the southwestern United States, growing the signature plant of those regions, the cactus plant, is actually quite possible. However, before going out to buy a cactus plant it is important to understand what a cactus is as well as the two major types of cacti available. There is also a quite specific way to grow a cactus plant in the United Kingdom.


Defining a Cactus

Before moving much further, it is important to define a cactus botanically and horticulturally. A cactus, plural cacti, is a type of succulent plant or succulent, also called a fat plant. They derive this name from the fact that all succulents store water in thickened, fleshy leaves or stems. This characteristic allows cacti and succulents to live in arid regions that lack steady or predictable rainfall as well as survive in depleted soil.


Cacti vs. Succulents

While all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. Therefore, it is important to understand the predominant characteristics of cacti which distinguish them from other succulents, displayed in the table below:




Other Succulents


Native to the Americas only

Found worldwide

Areoles or spine cushions


Not present


No leaves

May or may not have leaves


Knowing what to look for when searching for a cactus is therefore the first step in purchasing the plant. It is also important to know the names of common succulent plants which are not cacti, including aloe, agave, yucca, and Stapelia.


Desert Cactus vs. Forest Cactus

In addition to differentiating a cactus from other succulents, it is also necessary to understand the type of cacti available. Broadly, this divides into two main categories: desert cactus and forest cactus. The desert cactus is the most common type known for its large, obvious thorns and beautiful, intricate flowers. When most people use the term 'cactus', they mean a desert cactus. The forest cactus is a bit less common and includes those cacti which grow in tropical and subtropical regions. These cacti are 'climbing' plants which cling to other trees when in the wild. This group includes the popular Christmas cactus.


Where to Grow a Cactus Plant

Regardless of the type of cactus you decide to purchase, it is important to note how to properly care for this unique plant in the climate of the United Kingdom. All outdoor cacti are natives of the Americas, but they make simple, easy-to-care-for indoor plants. In fact, the British Cactus and Succulent Society dedicates itself to the cultivation of indoor cacti within the United Kingdom. The group suggests that horticulturalists place their plants in low humidity areas with plenty of adequate sunlight, and specifically suggests windowsills with southerly aspects.

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