Due to cold winter temperatures, there are very few cacti that are indigenous to the Great Basin Desert. Nevertheless, we have found several cold hardy cacti that can endure the prolonged frosts and freezes of northern Nevada, including Prickly Pear (Opuntia acicularis and O. engelmannii), Santa Rita (Opuntia violaceae), Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii), Silver Cholla (Opuntia echinocarpa), Beavertail (Opuntia basilaris), and several types of Hedge Hog. All our cacti are grown outdoors, hardened for the harsh conditions of the northern Nevada bioregion. Come into our shop and see our selection.
At first glance it is quite difficult to see what it is that distinguishes a cactus from any other type of succulent, for all cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. In fact, the definition for classification is complex and minute. If you were to pose this question to a botanist, they would probably direct your attention to the one feature that makes a cactus a cactus: areoles. Areoles are small areas from which tiny, hair-like bristles grow. Spines also grow from areoles, but spines are not the defining feature of cacti since many succulents that are not cacti also have spines.
For more practical purposes, cacti are more defined by their incredible ability to store and retain water when there is no water to be found. For our area, a cold-hardy cactus -- like the beautiful Hedge Hog, Cholla or the classic Beavertail -- is much more likely to endure the hot, rainless summer than any other type of succulent, including Agaves and Sedum. And many desert gardeners would agree that there are few events as exciting as a flowering cactus. Some even bloom at night. Truly, many cactus flowers rival even the orchid!
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Cacti are famous for their fantastic features, especially their brilliant, amazingly beautiful flowers, and of course, their drought tolerance and ease of care. What seems strange to many newcomers to our area is that most cacti you find in the mega-wareshouse gardening stores will not survive if planted out-of-doors. Most of these hot house specimens are not cold-hardy, so they won't pull through the winter, but perhaps even more surprising is that many of them burn in full sun! A large number of these plants are not actually cacti at all; they are "Spurges" which is another name for the Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae), originating from the Eastern hemisphere, including areas of southern Europe, the Mediterranean and the African continent. That they look so similar to real cacti is one of the horticultural wonders of parallel evolution. But don't be fooled. The majority of these plants will die if planted outside in the high desert.
There are over ten different, real cacti (Cactaceae) that are cold-hardy for our area. Come into our shop and see what we have in stock. And if you are indeed looking for Euphorbias tested for our local growing zones, visit our web page dedicated to Euphorbias.
There are several types of succulents that make great companion plants for your garden and landscaping plans. And remember, most succulents (including cacti) do very well in containers. Visit our page on Succulents, or choose specific plant types below:
Also: Euphorbia and More on Cacti and Succulents.