Where Cactus Storage Water To Survive In Deserts? Know The Mysteries

Where Cactus Storage Water To Survive In Deserts

Cacti use their spongy stem to collect water. The stem can store up to 200 gallons of water with the help of the root.

Also, the waxy coating or cuticle on the stem and leaves of cactus will prevent the water from evaporating in hot weather.

They even uses CAM photosynthesis to store their water for future uses whenever needed.

Lets learn more from this article.

How Does Cactus Store Water For Survival?

Cacti adapt different techniques to preserve water. From the swollen stems to modified leaves, they have varied strategies for soring water.

Swollen Stems

The unique feature that sets cacti apart from other plants is their thick and swollen stems. These stems are essentially water reservoirs, capable of storing significant amounts of water. Take, for instance, the Saguaro cactus.

This iconic cactus has a series of accordion-like pleats in its stem that can expand and contract based on water availability.

During periods of rain, these pleats stretch out to accommodate the influx of water.

As the water is stored within the stem’s cellular structure, it is shielded by a waxy coating known as cuticle, which prevents excessive evaporation, a crucial aspect in the desert’s scorching heat.

Modified Leaves

Cacti have evolved an ingenious way to reduce water loss through transpiration by transforming leaves into spines. In most plants, leaves are a primary site of transpiration, where water evaporates through small openings called stomata.

However, in cacti like the Barrel cactus, leaves have evolved into spines that perform multiple functions.

These spines not only deter herbivores and reduce surface area for transpiration but also provide shade to the plant’s surface, thereby reducing water loss due to intense sunlight.

This adaptation allows cacti to conserve water and thrive in water-scarce environments.

CAM Photosynthesis

Cacti have adopted a unique form of photosynthesis called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM). Unlike most plants that open their stomata during the day to take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, cacti open their stomata at night.

This nighttime opening allows cacti to capture carbon dioxide while minimizing water loss, as the cooler temperatures and higher humidity at night lead to reduced evaporation.

The carbon dioxide absorbed at night is stored as an organic acid and is then used during the day for photosynthesis.

This strategic timing of stomatal opening and carbon dioxide absorption helps cacti maintain a favorable water balance while still producing energy.

Shallow But Wide Root Systems

Cacti have developed shallow yet extensive root systems that efficiently capture water from even the slightest rainfall.

These shallow roots spread out wide, covering a large area beneath the surface. This adaptation is advantageous in arid regions where rainfall is sporadic and often doesn’t penetrate deep into the ground.

The Prickly Pear cactus is a prime example of a cactus with a broad, shallow root system that can rapidly absorb water when it’s available. The roots are capable of quickly soaking up moisture before it evaporates or percolates deeper into the soil.

Water-Storing Tissues

Within the stem and roots of cacti, specialized water-storing tissues known as parenchyma cells play a crucial role in water storage. These cells can expand and contract to accommodate varying levels of water.

The Barrel cactus, for instance, possesses a spongy tissue that expands to hold water during periods of rain.

As the stored water is utilized by the plant, these cells contract, helping the cactus gradually use its water reserves.

This dynamic ability to adjust the volume of water-storing tissues allows cacti to make the most of the available water while ensuring its efficient utilization.

How Much Water Can Cactus Store?

On average, cacti can store around 80-90% of their tissue as water. Some larger species, like the Saguaro cactus, can store up to 200 gallons of water within their roots. Other smaller species, like the Barrel cactus, may store up to several gallons of water up to 20 to 30 gallons.

However, it’s important to note that cacti do not have unlimited water storage capacity. When a cactus becomes severely dehydrated, it may deplete its stored water and start to show signs of stress or even die.

Cacti store water within specialized tissues, mainly in their stems. These tissues contain several layers that can expand and contract as they absorb and release water.

This enables cacti to store significant amounts of water to sustain themselves during extended periods of drought.

Benefits of Storing Water for Cactus

Storing water for cacti can be beneficial in certain situations, particularly in regions where water availability is limited. Here are some benefits of storing water for cacti:

Drought ToleranceAbility to endure extended periods of drought without water stress.
Reduced Watering FrequencyLonger periods between watering, suitable for water-scarce regions or during droughts.
Root ProtectionLess reliance on roots for water absorption, helpful when soil is dry and water is scarce.
Energy StorageStored water serves as a resource for growth, flowering, and other physiological processes.
Minimized CompetitionAccess to moisture even in areas with water competition, advantageous in habitats with limited water.
Larger SizeAbility to grow larger and develop extensive structures without constant water access.
Adaptation to Extreme ConditionsThriving in environments with extreme

Drought Tolerance

Cacti are adapted to survive in arid and water-scarce environments. Storing water in their tissues allows them to endure extended periods of drought without suffering from water stress.

Storing water enables cacti to survive through prolonged dry spells, which might be crucial for their overall survival, especially in desert ecosystems.

Reduced Watering Frequency

By storing water in their fleshy stems or pads, cacti can go for longer periods without needing to be watered. This is especially advantageous in regions with infrequent rainfall or in situations where regular watering is not feasible.

Root Protection

In some cacti species, water storage in stems or pads reduces the reliance on their roots for water absorption. This can be particularly helpful during dry periods when the soil might be extremely dry and water is not readily available in the root zone.

Energy Storage

Water-storing tissues also provide a source of energy for the cactus. The stored water can be used during periods of active growth and flowering, when the cactus requires additional resources.

Minimized Competition

Storing water allows cacti to access moisture even in places with intense competition for water resources. This can be an advantage in habitats where other plants struggle to survive due to water limitations.

Larger Size

Water-storing capacity allows some cacti to grow larger and develop more extensive structures without constant access to water. This can make them more visually appealing and provide better habitat and food sources for wildlife.

The ability to store water is a remarkable adaptation. So, it helps cacti thrive in environments with extreme temperature fluctuations and low humidity.

Best Cactus To Store Water

There are several cactus species that are known for their ability to store water efficiently. Here are three such cactus species:

Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

Saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, Mexico, and California. The saguaro cactus is an iconic cactus that can store large amounts of water, up to 200 gallons or 800 liters, in its expandable accordion-like trunk.

It has a shallow but extensive root system that can absorb water quickly during rainstorms. Additionally, the pleated structure of its trunk allows it to expand when water is available and shrink during droughts to conserve moisture.

Cactus SpeciesSaguaro Cactus
OriginSonoran Desert
Water StorageUp to 200 gallons
AdaptationsShallow root system

Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

The barrel cactus can collect and store water in its barrel-shaped stem, which can expand and contract to accommodate different water levels.

It has thick, waxy skin with a ribbed texture that allows it to expand when water is available and contract during droughts. Its shallow root system enables efficient absorption of rainfall.

Cactus SpeciesBarrel Cactus
OriginCentral Mexico
Water StorageBarrel-shaped stem
AdaptationsThick, waxy skin

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)

The Christmas cactus stores water in its flattened stems. It has specialized cells in its stem that can absorb and store water efficiently.

It also has a unique ability to survive in shady and moist environments.

Cactus SpeciesChristmas Cactus
OriginCoastal mountains of Brazil
Water StorageFlattened stems
AdaptationsSpecialized water-absorbing cells

How To Collect Water From cactus?

In emergency situations, cacti can be a potential water source. So, you can drink water from them. Here’s how to collect water from a cactus:

  • Choose the Right Cactus: Opt for mature, healthy cacti with plump stems, as they are more likely to have stored water.
  • Use a Tool: Use a sharp knife or other cutting tool to safely remove a section of the cactus.
  • Extract the Moisture: Squeeze or press the cut section to release the water. You can also use clothing or a container to soak up the moisture.
  • Purify the Water: While cactus water is relatively clean, it’s advisable to purify it through boiling or using water purification tablets if possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long can cacti survive without water?

The survival duration varies by species and environmental conditions. Some cacti can survive several months to a year without water.

2. Are all cacti adapted for water storage?

Most cacti have some level of water storage adaptation, but the degree varies. Some are better equipped for prolonged water scarcity.


Cacti’s remarkable ability to store water has enabled them to thrive in some of the harshest environments on Earth.

Through adaptations like swollen stems, modified leaves, and specialized metabolic processes, cacti have found innovative solutions to survive in desert landscapes.

Their water storage mechanisms allow them to endure the challenges of drought. It also contributes to their unique shapes, growth patterns, and longevity.


  • britannica.com/story/can-you-drink-water-from-a-cactus
  • sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/crassulacean-acid-metabolism#:~:text=Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) is,seasonal or intermittent water limitations.
  • nps.gov/sagu/learn/nature/saguaro_roots.htm#:~:text=The roots have special hairs,at full size%2C standing upright.

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