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Life cycle of a cactus

Updated February 21, 2017

Cacti are angiosperms. Although cacti grow slowly, their life cycles are the same as for any other flowering plant. Cacti reproduce sexually through flower and seed production, or asexually by the fragmentation and rooting of stems.

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Cactus seeds are often distributed by birds, which are attracted to the fruit. Germination occurs in the presence of sufficient water and warm temperatures.

Vegetative Growth

After seed germination it can take several months for the basic barrel shape of the cactus seedling to become visible. It takes five to 10 years for small species to reach flowering size.


If there has been sufficient rainfall, flowering occurs in most species during the spring, once temperatures are warm enough.


Most cacti are self-sterile, requiring pollen from a different individual plant. Depending on the cactus species, bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths, birds and bats can pollinate cactus flowers.

Fruit Formation

Cactus fruits are seed-filled berries. They form at the base of the flowers and are often brightly coloured and sweet to attract birds.

Forced Flowering

In cultivation, cactus plants can sometimes be induced to flower by keeping them in a dark place for up to six weeks and then providing light and water.

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About the Author

Philip McIntosh

Philip McIntosh has more than 30 years of experience as an equipment engineer, scientific investigator and educator. He has been writing for 16 years, and his work has appeared in scientific journals, popular science magazines, trade journals and on science and technology websites. McIntosh holds a B.S. in botany and chemistry, and an M.A. in biological science.

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