Which Entire Family Of Plants, Save For A Sole Exception, Is Only Indigenous To The Americas?
The cacti family is best known by the massive and iconic members in its ranks, like the Carnegiea gigantea or “saguaro” cactus, seen here and known around the world thanks to its many appearances in old Western films. But the cacti family is incredibly diverse. There are 1750 known cacti species ranging in size from the towering saguaro cactus all the way down to the tiny globe-shaped Blossfeldia liliputana—a species so small, its mature size is measured not in the tens of meters like the saguaro, but in millimeters.
While the diversity of the cacti family is fascinating in and of itself, their distribution is equally fascinating. You’ll find cacti in a vast array of shapes, sizes, spine configurations, flower colors, and all highly specialized to survive in their native environments. Of all the 1750 known species of cacti, all but one are found only in the Americas. 1749 species of cacti are found only in North, South, and Central America, with the heaviest concentrations located in the deserts of the southwestern United States/northwestern Mexico, the southwestern Andes (in parts of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina), and eastern Brazil.
Outside of the Americas, the only native species you’ll find anywhere else in the world is the Rhipsalis baccifera, a shrub-like cactus commonly known as the “mistletoe cactus” due to its mistletoe-like berries. Found throughout the tropics of Africa and into Sri Lanka, the species is believed to have originated in South America and, by way of migratory birds eating the aforementioned berries, been introduced to Africa long ago.