Cold-Hardy Cacti In Their Native Habitat
Our selection of succulents is extensive and includes many rare and unusual varieties from South Africa and the Americas. Cacti are simply a family, or sub-category, of succulents. Cacti are found as native plants only in the Western hemisphere.
Knowing how Cacti grow in their native habitat is a helpful step in growing them successfully in your garden. As more and more gardeners experiment with the various cold-hardy species, we can look to plant them more widely and expand their usefulness as garden plants into a much larger portion of the United States.
Although we think of cacti as being strictly low desert plants many species are found in some very cold, harsh environments. The habitats of most cold-hardy cacti are concentrated in the mountains of northern Mexico and the western United States. Additional cold-hardy species are also found in the mountains of southern-most Argentina and Patagonia. In the United States, several genera are native to the western Great Plains ranging from Oklahoma northward into Montana and the Dakotas. One species of Escobaria (also called Spiny Star Cactus) can even be found venturing into the southern edge of central Canada! The vast intermountain region is also home to numerous species. Many are found in both the mountains and the high, cold desert plateaus of this area.
The Chihuahuan desert in West Texas and southern New Mexico is also home to a treasure-trove of fascinating cold-hardy cacti. It is interesting that the cold hardiness of many species from West Texas and the Southwest exceed what we would expect. It seems that many of them retain their genetic cold hardiness from many thousands of years ago when those regions were much colder.
There are over 100 genera of cacti, but the majority of cold-hardy species are concentrated in a dozen or so. For the purposes of this article, I have defined “cold-hardy” as cold tolerance to temperatures of 0°F or lower. The most cold-hardy include Great Plains natives like Escobaria, the wide-ranging Opuntia, and mountain dwellers, such as Echinocereus and Pediocactus, which can withstand winters lows of -30°F and colder.