Cacti are among one of the oldest forms of life on earth, and they have evolved over millions of years into many different varieties with diverse properties. The most common variety is the giant barrel-shaped saguaro which can grow up to 20 feet tall and stretch out as wide as 50 feet. Other types include ice or snow melons (caragana), century plants (cereus giganteus) that tower above all other desert vegetation, mescal beans (mexicana mutabilis), cholla buds, and even a few trees like the yucca.
All these unique plant species were developed by natural selection in response to climate conditions and local availability of water, nutrients, sunlight, etc., but there’s no doubt their appearance has been influenced by humans who’ve hunted them for food and built homes near where they grew.
Is cactus a fruit?
The answer to this common, yet perplexing, question is no. A cactus is not technically a fruit because it does not contain seeds and ripen into something that resembles its fleshy counterpart.
Its true botanical name is Cactaceae which means “cactus family.” The word ‘family’ is important here since there are more than one hundred thousand species of plants in this group all with different characteristics. Most people will know about either saguaro or cholla cactus but have probably never heard of prickly pears (Opuntia), tumbleweeds (Echinacea), or Ice Plant (Mesembryanthemum).
Each has its own unique appearance, taste, and uses. Some grow wild while others thrive as ornamentals. All are native to North America although some are now considered exotic. Like any other category of food we eat every day, there is debate over whether certain foods should be classified as fruits or vegetables.
As you’ll see from our discussion below, many factors come into play when deciding what kind of classification these things belong under. In addition to having distinct physical features, they also differ in chemical composition. One way scientists use to determine if something qualifies as a vegetable or fruit is by looking at how it matures.
This is called physiognomy. By examining the structure of each part during development, scientists can tell where it gets its nutrients. If it develops after pollination then it’s likely a vegetable; if it grows before flowering then it’s most like a fruit. For example, bell peppers do well on vines so they’re usually grown vertically. They receive water through capillary action but don’t require soil. When ripe, they fall off the vine and become edible. But green beans need dirt to develop properly – without it, they wither up. Since a pepper doesn’t produce flowers until later, it must get its energy elsewhere such as sugar stored within its seed pod.
Scientists classify bell peppers as a vegetable even though they look like fruits because they store carbohydrates instead of sugars. Carrots are another interesting case. While they share the same root system as parsnips, carrots store starch rather than sugar. Parsley stores glucose for photosynthesis but nothing else.
Vegetables often have leaves whereas fruits tend to lack them entirely. So why would anyone want to eat an apple knowing that it lacks foliage? Its skin was once a leaf! Apples, oranges, bananas, and peaches are examples of fruits with thin skins. Berries are generally low-growing shrubs whereas grapes are tall trees.
Fruits have softer textures than veggies due to higher levels of soluble solids. Soluble fiber makes us feel full longer and slows digestion. Fruit acids help break down starches. However, fruit enzymes aren’t able to convert all of those complex carbs into glucose as efficiently as digestive juices can.
Therefore, fruits are digested slower and less efficiently. That’s why eating a whole orange feels filling compared to just drinking orange juice. We could argue about whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables based upon their ability to reproduce sexually. Botanists consider them both.