The Plural of Cactus: Here’s What It Is And How To Use It

Are you stuck trying to think of what the plural form of the word cactus is in the English Language? In this article you will find the answer to that plus you may want to also learn about the history, some examples of cactus in sentences, and more.

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What Is the Definition Of Cactus?

As Merriam Webster Phrases it:

  • any of a family (cactaceae, the cactus family) of plants that have succulent stems and branches with scales or spines instead of leaves and are found especially in dry areas (such as deserts)

History and Origin Of the Word

You can trace the origin of the word cactus back to 1600, the word was used to describe a Spanish artichoke. This plant is actually known as a cardoon or artichoke thistle. The cardoon stalks have been consumed in Spain and even considered a delicacy. The artichoke is spiny like other cacti but it wouldn’t look similar to our picture of a common cactus. The most common cactus that people think of are the saguaro cactus of the southwestern United States. 

It wouldn’t be until 1769 that the plant we know as a cactus would get their name. Linnaeus gave the name cactus to the spiky plants he found in America, thinking that it resembled the Spanish cardoon/artichoke thistle. 

Is Cacti the Acceptable Plural Of Cactus?

Even though the word cactus was formed in recent years (at least in comparison to other words) it still has a Latin root. Everyone knows that Latin is a dead language but because of the story outlined above of Linnaeus naming the cactus after the cardoon and cardoon is a Latin based root word, cactus gets the same root. 

So (one of) the plural form of cactus is cacti, following the Latin root and rules for making Latin words plural. There is however an alternative more modern American English plural form of cactus as well. This is similar to the english word octopus. The plural of octopus is octopi. 

Is It Correct to Say Cactuses?

Yes, it is correct to say cactuses. There seems to be arguments online on whether or not cactuses is correct and an air around the people thinking that they are better than other people who would say cactuses instead of their Latin plural form cacti. 

It has a more scholarly sound to it, being from a Latin root, it only makes sense, which does tend to work better in the academic context of writing. Some teachers online are even trying to argue that cactuses isn’t a word and that they would take off points as an English professor if someone used it on a paper. 

Unlike some other words with both a Latin plural form and American English derived plural form, cacti (the Latin plural form) by and large is more commonly used. Native speakers and English speakers are more prone to think cactuses based on English rules of making plural nouns, but the scholars who argue about Latin root words seem to have snuffed out those who stick closer to American English rules rather than Latin.

Synonyms

  • Cacti – Latin plural form of cactus
  • Prickly plant – covered with thin sharp points, plant with prickly leaves
  • Peyote – scientific botanists name Lophophora williamsii, small spineless cactus with psychoactive alkaloids
  • Succulent – juicy, a succulent plant, rich in desirable qualities, fleshy juicy tissue
  • Cactuses – English plural form of cactus
  • Bristle – short stiff hair, typically one of those on an animal’s skin, a man’s face or a plant
  • Prickle – short, slender-pointed outgrowth on the bark or epidermis of a plant; a small thorn. A tingling sensation on someone’s skin, typically caused by strong emotion
  • Thorn – a stiff, sharp-pointed, straight or curved woody projection on the stem or other part of a plant
  • Nopal – a cactus which is a major food plant of the bugs from which cochineal is obtained
  • Desert plant – names of plants found in the desert
  • Spike – a thin, pointed object
  • Peyote buttons – the crown or top of peyote cactus, looks like a button, used as a psychoactive drug
  • Agave – succulent plant with rosettes of narrow spiny leaves and tall flower spikes, native to the southern US and tropical America
  • Perennial – lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time, a plant living for several years

Example Sentences of the Word in Context

  • The camel’s rotating chew distributes pressure from the cactus and the papillae slide the needles vertically down the throat. This way, the sharp ends don’t poke the camel as it ingests them. – National Geographic
  • Researchers from the University of Valle de Atemajac in Zapopan, Mexico have created a biodegradable plastic from the juice of the prickly pear cactus. – Forbes
  • If it can survive in the desert, it can certainly survive in your apartment. Cacti are among the most low-maintenance, best indoor plants. They don’t require a great deal of watering and can be left alone for a few days if you plan on going away for the weekend. Simply place them in front of a window to make sure they get plenty of sunlight, and don’t repeat waterings until the water has completely dried out from the pot. – Forbes
  • Cacti are one of my favorite types of plants and their needles certainly make them stand out. The needles that cover cacti are critical to their survival in many ways. Many cacti are found in dry habitats, so in order to survive, these plants have to store a lot of water. In fact, scientists estimate that 90-94% of a cactus plant is made up of water. Because of the high water content of cacti, these plants are great snacks for thirsty organisms. In the wild, animals that eat cacti include: quail, kangaroo rats, sheep, desert tortoises and also many insects. So, one reason for why cacti have needles is to prevent thirsty or hungry animals from eating or damaging the plant. – USA Today
  • When the first heat arrives, prickly pear cactus burst into the exuberant flowering of all. Everyone knows this group of cactus that is without question the largest and most easily recognized due to the shape of the stems. – USA Today
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