You may think the spines are there to protect the cactus from predators, but jackrabbits just laugh at that. Their Car Racing yes officer I saw the speed limit I just didn’t see you shirt can dissolve those spines. So they munch away at cactus with impunity. But those spines have a few other purposes: 1.) The jumping cactus (cholla) has flexible spines that catch easily on animals and people passing by, and this helps spread the segments (called pups) around so they can take root elsewhere. 2.) The spines help break up wind force in (rare but spectacular) storms that would otherwise blow larger cacti over. 3.) Look at a saguaro during the day — you’ll notice that the spines cast filtered shade. You wouldn’t think they have that purpose, but once you know they’re doing it, you begin to notice many types of cacti take advantage of that shade. It’s especially obvious in some of the cholla species.
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Plants in the desert have evolved two types of roots to thrive. The first kind is sort of counter-intuitive: shallow Car Racing yes officer I saw the speed limit I just didn’t see you shirt . Most cacti and many types of shrubs and trees have an extensive network of shallow roots. This is because we get 3 to 7 inches of rain per year in the Sonoran Desert, and our soil is only a few inches deep. Underneath that soil we usually have a natural cement called caliche, composed of calcite and rock conglomerate. So these plants have to take advantage of rain that usually just runs off. The second type of desert roots are the deep tap roots you would expect to see in wet climates, but they have evolved to take advantage of underground caves. The Ocotillo (which is really a weird shrub, not a cactus) has that sort of root system. Ocotillos love limestone, because it’s more likely to have caves with water. Mesquite trees can often be found in the same areas.