Even though cactus plants can be found thriving all around the globe, most people imagine them to only grow in harsh desert climates.

The truth is cacti have evolved to survive in a variety of hostile environments.

But what about the opposite of a desert – a place where direct sunlight is limited but there’s an abundance of water and humidity.

Will A Cactus Survive In The Rainforest?

A woman looking for cactus plants in the rainforest

Yes, some cactus plants have adapted to survive in the rainforest. These rainforest cacti are usually found growing in the canopy as epiphytes.

But unlike more traditional desert-dwelling cacti, these plants lack sharp spines and instead feature elongated leaves that soak up the light and water.

These jungle cacti are quite the opposite and actually require a lot of water and humidity, allowing them to not just survive in the rainforest, but flourish.

Let’s dig a little deeper and find out how these unique cactus plants can survive in a rainforest environment.

Related Article: Is A Cactus A Vegetable? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

What Would Happen If You Put A Cactus In The Rainforest?

If you were thinking about putting a cactus in the rainforest, you are most likely thinking of transplanting a cactus from its native region to another.

In this case, you’re likely thinking of putting some sort of desert, mountain, or coastal cactus in the rainforest.

If you were to put these cacti in the rainforest, they would rot and eventually die due to the excess moisture in the air and soil.

Adeptly named “rainforest,” these environments see extreme amounts of rainfall and water.

What Would Happen If You Put A Desert, Mountain, Or Coastal Cacti In The Rainforest?

The most common form of cacti is the desert cactus.

This cactus grows in extremely dry environments, such as the Sonoran Desert in the US.

Though deserts see rainfall, they are much drier than other regions, forcing the native plants and wildlife to adapt.

As a result, the desert cactus can hold on to a lot of water at one time so that it survives the dry seasons.

Since desert cacti have evolved to handle some of the driest environments on earth, they would certainly die very quickly in a rainforest.

They would absorb too much water, causing them to rot and die.  
Mountain and coastal cacti may take a bit longer to rot and die, but they would come to the same fate.

Even though mountain and coastal cacti can handle more water than the desert cacti, they still require much less water than rainforests provide.

Despite living next to large bodies of water, coastal cacti cannot handle large amounts of fresh water.

Because they live in areas with high amounts of salty conditions, they did not evolve to handle large amounts of fresh water, which falls in abundance in rainforests.

Can Any Type Of Cactus Live In The Rainforest?

Yes. Even though desert, mountain, and coastal cacti cannot survive in the rainforest, jungle cacti can.

In fact, there are different types of jungle cacti found native to the tropical rainforests in Central America, parts of Asia, and Brazil.

These cacti are very different from their other relatives because they are specifically designed to handle large amounts of rainfall.

Whenever you find jungle cacti, they are typically either lithophytic or epiphytic.

Lithophytic means that they grow on rocks, whereas epiphytic means they grow on other plants and trees.

In both cases, they are not parasitic.

Instead, they use the rocks and trees for support, not nutrients.

Part of the reason that jungle cacti can survive in the rainforest is that most of their nutrients come from the air and dead leaves around them.

As a result, they can handle large amounts of water, whereas many other cactus types can not.

Because jungle cacti are native to rainforest environments, it makes sense that they thrive in high water and dense conditions.

If you were to transplant these cacti to desert, mountainous, or coastal regions, however, they would die very quickly from lack of water.

Can A Cactus Grow In A Hilly Region?

Yes, there are quite a few species of cactus which thrive in hilly regions and at high altitude.

These hilly regions and mountainous areas where cacti live are usually located in North or South America in states like Arizona and countries like Ecuador.

For example, the mountain ball cactus grows at high elevation and can be found throughout the mountains of the west and southwest United States.

Where Do Cacti Grow Best?

Cacti grow best wherever they have evolved to grow.

Cactus plants that grow in the desert thrive in that environment because they have evolved to store water that can be used during times of drought.

Likewise, cacti that have evolved to survive in rainforests grow best in that environment because they can handle excess water and can effectively take nutrients from the air and dead organic matter around them.

If you were to put a desert cactus in the rainforest or visa versa, the plants would soon die because they have not evolved to survive in that environment.

Final Thoughts

Most cacti will not survive in the rainforest – unless they have evolved to.

More specifically, desert, mountain, and coastal cacti will rot and die whenever you put them in the incredibly moist and dense environment common to a rainforest.

Jungle cacti, however, are found naturally in rainforests, allowing them to thrive in the same condition.

Looking at these four types of cacti, it’s clear that cacti are incredibly strong-willed and able to adapt to just about any climate.

Ranging from dry deserts to moist rainforests, you can find cacti everywhere, though you can’t necessarily transplant cacti found in one region to another.