What is etiolation in cacti?
In essence, etiolation happens when there is no sunlight. Etiolation is a form of adaptation for plants, it’s an adaptation mechanism that is survival strategy in situation of inadequate lighting.
If a barrel cactus doesn’t have enough illumination, it attempts to expand in search of more light. This creates an abnormal growth which tends to be more rounded or tangled which causes it to lose it’s “natural” shape.
Although etiolation doesn’t cause fatality in and of itself, it should be addressed promptly, not only for its aesthetics but to ensure the well-being of the plant. Lack of lighting for a long time reduces the strength of barrel cacti and makes them more prone to issues that are more prevalent in succulents and Cacti.
Causes of etiolation in cacti
As we explained earlier, etiolation is caused, fundamentally, by insufficient lighting. However, there are other points that you must take into account and that we explain below.
Lack of indoor lighting
Barrel Cacti are mainly plants that have the need for a lot of light. So, it’s normal that when they’re grown in indoor environments, they can become affected by etiolating. Because they don’t get enough sunlight, the Cacti start to grow to find more favorable conditions. They also, consequently, change their shape.
It is therefore crucial when bringing succulents and cacti into the indoor environment, to understand their requirements regarding lighting and to ensure they are in a spot with enough lighting.
Lighting from one direction
The amount of light, however, is also how it is directed by the light because if there is only one source of light it will try to lean toward that spot. As an example, if the cactus is close to the window and is positioned near a window, it will lean toward it in order to get more light. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, the plants need to be rotated on a regular basis.
If your cacti are growing near windows, you can rotate the pots around on their own axis at times of time. For instance, you could rotate them slightly every when you fill them with water. So, they won’t tilt towards the light source, and they retain their shape.
lack of hibernation
Etiolation is also a frequent issue when cacti don’t go into hibernation or torpor. Cacti typically, however, do not always hibernate in winter when the duration of the day is shorter, there is less sunlight and temperatures are lower.
If the cacti fail to enter dormancy, they will strive to grow even more in this unfavorable environment and may be affected by etiolation. This is why it is essential to observe the lethargy period and make it necessary for the cacti to go into hibernation.
To trigger hibernation, you need to:
- Avoid fertilizing your cacti.
- Let your cacti be exposed to low temperatures.
- Reduce the amount of water drink.
In Atipicas we’re located situated in northern Europe therefore, between October to November, when temperatures begin to fall the temperature, we trigger these changes in order to cause Cacti to go into hibernation. Some species of cacti don’t get any irrigation from December to March or April.
Signs of etiolation in cacti
we are going to explain in detail 8 unequivocal signs of etiolation in cacti that will help you identify it without any problem.
1. Color loss
This is among the first signs of etiolation. Because of the lack of light, cacti are unable to create chlorophyll which is the substance that plays a role in green pigmentation vital to photosynthesis. Thus, the cacti which don’t receive sufficient light will have a less green color, and even they appear yellowish or whitish.
2. Leaning to one side
This is also usually an indication of the onset of etiolation. If a cactus tilts toward the light source, it’s because it requires more light. We’ve already explained that if the light comes from only one direction it is important to turn the plant around so that it gets the light from all directions and does not lean toward the same direction.
3. Growth in the form of a spike
A variety of species of cacti possess an elongated shape at the base. However, when they are affected by etiolation, the shape of their growth changes, and instead of being round it becomes pointed and sometimes even it becomes pyramidal.
4. Very fast and thin growth
the etiolation process is an adaptation and survival strategy in the face of light shortage. The cacti, recognizing that they don’t receive sufficient light, strive to expand quickly in order to get to the light source. However, this growth is not normal. Being so rapid, the cactus is trying to lengthen as fast as it can towards the light source. The result is a smaller or wider development.
5. Elongated and thin segments
In cacti that grow in sections, such as barrel cactus or other jungle cacti the signs of etiolation are segments getting smaller or thinner. And if the etiolation has progressed at an extreme level it could be that the segment will be not able to support new growth.
6. Malformations in the spines
Another indication of etiolation in Cacti is that their spines increase in size as they expand in space. They can shrink, become thinner, or even thinner, and could even disappear altogether.
7. Absence of flowering
The absence of blooms is also an indication of etiolation and poor lighting, and inadequate hibernation. Flowering takes a lot of energy from cacti. Therefore, they require adequate light to bloom.
It is important to understand that the absence of flowers doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem with the lighting or that there is the result of etiolation. It is normal for young plants don’t bloom However, what is not normal is that a mature plant that has sufficient nutrients and water supply doesn’t bloom for years.
8. Weak and brittle appearance
In general, etiolated plants are brittle, weak, and sickly appearance. Additionally, if the cactus is exposed to inadequate lighting, and then gets the proper lighting, it will begin to grow normally, but then become thinner before becoming normal.
This is the reason certain cacti can have a curved shape such as a guitar or zigzag. This isn’t normal and shows that the cactus went through periods of erosion.
How to prevent etiolation in cacti
Taking into account that etiolation in cacti is caused by insufficient lighting, logically, the way to prevent it is to offer adequate lighting for the cactus.
1. Know the species
It is essential to determine the species in order to understand the requirements of each species and, in addition, be aware of the lighting requirements of your house or where the cacti are going to be. So, you can ensure that your cacti get enough illumination and won’t suffer from the symptoms of etiolation.
2. Pay attention to signs
It is important to pay close attention at the look of your cactus plant to observe the early signs of etiolation. Then, you can fix the issue in time. Be attentive to your plants and take action whenever you detect warning signs.
3. Induce and respect hibernation
Encourage sleep or hibernation whenever it is necessary and observe it. Don’t fertilize during the dormancy period or use water often during this period.
How to “fix” an etiolated cactus
Unfortunately, the abnormal growth that is caused by etiolation cannot be reversible. This is why as we have mentioned earlier the cactus may be shaped like an hourglass, which is a sign that it has gone through periods of normal growth as well as other stages of the process of etiolation.
How to “fix” a cactus is to follow our recommendations or our recommendations.
1. Provide adequate lighting
Place your cactus in an area that receives more sunlight. Remember that this change must be gradual, if you switch from low to high light, a cactus is likely to suffer from sunburn.
We suggest taking a gradual approach to change. For instance, increase the amount of sunlight exposure by half an hour every day until the Cactus adjusts to the new light conditions.
2. Induce hibernation
If you observe etiolation when the cactus should be in a resting state, it induces hibernation. For this you must:
- significantly reduce the frequency of irrigation,
- do not fertilize and
- expose your cacti to low temperatures.
3. Prune your cactus
If you find that your cactus isn’t going to in overcoming etiolation when the etiolated growth appears fragile and in a position to support the additional growth on top, then the best choice is to trim your cactus .
To understand how to prune the cactus, you need to remove the area that is growing abnormally. The cactus will be encouraged to grow at least two suckers immediately after the cutting. Cuttings cut off can also serve as a source of reproduction. With the right treatment, they will develop into healthy plants.