Cactus Corking: What Is It, How To Identify It & What To Do About It

By | Updated on November 15, 2023

Cactus corking is a natural phenomenon that can be seen in cacti of all shapes and sizes.

It is characterized by the change in color and texture of a cactus and is often easy to confuse with rot or sunburn.

In this article, we will discuss cactus corking and how to identify it, as well as what you can do about it if you notice that your plant is starting to show signs of corking.

What Is Cactus Corking?

Cactus corking is a natural aging process of cacti that eventually alters the plant’s appearance.

It’s essential to know corking is not an illness or pest damage. It is instead a natural process of growth of cacti.

The corking process is characterized by a change in the color and texture of cacti.

The cactus will turn from its natural green to brown or gray with bumps on it that are often rough to the touch.

Corking can be identified when cacti lose their jagged edges and spines. They appear smooth like sandpaper because of how much flesh has been worn away by time’s passage and wind-blown sands.

Cactus corking occurs naturally as cacti grow older. Unfortunately, corking doesn’t have any warning signs, which is why it’s often a surprise when cacti are affected.

Corking will not cause the death of cacti plants. 

Corking is just one more sign that your plant has matured in its natural life cycle, so don’t worry if you notice this process on your own or someone else’s plant!

What Causes Corking on Cactus?

A cactus will naturally cork over time to provide support and stability to the cacti.

The corking process is characterized by a change in the color and texture of cacti. This is because the outer layers are oxidized while the inner cells retain their normal chlorophyll-based colors.

Corking comes from an accumulation of suberin on both sides of the cactus spine or ribs, which form calluses over time. This helps provide stability to cacti that grow vertically up instead of horizontally outwards.

Cactus corks can be triggered by stress, such as transplantation, exposure to cold temperatures, and drought during periods with low rainfall due to less moisture supply for plants.

This stress will trigger cork production at points where it’s needed most – near joints and bends where there is more movement than other parts of the plant.

How Do I Know If My Cactus Is Corking?

A corking cactus may change from a healthy green to brown, corky, or crispy.

It will also lose its spines and have an appearance similar to that of cacti dehydrated by the sun and dried out in places.

The main characteristics of a corking cactus are:

  • An appearance similar to cacti that have been sun-dried
  • Changes in color, such as browning or drying up and losing its spines
  • Corking will typically occur at the base, but it may also be seen in other areas
  • A cactus may also develop a sunken look on its surface
  • The cactus may develop a potato shape or look like it is shrinking
  • Affected areas will feel firm to the touch rather than spongy
  • The cactus may have an appearance similar to an old, dried-up cactus.

A corked cactus will typically cork at its base. However, it may also be seen on other cactus areas and sometimes even in the middle. 

When touched, affected regions feel firm instead of spongy, which is different from how healthy plants respond when poked by fingers. 

The coloration change for corked plants is usually brownish or drying out while losing their spines as well.

Corking vs. Rotting

Cactus corking is often mistaken for cacti rot. Rotting is characterized by the cactus collapsing in on itself.

The outer skin of a cactus will dry up and crack, allowing insects to get inside the cacti, which then causes it to become wet and slimy due to growths called mycelium.

When a cactus plant suffers from root rot, its corky exterior will be well-defined. In addition, the cactus may have a slimy or moist center that emits an unpleasant smell.

Corking has less apparent symptoms, such as yellowish or brown striations. However, corked cacti can be identified more easily than rotting ones because they are firm when touching them.

Corked plants also lack any smell associated with root rot.

Corking vs. Pest Infestation

Cactus corking is not the same thing as a pest infestation. The texture of cacti that have been corked will be dry, and the color changes from green to brown, black, or dark tan, depending on how long it was corked for.

A common misconception is that cactus plants are being eaten by bugs when, in fact, they have just undergone corking.

A mealybug infestation, spider mites, or fungus gnats are found more often in cacti. These pests will be visibly present on the cactus plant. Their tell-tale signs can quickly identify them:

How Do I Stop My Cactus From Corking?

It is difficult to stop the corking process once it has started because corking occurs deep inside the plant’s body and cannot be seen from the outside.

Once damage begins on the surface layer, however, you need to cut off this area for corking to stop.

However, there are some things you can do to slow down or prevent corking before it starts.

  • Be careful with watering frequency. Allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
  • Move the cactus to an alternate location if the soil is poorly draining or waterlogged. 
  • Rotate cacti every few days to prevent them from getting too much sun exposure.
  • Position it in a sufficiently illuminated space, ensuring it receives ample indirect light. Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight as this may lead to sunburn for the cactus.
  • Keep plants out of drafty areas or near heating vents which could cause drying in their environment. 
  • Use organic fertilizers instead of chemical ones, as these have less chance of burning the plant when used improperly.
  • Avoid moving cacti when they are wet because this could cause damage.

The corking process is irreversible and cannot be stopped once it starts. 

So take the steps necessary to prevent cactus corking to preserve your plants’ health for as long as possible! 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, cactus corking is a normal process in the life of cacti.

It is suggested to have cacti in a place where they can grow and thrive.

If cactus corking does happen, the cacti will not die.

Instead, corking can be beneficial to the cacti by providing stability and support so that the plant can continue to grow and expand.

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