Friday, April 25, 2008

The Ultimate Cactus Guide - Part 1

Arizona is cactusland. There are cacti everywhere. Arizonans even know that the plural of cactus is cacti. :)

So when you travel around Arizona with your buddies or loved ones, wouldn't it be neat to be able to name the cacti you come across, and maybe even toss out some facts about them? If you think so, read on!

There are seventy-two species of cactus native to the state. In addition there are around 1,800 other species of cactus also growing in the state, both in the wild and in little pots on peoples' porches.

Cacti come in all shapes, sizes and forms. From the tiny pin-cushion cactus to the 50-feet tall saguaro, these prickly plants are pretty interesting things. Here is a closer look at some of them:

Lets start with the saguaro, the friendly cactus giant (pictured on the left). I think that when most people think of a cactus, this is what pops into their heads. The saguaro grows in the low-lying desert well below the tree lines. Saguaros get really old. It takes 70 years before they start growing "arms", so when you see a huge one with lots of arms you know it is probably older than your great-grandma. Take a look at a prime speciment:

The prickly pear must be the most common cactus in Arizona, it is literally everywhere. They grow in patches, and one "pear" grows on top of the other till the plant becomes too top-heavy and falls over. All souvenir stores in Arizona sell prickly pear jelly and prickly pear candy. Mind you, ordinary Arizona folks don't eat more cacti than people elsewhere! Sometimes I come across some funny ones that look like Mickey Mouse's silhouette (see below).

Another very common cactus is the cholla. There are 20 or so different types of chollas, but they all ahve in common the way that they are built out of clusters of cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. When I was a kid I used to call it the "cat poop cactus" because, well, it looked a lot like that. OK, I admit I still refer to them as such. They are also called "jumping cactus" because the joints break off easily and get stuck on people or animals who come to close. It is not uncommon to see javelinas with a piece of cholla stuck to their backs! Here's a cholla:

OK, guys and gals, this concludes part one of The Ultimate Cactus Guide. Part two will be published soon, so please come back.:)

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