Phoenix, where Ruth and I spent the Thanksgiving weekend, is in the Sonoran Desert. The house where we stayed was surrounded by typical southwest plantings, and I became fascinated by them, especially the cacti. Later, I was surprised to learn that this desert doesn’t contain as many native cacti species as I thought. However, plant experts report that there are between 1,500 and 1,800 cacti species, so the number is either debatable or many cacti have not yet been found.
The most common, or perhaps the most recognizable cactus in the Sonoran, is the Saguaro. This tall cactus, the largest in the United States, only grows in the Sonoran Desert. At the age of 10 years, a Saguaro is likely to be only 1 inch tall. Arms begin to occur when it is between 50 and 100 years old, and a Saguaro can live to be 200. Fully grown, one of them can store up to 200 or more gallons of water. The 2 saguaro photos here were taken outside the house we stayed in.
I like Saguaros, but my favorite Sonoran plant is a cholla, which is a plant in the cactus family. Sometimes referred to as “Velcro of the desert”, I like teddy bear chollas because they appear cuddly but are sinister. The teddy bear or jumping cholla just above was photographed in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson. If you touch a teddy bear cholla, the spines appear to jump on you and adhere to your skin painfully. It’s unwise to try to remove the spines with your fingers. Experts advise that you use a stick to remove them if you’re still in the desert and without another means. There are other chollas that are native to the Sonoran and at least 15 kinds of cholla in existence.
The only other cacti that appear to be natives to the Sonoran Desert that extends far into Mexico are the barrel and the hedgehog. Barrels bloom during the spring and summer. They can act as a kind of compass because they grow toward the south.
I thought that Ocotillo, which is a flowering plant in many desert areas, was a cactus but it’s not despite its impressive thorns. I’m not alone; 2 of Ocotillo’s nicknames are Vine and Jacob Cacti. They are indigenous to the Sonoran.
Prickly pear is a genus in the cactus family. They are native Americans but now grow all over the world. I’ve seen prickly pears in Australia, Italy, Argentina, etc. I didn’t know until I saw some on that property north of Phoenix that one or more pricklies aren’t prickly at all. In fact, they are spineless.
Still having a lot to learn about cacti, I did read that the barrels tend to fall over easily. Why? Plant lover Ruth tends to lots of growing and flowering flora, but cacti aren’t among her favorites. I wonder if she can get a Saguaro to grow in Washington?