Having transitioned from our Florida home to our Nevada home for a few months, we not only must acclimate to a three-hour time change, but also to a change in scenery. Instead of views of beautiful tropical beaches, our road trips are now views of awesome canyons and desert landscapes full of multiple species of cacti. I must say, as a western author, I feel right at home!
Although there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cacti, I'm writing about a few that are indelibly linked with that of the American Southwest and often seen in western films. The majority of cacti grow in the southern parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. The word, “cactus” is derived from a Greek word, “kaktos,” meaning prickly plant.
The Saguaro Cactus is the largest of all the other cacti in the United States, growing to heights of 50-60 feet and weighing 2000 pounds. The Saguaros have a relatively long lifespan, often exceeding 150 years. Some Saguaros never produce arms and are called “spears.” The arms help increase the productivity, as they lead to more flowers and fruit. A saguaro is able to absorb and store large amounts of rainwater, then use the stored water as needed. This enables the cactus to survive during periods of drought.
The Joshua Tree, also known as the “yucca palm,” grows mostly in the Mojave Desert of southwest California and Nevada, as well as a small area of Utah and Arizona. The Joshua Tree National Park is located in southern California. Mormon pioneers are said to have named this species “Joshua” tree because it mimicked the Biblical prophet Joshua waving them, with upraised arms, toward the promised land. Natural stands of this picturesque evergreen grow nowhere else in the world. Its height varies from 15-40 feet, take 50 years to mature and can live 150 years.
The American Southwest wouldn’t look the same without the Prickly Pear cactus. In 1995, the Prickly Pear was named the official Texas state plant.
The cactus is more than landscaping for the people of the American Southwest and Mexico. It is a source of food and can save one’s life if ever lost in the desert. The plant bears fruit that can provide small amounts of fluid and a good amount of nutrients. These fruits are sold in stores under the name, “tuna.” During times of severe drought in the days of the Old West, Texas cattle would use the Prickly Pear for survival, munching the entire plant, spines and all.
So, authors of the American West, next time you write about the desert landscape in your story, don’t just call that plant, “cactus,” give the reader a better visual by calling it by its proper name.
Giddyup! Grab your reins and read
my epic historical western romances in the Wheels of Destiny Trilogy. I'm now writing the third book, Yesterday's Journey, a time-travel.
Book 1, Trail To Destiny - A turbulent cross-country journey
of heated passion, bitter vengeance and a haunted
past lead Grey Wolf & Laura on their Trail To Destiny.
Book 2, Destiny's Journey - Family deception kept Jennifer O’Malley from marrying her first love ten years ago, West Point officer, Glen Herrington. Now a Civil War widow, she leaves war-torn Richmond, determined to find her destiny. She makes the long journey west in search of Glen, only to discover he is a notorious outlaw with a price on his head.