Thursday, February 4, 2021

CACTI By Cheri Kay Clifton


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 views are now 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 will write about a few that are indelibly linked with that of the American Southwest and often seen in western films.  The majority 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.

Saguaro Cactus

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.

Joshua Tree

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.

Prickly Pear Cactus

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, the 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 a story, don’t just call that plant, “cactus,” give the reader a better visual by calling it by its proper name.

Hope you'll visit my website and check out my books.

Happy Trails To You,



  1. When I was a toddler, we were on vacation and we visited a rose garden. We got to smell all the lovely flowers. Then we visited a cactus garden. I did not find smelling those as enjoyable an experience. Spoiler alert: the visit ended in tears.

  2. Oops, Bea, sounds like you may have gotten too close to those cactus flowers! Must admit, I've not tried to smell any of the cactus blooms, but must say they are pretty to look at, although certainly not as lovely as roses, that's for sure! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I am glad you posted this, Cheri. I like cacti gardens. I'll be naming the cactus in future books, thanks to you. I had no idea the various cacti lived so long.

  4. I didn't mention it in the post, but prickly pear jelly is popular out here and tastes quite good! I suppose the pioneers might have made it back then too.


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