There they were, looking like snowballs Martine and I could pick up and toss at each other. But they were not snowballs, but a kind of cactus from Mexico called Mammillaria geminispina, which is native to the states of Veracruz and Hidalgo. The little red flowers make them look even more innocent and pick-up-able. They join the Cholla family of cacti, especially the notorious “Teddy Bear” Cholla with its fuzzy look and barbed spines.
The Mammillaria at Huntington Gardens in San Marino, California, are just one of thousands of reasons why the cactus garden there is one of the best in the world. Just when you think you know what a cactus should look like, you see specimens from Bolivia or Namibia that take you back to Square One.
According to a sign near the Mammillaria, “It forms large mounds, a strategy which retains moisture beneath the plant and discourages grazing. Its dense white spines reflect heat.” And, if anyone wants to pick them up, they are welcome to do so. The First Aid Station is only a third of a mile away.