Snowballs from Hell

Mammillaria geminispina

Mammillaria geminispina

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.

 

The Luminescent World of Cacti

The Cactus Garden at the Huntington Library and Gardens

The Cactus Garden at the Huntington Library and Gardens

Although she is still struggling to get a good night’s sleep, Martine wanted us to go yesterday to the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino. So off we went. We usually take the same route through the gardens, ending up in the large and rather spectacular cactus garden on the eastern edge of the park. It is Martine’s favorite, and for me shares top billing with the lily ponds (about which more in a future posting).

There is something otherworldly about cacti. They catch the light in a certain way and play with it. The result, as with the cholla cacti above, is eerily luminescent. One feels a desire to hug the thorny plants as if they were overstuffed teddy bears. Ah, but the thorns of the cholla are barbed like tiny fishhooks and are difficult to remove. Beautiful, but deadly.

Part of the fascination that Martine and I feel wth the cactus garden is that in the slanting light of late afternoon—and it is always the last stop of our round tour of the gardens—the cacti have an almost supernatural look to them. One result is that my photos of the cacti are usually the best pictures of the lot.