A Dense Array of Cacti
Ever since I first started spending time in the desert, back in the 1970s, I have loved cacti. Mind you, the beauty of the plant is a little harder to appreciate when the temperature goes into the high nineties and above. At such a time, I tend to avoid the desert: It’s just too damned hot. My first experiences were in Desert Hot Springs (just a few miles north of the Moortens Botanical Garden). I used to stay at one of the motels and go back and forth from the sauna to the cold pool. I even took my parents there, and they enjoyed it as much as I did. Of course, what made their enjoyment peak was a decent Hungarian restaurant in town named, I think, the Budapest.
Opuntia Cactus with Purple Coloration
The Moorten cactus collection was so good that I can see myself visiting it every time I go to see my brother in Palm Desert. Dan has driven by the Garden at various times and even stopped to marvel at it—though from the outside only.
A World of Cactuses
Sometime this spring, I will also re-visit the Huntington Gardens in San Marino. What I like about their cactus collection is that so much of it comes from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Cashier and Gift Shop at the Moorten Botanical Garden
Last Friday, I visited three museums and a botanical garden. The first museum was Ruddy’s General Store, followed by the McCallum Adobe (home of the Palm Springs Historical Society) and the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum , which had a display of Cahuilla Indian pottery. Since the latter two did not allow photographs to be taken, I have chosen not to write about them. All three museums are adjacent to one another and can be visited in under two hours.
Most interesting of all was the Moorten Botanical Garden, a few blocks south of the museums. The only collection of succulents I have seen that could compare to it is the Cactus Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden in San Marino. The Moorten is much smaller, but it shows the guiding hand of a dedicated collector, who, unfortunately, is no longer with us.
If I were a botanist, I would regale you here with the names (in Latin and English) of the many varieties on display, but all I know about cacti is that I love them; and I love photographing them. I find the cacti to be astounding, growing as they do under such hostile conditions.
Rare Cactus Species in the Moorten’s “Cactarium”
There is a greenhouse with rare cactus species which the Moorten calls the “Cactarium.” I wish I could regale you with more pictures of what I saw. Wait a sec, I can continue this post tomorrow!
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.
Backlit Cholla Cactus
It’s hard to believe that Martine and I left for the Anza Borrego Desert two weeks ago today. Thanks to the multiple daily crises of a tax season, it’s almost as if it never happened. Except, the desert does something to me: Somehow I feel better able to tolerate the mess and the tension. Last year, I wanted to leave for a few days to the Owens Valley—another prime desert locale—but we couldn’t find the time.
One of the most beautiful plants in the deserts of California is the cholla cactus. It is also one of the most deadly, because its spines are slightly barbed. They detach easily if one brushes against the plant and can usually be removed safely only with the help of a comb.
There are many different species of the Cylindropuntia genus, including the aptly named teddy bear cholla and the jumping cholla (the latter because the spines seem almost to jump at you).
When backlit, cholla cactus plants are luminescent, as in the picture above.