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© Christine Till
Southern California is home to thousands of plants, including many species of cactus. Some are native, but other types are from areas such as Mexico and Arizona. However, both native and non-native cacti thrive in Southern California due to the vast amount of sun throughout the year.
The cylindrical Fire Barrel Cactus - Ferocactus pilosus - a Cactaceae with bright red spikes - grows well in Southern California�s Mediterranean climate - one that is only shared by five regions on the planet. These cacti are drought-tolerant desert dwellers and can cope with some frost and intense heat. The "fishhook" spines and the armored web of spines enclosing the cactus body in many species of this genus are adaptations which allow the plant to travel to more favorable locations. During flash floods, the hooked spines allow the plants to be caught on waterborne debris, uprooted and carried to areas where water tends to accumulate. Their skin thickens with age, making older cacti more fire resistant.
Cacti are a fascinating blend of tough spines and delicate flowers, much like roses. Most of their stems have evolved to store water and the spines are actually modified leaves to protect the plant from foraging animals, provide some shade and protect against water loss as it evaporates from the plants tissues.
When the first European botanists first encountered these plants, they were bizarre and previously unknown in the Old World. They applied the Greek word 'kaktos' meaning 'thistle'. The demand for cacti was immediate. Today, collectors annually strip tons of cacti from North and South American deserts to sell in souvenir shops and nurseries. With many species now threatened or nearly extinct, we are loving our native cacti to death.
As principle, please make sure the cactus you buy wasn't collected from the countryside. They belong in nature!
February 7th, 2013
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