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  • Writer's pictureKathy Condon

Curious About Palm Springs Cacti?

Updated: May 21, 2020

If you live in the desert, you have established some affinity with certain plants. There are numerous cacti, but a couple of them have become my favorite ones. My curiosity about them gently encouraged me to do some research about them, so I have decided to share my findings.

The Ocotillo

I first noticed the ocotillo when I made my trips to the mailbox. My Home Owners Association planted it at the entrance of our complex. As the seasons changed, the plant kept changing. In the winter, no leaves projecting the look of a possible “Crown of Thorns.” Its thorns were very sharp and about two inches long.

In the spring, tiny bright tear-shaped leaves appeared near the base of each of these thorns. Once the leaves fill in the entire branch, red flowers bloom at the end of these long flowing stems. It depends on the amount of rainfall, but typically, the plant is in full bloom in April.

They like a habitat that is open and very rocky, with well-drained soil. The plants grow along hiking trails, rocky slopes, grasslands, and natural washes. They can grow to a height of 20 ft. There is no definitive agreement, but some botanists believe they can live to well over 100 years.

The red blossoms of the ocotillo attract both hummingbirds and bees. There is convincing evidence hummingbirds are, in large part, responsible for the reproduction of this succulent throughout the desert. Barrel Cactus

This cactus is, obviously, one of landscape designers' favorite plants. They grace the lawns of many of our homes, whose owners opt for low-maintenance care for they thrive on gravel.

It was love at first sight when I drove on to the grounds of Sunnylands, in Rancho Mirage. The educational center, on the grounds of the Annenberg Estate, has a circle in front of it of landscaped with hundreds of barrel cacti.

While the barrel cactus can live up to 100 years, its diameter rarely grows beyond 30 inches. It is typically about 2 to 4 feet in height but can grow to be 10 feet tall. It is often called a Compass Barrel Cactus. For reasons unknown, it tends to grow to the Southwest.

The spines often are used for needles and tattooing. Overharvesting of Barrel Cacti for candy has resulted in them being “protected status” in some areas.

You will notice cacti such as the Saguaro are not prevalent in our area. When you do see one, it has been purposely planted. Once you travel Highway 10 to Phoenix, you will see the desert in that area is more conducive soil and climate for this majestic slow-growing Saguaro.

If you are curious about more of our plants, I suggest you plan to go to Moortens Botanical Garden here in Palm Springs. Not only are they extremely knowledgeable, but they also have many of our desert plants for sale in a variety of sizes.

Kathy Condon is a travel writer and blogger. She is an eight-year resident of Palm Springs and the Founder of the Palm Springs Insider Guide Her book It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: It’s All About Communication was named Best Book Finalist By USA Book News 760-902-3094

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