Sunday, March 10, 2013

Common Arizona Cacti

When referring to multiple cactus plants in the English language, some say "cactuses", others say "cacti", and a few don't change anything and just say "cactus". All are acceptable, but I prefer to say "cacti".

Cactus plants are very common in Arizona. They are specially adapted to the dry climate; some types can live through up to 10 years of drought. Their green, fleshy stems are often ribbed, making it easier to expand to hold water. The majority have sharp spines, instead of leaves; photosynthesis occurs in the stems. The spines only grow from areoles, which all cacti have.

The largest type of cactus in Arizona is the Carnegiea gigantea, or "saguaro" (suh-wah-ro). If you saw this type of cactus, you would remember it more easily than any others. It gets so tall when mature that none of the other cacti can even start to compare; mature saguaros dwarf even the tallest men.

There are many other types of cacti besides the Saguaro in Arizona, but here are the few you'd be most likely to see:

Not a pillow
Cylindropuntia bigelovii. This type of cactus is known as Teddy Bear Cholla, but don't let the name mislead you - I read that the spines are very sharp and break off of the cactus easily, so it is easy to get full of spines. Not only that, but the spines have tiny barbs on them, making their removal very painful. I was not injured by any of these, so I can't tell you first-hand; but I don't mind.

Ferocactus wislizeni. This is known as the "Arizona barrel cactus", or "fishhoook barrel cactus". Notice the wicked hooked spines.

Prickly pear cactus of the Opuntia genus. Prickly pear cacti have flattened stem segments that grow one out of the other, like chain.

See if you can identify the above cactus by yourself, just for fun! Click here to go to a cactus website where you can search for cacti by region. If you can't figure it out, check for comments below this post; I will give the solution in a few days.

For the final post in the Arizona Road Trip series, go to

1 comment:

  1. The mystery cactus is a Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa, also known as "Buckhorn Cholla", "Colorado Desert Cholla", "Major Cholla", etc.

    Here's a link to some images of this type of cactus: