Write 28 Days: Landscape of Memory ~ Don’t objectify the cactus

This month, I’m writing words and posting images relating to the landscape of memory. I hope to write poems most days and also share photos, quotes, and more prosaic thoughts related in some way to memory, nostalgia, longing for place, remembering and forgetting, landscape, dreamscape, landscape’s memory and memory’s landscape, the intersection of the layered historical physical world with personal memory, the frames that both landscape and memory use to contain and order our focus, the landscape of childhood, the landscape of devastation, how memories lie and tell the truth, the fragmentation of memory, how landscapes shape us and our memories, and so on. All the posts will be linked to the Introductory Page as they are posted. Thanks for visiting.


Today, let’s look at landscapes of cactus!

Cactus, which mostly like dry, sunny desert climates, are plants I’m not very familiar with having lived on the temperate east coast of the U.S. all my life. I did step on one, genus and species unknown, while visiting a friend in Madrid, New Mexico, in the mid-1980s and still recall the shivering pain.

The only cactus I’ve noticed growing naturally in a landscape on the east coast is Opuntia, prickly pear; there are about 150 species in the genus, of which two — Opuntia humifusa aka Devil’s tongue cactus, Atlantic prickly pear, Eastern prickly pear; and O. pusilla aka O. drummondii  aka Dune prickly pear or Beach prickly pear — are prevalent on Jekyll Island, GA, a favourite vacation spot. Prickly pear cactus even grow here in New England, including in Wellfleet on Cape Cod and at the Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA. I’ve also seen it in Delaware, between Rehoboth and Lewes, along a bike path.


Jekyll Island, GA, April 2012
Jekyll Island, GA, April 2012


Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2014
Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2013
Not sure what kind of cactus this is … Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2013


Jekyll Island, Nov. 2018
Jekyll Island, GA, Nov 2018


Jekyll Island, GA, Dec 2013
Jekyll Island, GA, Dec. 2013
Jekyll Island, GA, Dec. 2015


Gordon Pond Trail, near Rehoboth, DE, June 2018


prickly pear cactus and white pine, July 2017


Massachusetts Audubon, Wellfleet, MA, Cape Cod, April 2017


(labelled as Eastern Prickly Pear) Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA, May 2019


Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA, July 2008


Lately cactus have been popping up in my social media, entrancing me with their “static” look, as Georgina Reid puts it in “Plants Are Not Objects: A Spiky Photo Essay” (31 Oct 2019 in Planthunter):

“Perhaps because they look quite static – they don’t have leaves that move or droop and they’re incredibly slow growing – I occasionally find myself reminding people that they’re not objects. Depending on mood, a foot stamp is sometimes added for emphasis.”

They’re not geometrically rigid, though. Sometimes they resemble dancers whose movement has been frozen, spiky limbs whirling around, and I’ve seen some in the collection at Longwood Gardens in PA that look like vertical Tribles.


Many of the landscape shots of cactus on Instagram and other sites are quite beautiful, as prickly pear can be too, especially up close, but often it’s a bit scraggly and obscured in the wild. And here, I’m perhaps straddling “the line between love and objectification” to which Reid refers later in her essay, by looking at cactus in terms of their appearance, how they make me feel, rather than considering them as living creatures in their own right; that’s a sort of side effect of Instagram in particular, I think, because it’s awash in gorgeous, startling, interesting photos, often — at least in my feed — of living plants and animals.

Something else Reid emphasises is that we can find beauty not only in the rarity of cactus (or other plants) but in their ubiquity, in their ability to make a life, sometimes a very long life, in what many would find a hostile environment, and for cactus like prickly pear, at least, to exist in a wide range of climates and terrains.


Reid explains in her essay (please click on the link and at least look at the sumptuous photos) that cactus are “one of the most threatened taxonomic groups, more so than mammals and birds, … [and t]he dominant drivers of extinction … are ‘the unscrupulous collection of live plants and seeds for horticultural trade and private ornamental collections, smallholder livestock ranching and smallholder annual agriculture.’ Apparently the southwest U.S. is a target area: “‘From soaring saguaros to tiny, rare species favored as indoor house plants, the booming global demand for cacti is driving a shadowy, underground trade that’s difficult to police. Moreover, experts say, such trends risk destroying sensitive species forever.'”

There’s just something whimsical and other-worldly about this cactus landscape, at Huntington Botanical Gardens (San Marino, California), in Georgina Reid’s essay in Planthunter, photo by Daniel Shipp


A friend recently posted some photos of very large (old) saguaro cactus in the southwest U.S. on his social media accounts, including this one —

photo by @breslinator on Instagram

— and this gnarly fellow

saguaro cactus (posted on Facebook)

And another social media friend recently went to Tucson for a desert retreat and shared some amazing photos of cactus in their natural environment, both in Tucson and at Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs, CA.

photo of saguaro in Tucson AZ, by @peacebang on Instagram
photo of cholla cacti, Joshua Tree National Park, by @peacebang on Instagram
photo of cholla cacti, Joshua Tree National Park, by @peacebang on Instagram

That is a plant I’d like to hug, were it not for the clear warning signs of pain, betrayal, and eternal regret.


I mentioned cactus at Longwood Gardens earlier. Longwood’s Silver Garden in the Conservatory is a magical grey dusted landscape, sun-soaked, of aloe, agave, cycads, Haworthia, yucca, Kalanchoe, jade, olive trees, Tillandsia … and more than a dozen species of cactus, including Opuntias, Cephalocereus palmeri (wooly torch cactus), Cephalocereus senilis (old man cactus), Espostoa melanostele (old-man-of-Peru cactus), Oreocereus celsianus (old-man-of-the-Andes cactus), Cleistocactus strausii (silver torch cactus), Cylindropuntia whipplei (whipple cholla), Denmoza rhodacantha (denmoza),  Echinocactus grusonii (golden ball cactus), Parodia scopa (silver ball cactus), Epiphyllum oxypetalum (orchid  cactus), Mammillaria elegans (lace Cactus), Pachycereus marginatus (Mexican fence-post cactus), Rhipsalis pilocarpa, Rhipsalis teres, Stenocereus beneckei, and others. I  wonder what they think of their enclosed shared home?

silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii), May 2011 (the label is for a basket hanging overhead)
worker cat among the silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii), May 2016
silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) in bloom, May 2016
tall Mexican fence-post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus), June 2013
Mexican fence-post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) spines, July 2017
June 2013
orchid cactus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) flower, June 2018
possible old man cactus (Cephalocereus senilis), Dec. 2003
cactus and blue fescue grass, July 2017
Alluaudia procera cactus?, May 2016 … It’s from Madagascar and is sometimes called a succulent and sometimes more specifically a cactus

Longwood has this cactus but I took the photo at Wave Hill:

Mammillaria elongata ‘Cristata’ in a greenhouse at Wave Hill Public Garden, Riverdale, NY, May 2015


If you’re into cacti and where they like to live, you might want to follow these folks on Instagram:

deathvalleynps, Death Valley National Park, Mohave Desert of California
joshuatreenps, Joshua Tree National Park, San Marino, CA
saguaronationalpark, Saguaro National Park, Tucson AZ
organpipnps, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Sonoran Desert of Arizona
desertmuseum, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
dbgphx, Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ
visitdesertcity, Desert City, Madrid
moortenbotanicalgarden, Moorten Botanical Garden, Pal, Springs, CA
ruthbancroftgarden, The Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, CA
springspreserve, Springs Preserve, Las Vegas, NV
gdaniec_andrew, Andrew Gdaniec, curator, Gibraltar Botanic Gardens (not a lot posted yet)
urban.rooted, Oakland CA
The Cacti Mama, San Diego CA


cactus objectified?, Longwood Gardens, Oct. 2017


Featured image: prickly pear cactus, along with Sevil oranges and mulberry trees in the trial garden at Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, Savannah GA, Dec. 2019

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