Cephalocereus senilis (2004)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (July 2004)

A hard, crisp light, the coming of dawn, floods the narrow ravine with oppressive heat, regular and unchanging …

Time moves slowly on this ancient plateau and in the deep gorge, carved by the flow of water long ago.

Here I stand as others stood before, in my valley near the village of Venados.

I am 23 feet high now, but one day I will grow to almost 50 feet. Wavy, grayish-white hair and sharp spines cover my pillar-like body, and a large cephalium at my crown holds my first flower bud safely as it grows.

Years ago, many young like me were taken from this valley to Europe at the end of World War I. A cactus-growing vogue had swept across the war-weary land. Most died, as they were unaccustomed to the dark homes and wet climates.

Thousands of cacti were lost. However, fearing the loss of many native species, the government of Mexico intervened. Laws were created placing strict limits on or forbidding the export of many species. Thus many were saved from extinction. In addition, many who were intrigued by our unusual appearance learned to propagate us from seed.

We are strong but slow-growing and some of our needs can be difficult. We thrive in porous clay soils and some will only grow us under glass. We need full light and high air humidity, but if the weather is cool, we are very sensitive to wet soil. In winter, bright light is still needed. The temperature should be above 59 degrees F along with a dry atmosphere.

It is a tribute to all the lost ones when you see a well-cared-for specimen growing slowly in its pot …

Time moves slowly on this ancient plateau.

Here I stand, as others stood before in my valley, near the village of Venados. It’s growing dark now. Soon the stars will fill the night. I am Cephalocereus senilis, the old man cactus, and I will bloom tonight.