Copiapoa (2009)

By Chris Deem (October 2009)

There is a point when death is inevitable. With all other options gone, they wait. Shrunken and scarred, several of the misshapen orange heads of the cacti clump and lie on the ground where they fell. Their spines grow pale, as if in a silent scream of rage.

This small, isolated clump has always faced away from the ocean. It has grown for years, facing inward, toward the seemingly endless gray coloring of the cracked and flaking granite stones.

In today’s stagnant air, a foul scent of ammonia still lingers. It is all that remains of last night’s passing of a small colony of vampire bats. Barring this, however, the most horrific thing of all is the silence. It will be just another death, like most here, unnoticed and without pity.

Overhead the sky is again a milky haze, and the temperature is deceptively cool. This is the last day. The water will not return in time. At this point, the shrunken clump of Copiapoa serpentisulcata waits for the inevitable.

Copiapoa cacti employ many strategies for coping with the harshness of life in their arid Chilean homeland, but sometimes nothing works. Their habitat is now nearly devoid of rainfall, and it is growing ever drier. Still, all copiapoas stubbornly cling to life.

Some species have evolved with very shallow-growing roots to quickly take advantage of any moisture. Others rely on thick, swollen taproots. Still, it seems no matter what they do, they fight a losing battle.

Here their yellow flowers always wilt so quickly, yet the seeds that follow are hardy. Copiapoa cacti endure, but the land grows drier, year after year.