Ferocactus (2009)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (June 2009)

Some say that Baja California is a magical place. While it’s true the boojum trees grow in comical shapes and the agave plants are massive, not everything is beautiful in a magical place – and therein lies a story.

On the sandy Magdalena Plain, where some plants crawl, there once was a battle. Often called a horse crippler or creeping devil, a massive Machaerocereus eruca was on a slow northwest journey. Growing blindly along, this snakelike cactus, covered in fierce spines and always rerooting, one day met an immense ferocactus covered in a shield of pale red and gray spines.

Even here, conflict, it seems, always leaves ugly scars. In the end, a torn remnant of a snakelike cactus continued on its way. Left behind trapped in hooked spines, a story ends with a long, dry stem still covering broken spines and dried-out wounds on a ferocactus with pale red and gray spines. Some say it still grows to this day, unmoving but victorious, in a magical place.

Ferocacti are very tough globular or columnar cacti. A few species are clumping, but most stand alone. Most species are found in Mexico. Guatemala and the United States also have species of their own.

The most interesting thing about them, in my opinion, is that they secrete a sticky, sugary substance, possibly to attract pollinators. This, unfortunately, also causes these cacti to easily be infected with sooty mold.

The other cactus mentioned in this article is also known as Stenocereus eruca. If you would like to see one, the Missouri Botanical Garden has one growing in the Mediterranean House. This dangerous cactus has flowers that bloom in the night.