Oreocereus (2007)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (January 2007)

What is a path? A path can be a very real thing, solid, like a road. A path can also be just a course to follow; the ultimate destination can remain unknown.

The homeland of Oreocereus is vast. It is always cool and sometimes cold on the high plateaus. It is colder still in the mountains. Some species grow in the Andes of Peru. Others grow in the rugged hills of Bolivia or the highlands of northern Argentina.

Oreocereus trollii has chosen a sensible path. Near Coctaca, Argentina, at an altitude well above 10,000 feet, the wind is very strong. The sharp blue sky dominates the drab, barren landscape. Oreocereus trollii seems at peace.

Thick, white hairs protect the small, prostrate clump as it grows along close to the ground. It seems to accept the scarcity of water and puts little effort into growing tall. Growing in this drab, stubby grassland, it projects a sense of harmony.

O. celsianus has chosen a different path. Tall and patient, it seems wildy out of place. Stubbornly it waits, with its tubular red flowers curving downward over its scraggly white hairs and sharp reddish spines. It waits for its only pollinator, the South American hummingbird Patagonulas gigas. O. celsianus does not live in harmony with its environment. It stands in defiance.

Oreocereus cacti travel many paths. Strong and vigorous in all their forms, the plants are known for their distinctive hollow fruit.