The barrel cactus is one of the few round shapes, apart from the sun and the burrowing holes of those hiding from it, in an American desert landscape. The cactus's spines ring a barrel of watery flesh. Cactus spines help provide many areas of shade on the plant, so that the sun's rays are not as drying. In the spring, a few flat flowers bloom from the top of the barrel. Spiders delicately hook their webs to the spines.
Although spines would seem to provide their own protection, many refuge areas have established protected zones for barrel cactus plants. These zones are necessary against plant poachers, who have taken the cacti for landscaping or candy-making.
I was able to photograph and observe a barrel cactus at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA. Although this area has a Mediterranean climate of foggy and damp winters followed by dry, rainless summers, the garden features succulents and drought-resistant plants. Succulents, which include all cacti and many other types of plants, have thick stems to hold water. Beyond the barrel cactus, the garden offers a botanical trip around the world. Visitors step from Arizona xeriscapes to the palms of Arabian sands to the shade of pines from Himalayan slopes.
In a natural desert landscape, barrel cacti are found along pathways, such as the edges of canyon walls, gravely slopes, or the banks of sudden washes.
Experience your own challenge to find and create a barrel cactus. Put together a fun, online puzzle of a barrel cactus.
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