Jan 8, 2010
by Sarah Albrecht
Five tiny new barrel cacti have erupted from the thin layer of red landscape rock in our front yard. The thought warms me like a cup of hot cocoa.
Odd, isn’t it.
I can’t really explain my affinity for barrel cacti. They’re not delicate, majestic, or particularly beautiful; they don’t smell good; they don’t rustle in the wind. They’re waxy, spiny, and sturdy, and they have dimensions that remind one of a thumb.
Yet they intrigue me. They always have.
I should clarify that I’m thinking of fishhook barrels since many varieties of barrel cactus exist. As a child I examined the spines on a fishhook barrel about the size of a footstool, imagining how I could just pluck one of those spines off and tie on a piece of string and catch me a fish. Well, if we had anywhere to fish. How glorious to have such a perfect supply and how agonizing to have nowhere to use them.
The pineapples are another endearing feature. Barrel fruit look exactly like pineapples, growing in a circle about the cactus’ crown. A few years ago my preschooler couldn’t stand another second not tasting those pineapples. Knowing they were edible but not yummy, I let her pick one and take a tiny bite. Blech. But delicious to javelinas.
Barrels also tend lean south as they grow, lending them the nickname of compass cactus. I have yet to see north-facing moss on a desert tree, which in my estimation makes south-facing cactus all the more valuable.
Last fall our ancient-looking, wizened granddaddy barrel tipped over (south), severed his grapefruit-thick central stem, and died. He still had a few pineapples on top, I noted, how sadly quaint…
I wonder where those five new baby barrels came from. Barrels, after all, are all about wonder.