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 Est. 1998

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Quotations about Cactus

The Arizona desert to us is starkly beautiful at all times, but when touched by the magic of spring it becomes a land of enchantment. The weirdly beautiful cacti that dominate the landscape strangely resembles the vegetation of a past era, millions of years ago. ~Raymond Carlson and Claire Meyer Proctor, "Our Adventures In The Land Of The Flowering Cactus," Arizona Highways, February 1965,

A tumble from the rocks would probably land us in a cactus — and anyone who's ever tried to tangle with a teddy bear cactus knows there's a whole lot more bear than teddy to it. ~Kevin Hearne, Hounded, 2011

The cactus of the high desert is a small, grubby, obscure and humble vegetable associated with cattle dung and overgrazing, interesting only when you tangle with it in the wrong way. ~Edward Abbey, "Cliffrose and Bayonets," Desert Solitaire, 1968

Out west a favorite practice is
      To brag about our cactuses,
      Of which the west not only has the mostest,
      But also those to skin and clothes
      Inclined to stick the closest.
Opuntia warts have fuzzy hairs,
      Some chollas look like teddy bears,
      While others look like hatracks gone delirious.
      All love the sun. There's only one
      That takes night-blooming cereus.
Out west we never miss a chance
      To brag about our cactus plants,
      A theme on which we may get stuck for hours;
      But hold your scorn for spine and thorn
      Till you've seen cactus flowers!
~S. Omar Barker, "Cactus, Anyone?," in Arizona Highways, March 1973

...the numerous varieties of the grotesque cactus, from the little cotton-like bulb of the smallest that hugs the earth, to the monstrous columnar fungus that outlines itself against the sky... ~Richard J. Hinton, "Over Valley and Mesa," The Hand-Book to Arizona, 1877

Now meet the "devil" of the cactus characters. Pronounced "choy-ah," Cholla is the common alias for Cylindropuntia. Cholla is a pretty word whether you say it or spell it. In Mexican it means "head." In American Cholla means you'll be sorry if you don't use your head and not your hands in the study and appreciation of these notorious but strangely charming characters. Driving through Cholla country during the late afternoon or early morning hours one cannot help but be fascinated by the silhouetted backlighted forms whose outlines seem to glow like bright sparklers etching the dark stems in outline with their effervescent halo. It's a tableau you won't see anywhere else on earth. The desert stage seems strangely alive as each character appears to be stopped in motion, like the dancers in a bizarre ballet. ~Joseph Stacey, "Arizona… Premier Cactus State," Arizona Highways, March 1973,

Get plenty of sunshine
Accentuate your strong points
Be patient through dry spells
Conserve your resources
Don't desert your friends
Wait for your time to bloom
Stay sharp!
~Ilan Shamir, "Advice from a Cactus"

He'd always had a quickening of the heart when he crossed into Arizona and beheld the cactus country. This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaro standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite. Because there had been some winter rain, the desert was in bloom. The saguaro wore creamy crowns on their tall heads, the ocotillo spikes were tipped with vermilion, and the brush bloomed yellow as forsythia. ~Dorothy Belle Hughes (1904–1993), The Expendable Man, 1963

Trillions of sun-gold and flame-red faces
Decorating earth's desert places...
To cactus-wisdom mankind should bow,
Glorying in the here and now...
~Cleoral Lovell, "Kindred," in Arizona Highways, March 1973

...the clouds of spring-green creosote bushes and big-padded prickly pear cactus... swelling and shrinking with every rain and drought... ~Craig Childs, March 2019, Bean Tree Farm, Tucson Mountains, Arizona, Introduction to Virga & Bone: Essays from Dry Places, 2019

In thorned regions
      Stand the ranks
            Of patient cactus
Watching with vegetable
The deserts' dying
      The winds' empty voice
            As aliens
In well meant ignorance
      The cactus
            and the
                  cottonwood —
~Steve Coppinger, "Cactus and the Cottonwood," in Arizona Highways, October 1971

There are miles and miles of land purely desert, and clothed only with thorny cacti and others of that ilk. ~John G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook, 1891

A shadowy dance,
While pixies prance,
And chollas sway.
Weirdly whirling,
Black arms swirling,
As west winds play.
~Gertrude J. Hager (b.1886), "Dancing Cholla"

Arizona is a state generously endowed with spectacular scenic beauty, gorgeous sunsets, lavishly colored landscapes and impressive cloud formations. There are many who contend, however, the state's most prized and cherished gems of beauty are the cactus blossoms which are found in practically every part of the state. Even the ugliest cactus plant becomes a thing of radiant beauty when it comes under the miracle touch of spring. ~Raymond Carlson, "The Fairest Flowers of Them All," Arizona Highways, February 1965,

No rose on thorned stem
Pricks my heart as does the cactus
Flowered in spring or gaunt in December.
I remember.
~Muriel M. Alcott, "I Would Return," in Arizona Highways, August 1970

But the most beautiful individual flower in canyon country, most people would agree, is that of the cacti: the prickly pear, the hedgehog, the fishhook... the various cactus flowers have earned the distinction claimed for them on the basis of their large size, their delicacy, their brilliance, and their transience — they bloom, many of them, for one day only in each year... The true distinction of these flowers, I feel, is found in the contrast between the blossom and the plant which produces it... from this nest of thorns, this snare of hooks and fiery spines, is born... a splendid flower... soft, lovely, sweet, desirable, exemplifying better than the rose among thorns the unity of opposites. ~Edward Abbey, "Cliffrose and Bayonets," Desert Solitaire, 1968

The snake is the desert. The fox is the desert, as is the bee... The country is not easy. Scorpions are here too, and a lush variety of cactus I would not touch... How could you not admire this sharpness? The buckled horizons and unencumbered views are nourishing. Poisonous things and needle-tip spines demand attention. A healthy agave with a fresh blade growing straight up, I never hesitate to reach out with a fingertip and touch, reminding myself every time how pointed they really are. ~Craig Childs, March 2019, Bean Tree Farm, Tucson Mountains, Arizona, Introduction to Virga & Bone: Essays from Dry Places, 2019

When other plants were dying in the heat,
And disappearing, one by one, from sight,
You stood your ground, acknowledged no defeat,
And patiently and slowly won the fight.
When Nature had refused to promise more
Moisture, you set your sure and sturdy will,
And built yourself a private plant to store
Your own supply. It is effective still.
You faced the threat and calmly flung your dare
At cloudless sky, bright sun, and burning sand.
Not for a rainy day did you prepare,
But for a dry one in an arid land...
~Clarence Edwin Flynn, "To a Cactus Plant," in Arizona Highways, March 1973

I encountered varied cacti: cholla (in Spanish the word means head or skull), teddy bear, chain fruit, buckhorn, and cow's tongue prickly pear, clock-face prickly pear, Engelmann's prickly pear. Then came the realm of the many-armed flame-flowered ocotillo, 10 to 20 feet high, looking something like a squid or octopus buried head downward in the sand; and fat leaning barrel cactus, fishhook cactus, pincushion cactus — empires of spine and thorn, needle and hair, hook and point and knife and dagger... ~Edward Abbey, "The Real Desert," Cactus Country, 1973, Time Life Books,

Reach for the stars, even if you have to stand on a cactus. ~Susan Longacre

Adolescence is like cactus... ~Anaïs Nin, Solar Barque, 1958

The difference between a cactus and a caucus is in a cactus all the pricks are on the outside. ~Lyndon B. Johnson  [This has been attributed to many, most notably to LBJ. I've not yet verified that he was the first. –tg]

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Original post date 2014 Apr 16
1st major revision 2016 Apr 25
Last saved 2022 Apr 01 Fri 22:03 PDT