Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cactus of the Week: Barrel

If you're ever stranded in the Sonoran Desert without water and you spy a Barrel cactus, you might think it's your lucky day. You might lop off the top and mash down the pulp to form a thick and unappetizing liquid. If you drank this liquid, thinking that your life was saved, you would be woefully wrong. The alkaline liquid found inside Barrel cacti actually causes a net loss of water in the body.


I like Barrel cacti because they're round and almost cuddly. They are, to me, the Santa Claus of cacti. The Arizona Barrel produces a beautiful yellow flower right on the top of the cactus. Unlike the Prickly Pear Cactus fruit which is covered in microspines, Barrel fruit is spineless and juicy. Therefore, it's usually gobbled up quickly by desert animals like javelina and coyote.

Barrell Flower

Barrel cacti can grow upwards of 8 or 10 feet but most commonly hover around 4 or 5 feet. The Barrel actually grows leaning toward the southwest and is often known as the 'Compass Cactus'. Varieties of Ferocactus and Echinocactus (sciencey terms for Barrel) grow all over the southwest in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and parts of Utah.

barrell hat1

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