Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I made the long journey from New York to our new home in Southern California—by car. Since we arrived, I’ve been adjusting to the cultural differences of the coasts, including everything from traffic trends (seriously, 90 on the 405?!) to cuisine (I now believe that I never tasted the deliciousness that is authentic Mexican food before!), but one of my biggest “A-ha!” moments arrived while we were still en route to our destination. Let me explain ...
Arizona really loves pickles!
As we made our way across the southwest, I started to notice multiple billboards that featured pickles wearing a cowboy hat, playing the guitar. He was cute, but I noticed he was surprisingly popular. He just kept popping up. I thought “Wow! They REALLY love pickles here!” The farther we drove, the more times we saw him. After a while, it dawned on me: Those aren’t pickles, they’re cacti! And the hat was, of course, a sombrero.
I couldn’t help but tweet about it …
As you can imagine, I got my share of laughing emojis and chuckling gifs, but I’d like to think everyone was laughing with me, not at me! It all started me thinking about the differences in the trees and flowers that we were seeing on the trip.
The Science of Cactus
In short, my scientist-curiosity could not be tamed in the midst of all the excitement about this new-found flora. I wondered how large cacti really got to be. Where they grew. How they grew. How long they lived. I learned so much!
The Saguaro cactus (the ones we’ve all seen photos of that look like the cowboy pickle) grow exclusively in the Sonoran desert. Most are found in Arizona and Mexico, but some grow naturally in California as well.
Their size usually depends on their age; they are very slow-growing plants. A ‘child’ plant may only be 1 or 2 inches tall, but over the years an ‘adult’ plant could reach up to 60 feet tall.
Cacti branches are sometimes called “arms” and not all of these plants grow arms, but the ones that do can have upwards of 25 arms each!
Their weight when full-grown (and fully hydrated) can reach nearly 5,000 lbs.
The lifespan of a Saguaro cactus is comparable to that of a giant tortoise. In ideal conditions, they can live 150 - 200 years! The sheer stamina of such a species is impressive.
Cacti sustain the desert dryness and temperatures by storing large amounts of water in their shallow roots with their stems acting as reservoirs.
The waxy texture of their skin helps retain moisture once they store it.
Their spines act as protection from animals that may try to take their water to drink.
Cacti are night owls. Their pores open at night to release less moisture in the cooler hours.
They’re good for the earth, even after they’re gone, as they can become sustainable building materials. When Saguaro cacti decompose, their ribs are often upcycled to make furniture and fences.
Big Pickle Energy
You read that right. Equipped with these fascinating fun facts, I began a quest to find a real cacti. To see what they were all about in the wild. I wanted to know what real ones looked like up close. I wanted to know what it would feel like to touch one.
On Oct. 14, I finally got my chance! I couldn’t resist putting my finger on one of its prickly spines (yes, it was sharp, but didn’t hurt me) and seeing this unique plant in the flesh, so to speak. It did not disappoint!
My New Houseplant
I grew so fond of cacti after all of this research that I bought one to become my first California houseplant. So far, it’s really low-maintenance and I’ve managed to keep it alive and well. If it grows large enough, I may even dress it up with a tiny guitar and sombrero.
I know I’m not the only one who has mistaken one thing for something else—share your funny pickle/cactus-like confessions in the comments section!