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
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
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
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
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
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
In thorned regions
Stand the ranks
Of patient cactus
Watching with vegetable
The deserts’ dying
The winds’ empty voice
In well meant ignorance
~Steve Coppinger, “Cactus and the Cottonwood,” in Arizona Highways, October 1971
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
A shadowy dance,
While pixies prance,
And chollas sway.
Black arms swirling,
As west winds play.
~Gertrude J. Hager (b.1886), “Dancing Cholla”
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