Arizona Barrel Cactus … What to know about a dangerous plant of awesome beauty

Posted: March 1, 2014 in Arizona, Captain Rick, Phoenix, Photography by Atridim
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Captain Rick: The Barrel Cactus, found in the Sonoran Desert of southwestern Arizona, can grow to beyond a meter in diameter, hold 500 liters of water and live to 100 years. Its juice is deadly, but its fruit was a food lifeline for native Americans in years of drought. Its flowers rank among the most beautiful of all.


I captured the above image at the Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. Click the image to visit my Flickr Photostream where you can view it full size in high definition on our HDTV or widescreen computer monitor.

About Barrel Cacti

Barrel cacti are mainly found in the Sonoran Desert in southwestern Arizona.
The barrel cactus easily reaches over a meter in height at maturity and have been known to reach 10 feet.
Barrel cacti can store 500 liters of water and live to 100 years or more.
Its ribs are numerous and pronounced, and the spines are long and can range in color from yellow to tan to red.

Small yellow flowers appear at the top of the plant only after many years.
The barrel cactus buds start to bloom in April with a bright yellow flower.
As the yellow flowers begin to wilt in early May, they turn orange in color.
A late summer desert monsoon rain can produce a late orange bloomer that continues to bloom through the end of September.

The buds mature into a small pineapple-shaped greenish fruit that is left behind as the flowers wilt away.
The bitter fruits can last a year and were collected by Native Americans as emergency food during extreme drought conditions.

Barrel cacti are one of the more dangerous plants in the desert.
Their spines can easily puncture human skin. Its has been said that a wound that draws blood could take several months to heal with antibiotics needed for some. It has also been said that liquid in the cactus can be deadly if ingested or even sniffed.

Captain Rick’s Barrel Cactus
I have a barrel cactus growing at my Arizona Oasis that is about 10 years old. Its still less than the size of a basket ball.
I have been punctured by its needles. It wasn’t pleasant, but all healed properly a week or so later.
I will pass on testing that out sniffing or tasting its cactus juice. Perhaps one day when it flowers, I will taste its fruit. I also have a Peruvian Apple Cactus that grows huge red fruits that taste sort of like a kiwi.

My barrel cactus is still too young too bloom … but when it does, I will capture the beauty of the occasion to share with the world.
Few flowers anywhere on earth can measure up to the awesome beauty of those that bloom on an Arizona barrel cactus.

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  1. atridim says:

    Thanks for your comment

  2. Eva Harvey says:

    Interesting that the juice is deadly and the the fruit can be a lifesaver on the same plant.

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