When I was young, I had a jade plant, and it fascinated me. It looked like a miniature tree made out of silicone. Its leaves were fat and fleshy. Its limbs were rubbery and flexible. It seemed like a beautiful little alien life form to me.
From there, I got an Aloe Vera plant. I would cut open its thick leaves and rub it on a minor burn, it would soothe and heal it. That was magical.
Another magical quality about succulents is that they’re often found in arid places, and yet they retain water like no other plant does. Succulents, to me, are the epitome of abundance. Some can live up to two years without water. They are survivors. I admire them. I also really, really enjoy saying succulent.
There is a controversy regarding succulents in the plant world. (And who doesn’t love a good controversy? Bring it on!)
In horticultural circles, the term succulent excludes cacti. But botanists would tell you that nearly all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. For our purposes, succulents are thick, fleshy and engorged with water. That describes most cacti, too. I tend to look at cacti as succulents with an attitude.
There are lots of reasons to love succulents. They’re beautiful, they’re hardy, they’re low maintenance. They come in countless varieties. But maybe I just like them because, at my age, I can relate to water retention. Who knows?
If you are really into succulents, I suggest you read my post about the Cactus and Succulent Society of America. They even have conventions! The day I get to attend one of those is the day I’ll truly consider myself a succulent nerd.
A friend of mine told me about someone who is so into cacti that he attends an annual cactus convention, where one can feast one’s eyes on cacti worth a thousand dollars or more. I don’t know why, but the thought of cactus conventions makes me really happy. I’m glad they exist in the world.
It had never occurred to me that they would exist, but it doesn’t surprise me that they do. I mean, we have flower shows, right? So why not an event for their more arid cousins?
A lazy Google search just yielded me a Cactus and Succulent Society of America convention that will be held for several days in July in San Obispo, California. What fun. I’m thrilled that they threw the succulents into the mix, for those of us who want a kinder, gentler cactus. (Actually, cacti are succulents, not the other way around, technically speaking, but for some reason cacti always get singled out. Poor cacti. Can you tell I like saying Cacti?)
The convention includes an opening reception, speakers, field trips, vendors, and a barbecue banquet. But wait, there’s more. If you become a member of the CSSA, you get their tri-annual journal, seeds from their seed depot, and support the “cactus and succulent community” through education, conservation, scientific research and research grants.
It may sound like I’m making fun of this interest, but really, I’m delighted by it. It’s like I’m seeing a whole new world that I didn’t even know existed. It gives me hope. It just goes to show that there are so many things in the world that can hold our fascination. It makes me feel like the planet, and we humans who inhabit it, are rife with possibilities.
It also makes me view the average cacti with a great deal more respect. So, yeah, there’s that.
I really must be in love, because on my fiancé’s behest, I was about to fly to Tucson, Arizona. In August. If I wanted to experience 100 degree temperatures, I’d have stayed in Florida. And yet, here I was, on a plane, heading into what felt like the world’s biggest pizza oven.
Ah, but it’s a dry heat. The better to desiccate you with, my dear. It felt as if the inside of my nose was going to crack open and crumble to dust.
And yet, upon arrival, a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the place’s unique beauty. I strongly suspect that Arizonans are treated to more thorns per capita than residents of any other state in the union. Saguaro cactus. Organ pipe cactus. Barrel cactus. It has more plant species than any other desert in the world. Cholla. Prickly Pear. Creosote bush. Bur sage. Palo verde. Mesquite. Ironwood. Acacia. I was enchanted.
And running around amongst that flora was an amazing amount of fauna. An astounding variety of lizards, too quick to be photographed. Turtles. Bats. Rabbits. Coyote. Gila monsters. Hummingbirds. Quail. Roadrunners. Snakes. And lest we forget, the troublesome Javelina.
It seems like life should be impossible in the blistering heat of this desert, and yet there it was, all around me. The terrain was amazing, too, with its mountains and plains and dry washes. And, being monsoon season, when it rained, my goodness, it rained, causing floods where one would think water had never been before. And then the temperature would drop 25 blessed, blessed degrees and the desert would bloom and be as lush as it could ever be.
Would I live in the Sonoran Desert? No. I’d miss moisture and grass and nothing scary to step on when barefoot.
Will I visit again? I hope so! There’s a certain poetry to the place. But I hope I won’t be back in August. Please, God, not in August.
Here are some pictures we took of this beautiful land.