How to Pet a Barrel Cactus

Picture the Sonoran Desert. Beautiful landscape filled with cacti: yellow cholla, green saguaros, small hedgehog and pincushion, and even the non-cacti plants: brilliant red ocotillo, dense green ironwood, with mountains in the distance.

Oh yeah. And the barrel cactus. My favorite.

What I love most about the barrel cactus are the SPINES. They come in a variety of colors, including yellow, red, blue, and pink.

And, if you get very brave, you can reach out and ‘pluck’ one of the spines to make a banjo sound.
As I became more acquainted with the desert the winter we lived there, I found a very odd urge. I wanted to… pet a cactus. How strange! Everyone knows that cacti have prickly things on them! The prickly things hurt! But I considered myself a cactus expert. I picked ‘cholla balls’ (parts of the cholla cactus plant) off of people with my bare hands. I knew pretty much everything about the cactus that the rangers did… and I was only a 14-year-old camphost at our campground.

So I made plans to pet a cacti. I originally picked the barrel cactus because its spines point DOWNWARD. Usually. If they didn’t, I got pricked, and pretty much left that cactus alone after that.

All right. Ready to learn how to pet a cactus? Good. Five easy steps to petting a cactus.

How to Pet a Barrel Cactus

1. Pick your barrel cactus. This shouldn’t be very hard to do, unless you aren’t in the desert. Then it is hard. Hopefully you’re in the desert.

2. Put your hand near the top of the cactus. Be careful, though. At the very top of the cactus, the spines point UP, so make sure you place your hand where the spines point DOWN.

3. Stroke down to ascertain that the spines all point down. Do this very slowly at first, and lightly, to make sure there are no spines pointing OUT or UP. They should all be pointing DOWN. It kind of feels like you are petting rubbery curved toothpicks.

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4. Once you make sure that all the spines are pointing DOWN, you can continue to pet the cactus to your heart’s content.

5. When the barrel cactus thanks you, make sure that you say ‘you’re welcome’ to it. It’s the polite thing to do.

And that is how to pet a barrel cactus. In my young mind, I thought that I could go on to other cacti, and even pet the saguaros, whose spines point straight out, like toothpicks. I quickly dismissed this idea when I noticed that even barrel cacti can prick me.

Posted on December 5, 2013 on Wandering Educators

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