Cacti Thrive in the Gap Between Summer and Fall

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The end of summer brings with it massive rainstorms, or monsoons, to southwest deserts. Cacti thrive at this time of year, and Tuscon, Ariz.-based writer Charles Bowden's cactus garden is a prime example.


In the southwest deserts of this country, the end of summer brings massive thunderstorms, monsoons. The prickly cacti drink themselves green, as in the rioting cactus garden of Tucson-based writer Charles Bowden.

Mr. CHARLES BOWDEN (Writer): I live on a tiny city lot because I forgot to make a million. And so I put in vines of trellises to create barriers so the yard would be larger, so you could never sit in any part of the yard and see the whole yard, so it would be like this exploration. Now, the exploration would be for me, so that every place I sat I saw a different yard. And that's what I've created, a sanctuary for my own mind. Trust me, my mind needs sanctuary.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BOWDEN: Cereus, which, you know - all cactus come from the western hemisphere - and Cerues are all - almost all night (unintelligible) and they're almost always white as they bloom at night. This is Selenicereus turansis(ph). Now, the flower on this cactus is the largest cactus flower in the world. It's the size of a dinner plate, 12 to 14 inches. It blooms one night a year.

It opens about 9:00 p.m. and closes at 4:00 a.m. And we used to have people over here for parties to see it because no matter who they are or what their backgrounds, they look at it and they just as staggered, because the pedals open so fast, you can see them move, and it just hangs there, this giant pie plate hanging off a tree.

I'm not claiming it's like a Corvette, but you can stand there or sit there and just watch the petals move.

I don't believe any theory of simply utility or behaviorism, whatever they call it, can explain the beauty of a cactus flower. My God, there must be an easier way to get pollinated or to mate than to produce this enormous flower.

This flower is a lesson. It's the Van Gogh of flowers. Something that's gone past the edge. That's why I keep growing it. It's one of my touchstones to keep me alive. I think this is what life's about.

CHADWICK: Writer Charles Bowden tending cactus flowers in Tucson. And thank you to producer Jeff Rice. That was part of the series Stories of the Heart of the Land on public radio stations around the country. To learn more, go to heartoftheland.org.

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