Sunday, August 5, 2012

Saguaros on Rattle Snake Mountain ?

Prickly Pear Cactus Nopal from Tenerife - Canary Islands
Well first before I get to the Saguaro story, here is the progress of sorts on my wanting a potted Prickly Pear Cactus in my house here in Sweden. We collected it in February when my wife and I went to Tenerife again. Brought it home, let the wound callused over and planted it in a sandy potting soil. Then I waited. 

Here's that parent Cactus plant
We had a lousy Spring which didn't truly come at all until early June. That's when I put the pot outside on the back porch. Even June was horrible as we had to have our heater on the whole month. Towards the end of June it did great as you can see in the above shot and progressed wonderfully until the slugs and snails took their toll on the little pad. Notice below as I took this photo today. 

Photo: Mine
Notice Mr Snail on the young tender Nopal ? Seriously, these things ate spines and all. How does a soft delicate bodied monster like this make it through spines ?

Photo: Mine
On a positive note in the background the Lavender & Strawberry plants are doing wonderfully. Although the giant brown imported Spanish Slugs did get most of the berries which were very few this year.

Photo: Mine
My other cactus collection which truly has never progressed beyond what you see here, but it decorates our Spanish Styled dining room table nicely.

Photo: Mine

On another Tenerife note: Here is a little type of an Agave looking plant that we saw a lot of in most of the Tenerife neighbourhoods. Some of the pups fell from the flower stalks and root nicely in potting soil. I had this in a bag back hidden away in a drawer until we came back from Dänemark and in late June or early July and I planted it. Maybe someone will officially recognize it for me. Interestingly many of the fringes of neighbourhood gardens had the large agave like leaves of these  plants eaten off by some animal like maybe a deer,  cow or perhaps goat, but not sure what animal. Only know that something out there finds them edible.

Okay so none of that has anything to do with a Saguaro growing on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon California. Just wanted folks to see some failures as well as successes with my cactus growing experiences. Most readers will remember this Torrey Pine tree on the mountain but without me in the picture. I took a friend up there to see what I had only vaguely alluded to for decades. This is his photo.

This photograph was taken in June 2011 - First year after 30+ years the tree has developed pine cones. You may also remember the photos of San Diego Coastal Cholla which I rescued from development over in Santee near the Lakes area which is now a housing tract. Very few San Diego Coast Cholla stands remain intact. Some that may be seen are along some of the roads leading up into Sierra Mesa and Linda Vista on south facing slopes of Mission Valley. Update (2013): The tree at the upper left has been cut down by angry residents at the Sky Ranch Housing Development  on Rattlesnake Mountain in Santee who were upset over the presence of the Torrey Pines and the imagined fire hazard which could result. They did this despite the fact that this is protected Conservation Area land with No Trespassing signs.  

Photo: Mine
Colonies of this San Diego Coastal Cholla cactus with Coastal Cactus Wren nests no doubt led to the partitioning off of this area with Conservation Protected Area status before final approval of the housing development boundaries. Wish I had photographed the area when they first taped off. I was blown away by the sight of this protection status. What astonished me more was the presence of Cactus Wrens in the first place as I had never even seen them before as a kid.

Below is what I didn't show you. My friend  took this photo of me standing next to what use to be a large over six foot high Saguaro in early 1990, before some couldn't care less gun happy louts blew it away with either a shotgun or numerous rifle bullets. Either way it was blown to bits to the ground. You can still see the former outline of the previous girth at the base where to my surprise new growth came rocketing back with two arms to replace the single that was lost. This regrowth event happened around 1995. Notice the Rattle Snake Mountain Sky Ranch Housing Development in the background up on the ridge ? Both stems are tough and healthy. Amazingly this plant was never pampered and I established it the same way I did the Coastal Cholla which I'll explain below.

To give some perspective of just how big the size was on the original growth, here is a photo taken during the same time period last summer, but in Anza Borrego State Park. The Cactus here is not a Saguaro, but a rather a typical Desert Barrel Cactus which can grow quite large. Although I would have to imagine very very slowly. Now my height is about 6 foot 3 inches, so that will illustrate the length of this cactus photo as far as height and just how large the Saguaro on Rattlesnake Mountain was previously. I believe Saguaros are much faster growing as they acquire far more moisture by being located within the direct pathway of the entire Summer Monsoon season's airflow.

Photo: Mine

Opuntia (Cylindropuntia) prolifera

 This photo is from a website called "The Cactus Jungle" which is being used here to offer a close up illustration of the jointed nature of this type of cactus. Like other Chollas it has joints which easily break off either to roll down a hill away from the parent or get itself caught on some animal or human only to be shaken off and rooting itself somewhere new to create another Cholla plant. The Cholla Cactus Community on Rattlesnake Mountain is well over an acre in diameter in it's spread from the originals.

What I did was collect numerous Cholla Arms or rather joints that had broken off and load them into a brown paper bag. The key to successful plant establishment is to disconnect yourself from that self taught nurturing gardener nursemaid thing you love to do so well which wants to baby everything and practically keep the yard on life-support. You'll be surprised how many plants actually don't necessarily need nor want this. Simple find a dry hot location on your property (you know, where the soil is rocky and shallow and nothing else will grow there ?) where you want to establish a permanent colony and dig a hold with a spoon only a couple inches deep. Then with tongs clasp the cactus joint and place it in the hole UPRIGHT (I hope I don't have to explain which end is upright. I'll be obvious) and proceed to push some soil back up against the cactus joint. Use the spoon for this, not your fingers.

NEXT  --> DON'T EVER WATER IT!!! Leave it alone until next rainy season. The same technique was done with the Saguaro I had friends purchase for me and bring over from Tucson Arizona. The key is NEVER water after planting. You'll create rot. The plant has enough fluids in them to sustain them. In fact though you will NOT notice anything on the surface, you can be sure that certain mechanisms are triggered in it's DNA to start root production based on the resources it already has at it's disposal so that by the time the rainy season does come the network is already well established and functional, though you may not actually see it unless you dig around its base.
Well for the moment that is it. I've been convention busy for a month and sick this past week.
Update: Nice article from Southwest Trees and Turf which was contributed by Juan Barba a consulting arborist in Tucson, AZ on transplanting "Dos & Don'ts" of Saguaro removal, transplanting and general health care there after.


  1. I do not have a green thumb at all and a cactus would not even survive around me. I do love them they are very pretty when they flower. I would be excited to see all the cactus wren nest. Great post and photos.

    1. You'd be surprized Eileen, many folks who think they HAVE Green Thumbs have for years been using science-based chemical innovations and techniques to establish and maintain their landscape and they continually have to baby it or the lifesupport system fails completely. In the mean time some corporation some where pockets alot of cash from self-imagined green thumbers.

      Look and observe nature and showing respect on how intelligently designed and put together it's various ecosystem structures are and to the extent you've learned enough and replicated what you observed, your thumb will beome greener than most folks.


  2. I really applaud your efforts to keep the desert alive at your home. The snail is just plain ol' shocking to me! I did the same thing when I lived in Wisconsin. I missed the desert so much that I collected bits of cacti pieces and created a garden on my table. It didn't even matter if they grew a whole was just important that I have them by me. Today my cacti collection is outside on my window ledge instead of inside the house. They were all little pads, cuts, or branches and today they have grown nicely in their pots. When they get too big, I put them into the landscape. In Panama last I became really excited by a tropical cactus growing in the woods. I love the rain forest but it doesn't compare to desert vegetation in my book.

    Great advice for people wanting to start their own cacti garden. Shocked and horrified by you Saguaro story. So many idiots out there who love to shoot at them. BUT glad that it came back. Wonderful growth. All my best. Chris

    1. They've got a Desert View feature here at the Göteborg Botanical Garden that my wife and I will got to this week. I actually have a couple of stories of things that interest me there.

      At the time I visited those friends in Tucson where I bought the cactus in 1980 with state permit and all, there were Chainsaw vandals doing damage in the Saguaro National Monument. Never underestimate the newer and newer lows to which human idiocy will sink to.


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