Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Jumping cholla cactus, Joshua Tree National Park
I parked the car at the cholla cactus garden right next to this sign. Better warn the kids I thought as I got out of the car. Too late, within seconds one of them had skipped through the fence, and was merrily picking up a piece of cactus that had 'jumped' off one of the main plants.
"Don't touch that!", I yell, and my shout causes her hand to twitch. This is when she starts yelling...
Calm down, I tell her wondering why she is making such a fuss. "Its only a few spines!" and the plant seems to be barely attached to the side of her hand. So I hop over the fence, and grab the cactus in order to remove it.
At this point I understand her pain. The spines are improbably sharp, they penetrate deeply and they are microscopically barbed. We are now locked together and in real pain. At this point I realise I have to grasp the nettle and grab the cactus even more firmly in order to pull each of the barbed spines out of her hand. This works, but leaves the plant very firmly attached to me.
Without warning I am assaulted by a stick-wielding offspring number two. A carefully aimed blow fails to dislodge the cactus, but instead drives more spines deeper into my flesh. "Stop it!" "Sorry, I was just trying to brush it off with this branch." Of course, without experiencing the piercing grip of the cholla cactus it is difficult to understand how un-brush-off-able the plant actually is, so I try to be grateful for the attempted help. But fail.
The stick does help in the end though. I jam the cactus between the stick and the fence and then, with tears in my eyes, rip my hand away from the spines. Each point gives up with a struggle, pulling the skin into a point before release. Many of the tips stayed within the skin to be pushed slowly to the surface over the next few weeks.
So, take care if you are visiting this fearsomely impressive plant, as I am not sure that even the Cactus Wren would fancy a close encounter with it.