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Desert Diary


Everybody recognizes the Saguaro cactus of the Sonoran Desert. This magnificent, columnar cactus has become the universal symbol of the North American deserts, despite occurring in only one of them. For example, advertisements of companies located in the Chihuahuan Desert region frequently feature the Saguaro, ignoring the wealth of smaller, and admittedly less dramatic, cacti native to our desert. I'm afraid that this is one area where education is going to have little impact—after all, most advertisers are looking for pizzaz, not veracity.

However, there is new hope that people with an interest in plants will come to realize the diversity of the Chihuahuan Desert cacti. The book, "Cacti of the Trans-Pecos & Adjacent Areas", published in 2004, notes 76 species and 33 varieties within the region, making the northern Chihuahuan Desert one of the richest cactus floras in the United States. Everyone knows cacti have spines; it's time that we desert people also realize that these plants have some of the most beautiful blooms in the plant kingdom. The book's 313 colored photos just might change your mind.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

cactus in bloom

Pineapple Cactus (Echinomastus intertextus var. intertextus) in bloom, Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. Photograph by A.H. Harris.



Powell, A. M., and J. F. Weedin. 2004. Cacti of the Trans-Pecos & adjacent areas. Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, 510 pp + 313 pls.