How does a cactus survive in the desert? And how can something so ugly produce such a beautiful flower?
This is what the Lord says: “The people who survive the sword will find favor in the wilderness; I will come to give rest to Israel.”Jeremiah 31:2 NIV
How Does a Cactus Survive in the Desert?
I grew up mostly in Washington and Oregon, on the wet side of the states. After I married, I moved to the Imperial Valley—a farming center smack in the middle of the desert. I knew about cacti, but I don’t think I’d ever seen one up close until we drove out to Anza-Borrego State Park one weekend shortly after our wedding.
“How does a cactus survive in the desert?” I wondered as I saw acres of cholla on every side. God created them with unique differences to help them survive a seemingly hostile environment.
Instead of leaves, cacti have spines. The spines aid in collecting moisture and shading the plant from sunburn. Yes, cacti can get sunburned—one of the side effects of losing their spines due to fire.
Photosynthesis takes place in the stem (body) of the cactus instead of the leaves. Even more interesting, it happens in a two-part process during both night and day to conserve water.
A cactus can survive in the desert due to its unique root system. Tall cacti have a tap root which helps anchor them in poor soil. The saguaro’s taproot might reach five feet below the surface, where it can find additional moisture.
Other cacti have a network of roots spreading dozens of feet from the plant (or a combination of both taproot and a shallower network). Some cactus roots can sprout and grow within two hours of rainfall. The quick-growing roots collect moisture and send it to the plant before drying up and falling off.
If The Conditions are Right
Most people don’t look at a cactus and think, “What a beautiful plant!” But once a year (if the conditions in the desert are just right), something gorgeous will bloom on average to ugly plants. Even the ugliest cacti (many of the chollas fall into this category for me) produce oddly beautiful flowers. Vibrant yellows, deep oranges, shocking pinks and greens, and pure whites adorn cacti from late February to August.
Each species blooms at a different time of year, and some species won’t bloom at all until they mature. Which could take 30 years. Rainfall, sunlight, and humidity also play a part in when a cactus blooms.
When I look at myself and my fellow travelers, I realize we have a lot in common with cacti. We survive by adapting to circumstances. Some of us might develop more prickles than others. But if the conditions are right, we can produce something astonishingly beautiful.
I do my best to keep my conditions for blossoming right by praying, studying the Bible, and trusting God will help my roots grow deep and wide.
Have you noticed beauty in your life, even during the desert times?