When you visit the Fredrick Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and you want to make your way into the butterfly exhibit, they route you along a path that takes you through the cactus exhibit first. Here they have a wonderful collection of cactus, mostly from the Southwestern U.S. and Central America.
Being originally from Arizona, I have always had a great appreciation for cactus. As a kid, when I would go with the Boy Scouts on a desert camping trip, our excursion often included instruction from a Scoutmaster on the subject of cactus and safety.
You soon learned as a Scout that cactus deserved respect, and if you violated that, it generally taught you a lesson at some point.
Nonetheless, what is being a boy growing up in the desert without an occasional Cholla fight now and then? Yes, I confess, I participated in this in my reckless youth. A good ol' Cholla fight usually ended with someone hurt, or pulling some wicked needles out of some portion of their body.
Once again, the cactus taught us a lesson, and we soon never ventured down that road again.
Cholla, also known as 'Teddy Bear' Cactus has a character unto itself. If you brush beside it while walking in the desert, you may not notice it, but it will often break off effortlessly, and remain on your clothing. Then, at a later time, you reach around instinctively to find out what that odd sensation is on your sleeve, or pant leg, and get yourself a handful of Cholla. Ouch! The cactus also has a natural chemical on its needles to make it an extra painful sting. As it gets older, it breaks off little chunks, and they can become almost invisible on the ground. (See the photo here to the left.)
Many a hiker in the Southwestern desert can relay a story or two about the sneakyness of Cholla.
My father once reached over to help a friend with his backpack after they had been resting awhile on some rocks during a hike and palmed a handful of the wonderful cactus that had hitchhiked a ride underneath his backpack.
When I visited the exhibit at the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture park, and toured the cactus collection, of course all these memories returned. I also remember all of the wonderful lessons about the different variety of cactus, and how they survive in the desert.
They really are an incredibly beautiful variety of plant life that has no equal on plant earth. They are in their own individual category, and sometimes have the appearance of having been dropped from outer space.
They have an original look, and are quite fun to admire. This is definitely an exhibit where you do not have to worry about your kids touching the exhibit. If they do it once, they will really remember it!
If you want to find out more about the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, visit MeijerGardens.org.