You can eat them, drink them, build with them and get high on them. With their almost figurative postures and their alien-like sculptural beauty, cacti make for a striking image. From the cinematic desert landscapes of the Wild West to Yves Saint Laurent’s striking giant cacti populated, ultramarine painted villa garden – the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, cacti are now growing everywhere from our kitchen cupboards to the lobes of our ears – they are literally ‘growing’ from our ears… The cactus has now become ubiquitous in fashion and popular culture – jewellery, clothing, homewares, you name it.
100% non- prickly cotton Cactus print Dresses currently at Larks: both £35; Cactus Necklaces (l-r) £7.50; £19.99
As household plants, their minimal needs are somewhat equivalent to the features of the stereotypical pet cat – low maintenance, furry, prickly (think aloof, think claws), but beautiful and loveable nevertheless. The cactus’ prickly nature is, of course one of their most distinctive features. Most species have lost their true leaves, though the spines are the evolutionary remnants, now highly modified forms of leaves. During periods of drought, cowboys would burn the spines from the fleshy pads of cacti to use as food for their cattle – a process called ‘burning pear’. The pinky purple fruit of a prickly pear cactus, reminiscent of stubby fat fingers, is actually called a ‘tuna’ and is considered somewhat of a delicacy which, once the needles are burned away and the fruit cut open, contains a small amount of tasty juicy, sweet goo packed with Vitamin C.
The psychoactive agent mescaline is found in some species of cactus, most notably the Peyote and the San Pedro cactus, long used by indigenous peoples of North and South America (respectively), perceived as a means of accessing the spiritual world. The chemical compounds in these cacti cause changes in mood, cognition and perception and have not only been useful agents in psychedelic flights of fancy, but also key components in the art of healing and herbal medicine.
There’s a multitude of homewares available now using the iconography of the cactus, but incidentally cacti have been used elsewhere in the home for centuries now, with the woody parts of the cactus used in buildings, wattle and daub houses and also furniture. Cacti have also been used as construction materials – living cacti being utilised as defensive barricades and fences. The hairs (trichomes) and very fine spines of some species were even used for weaving and also as a source of fibre for filling pillows. What a pain in the neck that must have been…
The Aztecs symbolised the ripe red fruits of an opuntia – a genus of the cactus family, more commonly known as prickly pear – to the human heart. They believed that an offering of these ‘human hearts’ to the sun god would ensure the god kept the sun moving, just as the fruit could quench the thirst. Wonder what the Aztecs would have thought of the Hi-Kawaii Cactus Light then…?