Beavertail Cactus found off the Mormon Wells Road, Las Vegas, Nevada. Photography by James L Rathbun
Beavertail Cactus found off the Mormon Wells Road, Las Vegas, Nevada. Photography by James L Rathbun

Cactus are some of the best suited plants for the dry, hot climates of the Mojave, Sonoran, and Great Basin deserts. They range in size from just a few feet, exemplified by the beavertail, to over 50 feet in the noble Saguro.

The plants protect themselves from the harsh dry climate in the desert with a thick almost waxy skin with helps prevent water lose. They gather water by employing a vast root system or growing deep tap roots to help gather as much water as possible. The body of the cacti will visibly swell after a monsoon and wilt during the dry season.

These plants are famous for their sharp spines which protect them from molestation. Speaking with first hand knowledge, they are not fun. Despite the danger, tortoise are know to eat some species of them, and many animals make the homes in, around on these plants.

There resources of these planets have been used by humans for thousands of years. Certain species are a food source and in modern society, some are used to make cacti jelly. However, the most interesting thing about these plants is the magnificent display of color when they bloom in the spring.

A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.

Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus)

The Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) is a commonly seen resident of the desert southwest and its range includes California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. The…
Beavertail Prickly Pear. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Beavertail Prickly Pear (opuntia basilaris)

The Beavertail Prickly Pear cactus (opuntia basilaris) is very common in the desert south west, and would go most of the year most of the…
Claret Cup Cactus

Mojave Mound Cactus ( Echinocereus mohavensis )

The Mojave Mound Cactus or Claret Cup Cactus boasts a bright red - orange flower blossom. The Mojave Mound Cactus ( Echinocereus mohavensis ) is…
Silver Cholla waiting for an incoming storm.

Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)

Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa) is a common species of cactus which is native to the southwestern United States including Nevada, Arizona and California. The Silver…