The Desert in Bloom

My new book Dawn Comes Early takes place in Arizona Territory.  When Kate Tenney first arrives she hates the dry, barren land, but nothing is what it seems at first glance. Beauty—whether we’re talking about the desert or people—often reveals itself slowly and only when we look for it.   Today, I want to take you on a desert tour through Kate’s eyes.


Arizona State Flower: Saguaro

The tallest cactus  in the world, the saguaro can grow to almost seventy feet.  It also has a long life and doesn’t sprout arms until seventy-five years or older.  Night blooming white and yellow flowers appear April through June. Pollinated by bats, the blossoms have a waxy feel, fragrant aroma and are sturdy enough to hold a bat’s weight.  The flowers will turn into ruby fruit by summer.




If you fall in a cactus patch, you kin expect

 to pick stickers.


Prickly Pear

This cactus grows red, yellow or purple flowers.  The plant spreads along the ground and ranchers often used them as living fences.  The plant kept man and livestock from crossing over.


Ranchers also burned off the spines during droughts and fed the water-filled pads to livestock. Flowers bloom April through June and produce edible fruit.



Fishhook Barrel Cactus


The last cactus to bloom in the calendar year, orange, red or yellow-green flowers appear in July or August.  Indians used the spines as fishhooks .  


It’s commonly believed that the Barrel Cactus holds water and can save stranded travelers from dying of thirst. This is a myth.  It actually contains alkaline  juice; drinking it could give you the trots and possibly hypothermia.





 Surprise is a near-sighted porcupine

fallin’ in love with a cactus.



This spiny plant grows red tubular flowers  and its honey-scented nectar attracts hummingbirds.  The plant sheds leaves during dry spells to preserve water and grows leaves during rain.


This cactus was also used as living fences by ranchers to keep out man and beast.



Century Plant (agave)



Consider yourself lucky if you come across one of these in bloom.  So called because they bloom “once a century” the plant actually lives for about twenty-five years. 


It blooms only once but the flowering spike grows so large and so fast it saps the energy from the plant, which then dies. 








In the book Kate has an unfortunate run-in with cactus.  Anyone have a cactus tale to share?


Available in Print and Ebook 


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28 thoughts on “The Desert in Bloom”

  1. Interesting post, Margaret, especially about the cacti used as natural fences. I’ve never heard of that.

    I guess I really don’t have a cacti story. I’ve only seen them up close and personal when we took a family vacation to Arizona and California when I was young, and I think my focus was more on getting to see Mickey Mouse than appreciating the natural beauty. :o)

  2. My cactus story: the barrel cactus is able to survive the washer and dryer. How do I know that?

    Years ago after a trip to Arizona my then four year old son put a baby cactus in his pocket. I have no idea how he managed to do that without hurting himself, but I can tell you it sure did hurt to take it out.

  3. We have a lot of prickly pear around my home town in Texas, and I love seeing the blooms. They ofen have multiple colors on the same bush. Beauty in the harshest of plants – makes for a powerful metaphor.

    I don’t have a personal cacti story, but I did have a heroine once who had a run in with one. Thankfully the hero was nearby to lend a hand. Of course, he was prickly, too, at the time, but his thorns proove easier to soothe away than the prickly pear’s. 🙂

  4. Margaret, these pictures are so beautiful. I lived around cacti all my life in New Mexico and Texas but never really appreciated their beauty until a few years ago. When they’re in bloom they’re gorgeous.

    Loved your book DAWN COMES EARLY and even bought a copy for a friend. I’m recommending it to everyone.

  5. Linda, I never really appreciated the beauty of the desert until I wrote my book. I was like my heroine Kate: I only saw the prickly stuff.

    Thank you for your kind recommendation of my book. Nothing is more helpful to a writer than word of mouth!


  6. Just a reminder: It’s not too late to enter my
    “Daily Reasons to Smile” contest. My publicist is nursing six cacti on her desk and these will be sent out to six lucky winners. The grand prize is an iPod docking station. Just send an email to

    Be sure to put “Daily Reasons to Smile” on the subject line. That’s it!

  7. Love this! Not an exciting story, but I have decided to re-do a little planter around our birdbath with cacti and succulents. I think saguaro are SO majestic…but that won’t be one of ’em.

  8. I am a big fan of Arizona too. One of my favorite places is a little town called Cochise off the main road out of Tucson heading east. I like it so much it’s going in a new book! And I had a great time with Mary Tate Engles in the Cochise Stronghold. I hired a guide and saw things no tourist would ever see, including the most fabulous Hacienda I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen those cactus fences and I don’t think a fly could get through–they are lethal looking.

  9. We lived in Arizona recently so I do know my cactus! We lived in Tucson for 6 years. I have to admit though that desert is not my favorite. Now we live in Oregon and the NW is by far better for me! Our family has lots of cactus stories but suffice it to say that they are all prickly!

  10. The flowers are gorgeous. The only thing I can say about a cactus is that I can’t keep one alive – I eventually overwater it lol.

  11. Hi Margaret, I am sure you are right at home on this site, never knew there was so much to learn about cacti, we have a few around the property and they do have pretty flowers bloom sometimes.
    thanks for sharing today

  12. Well my cactus story has to deal with my son…We live in Arizona and we love it here. When my son was learning to ride a bike he took off down a hill and forgot how to stop so he flipped off his bike and went directly into a cactus…Prickly Pear to be exact….He never done that again….

    Thanks for all the info about the cactus…It was a very interesting post…

  13. Loved reading about the cacti stories since I iive in Arizona. I love the desert and all of the flowers and unusual plants that grow here. The sahuaro cactus only grows in Arizona and part of northern Mexico in the Sonoran Desert.
    Some adventurous people make cactus jelly out of the pods found on certain cacti. One time in the early 60’s, my husband and I were south of Phoenix on the desert going to pick some of these buds to try and make the jelly. A pickup truck drove up and the man in it asked what we were doing and we told him. He gave us his permission to be on his land. It was a very friendly John Wayne. (We did not realize we were on his big cattle ranch . I made the jelly but it was an all day process. But the jelly was very tasty.

  14. I started DAWN COMES EARLY today and am enjoying it.

    My husband had a run-in with cactus when he was about 8. His dad was stationed in Tucson, AZ. He was riding his bike and fell into a patch of teddy bear cactus. Lots of tiny spines. I think it took a long time to get them all out.

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