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Cacti are full of contradictions. Although many are found in the driest and most barren environments on earth, some grow exclusively in the branches of the rainforest canopy. Many species bristle with ferocious-looking spines, while other varieties are perfectly smooth. And while they might strike us as the most austere plants on earth, nearly all of them exhibit remarkable floral displays—some even larger than the plant itself. In Cactus, Dan Torre explores these unique plants as they appear all around the world and throughout art, literature, and popular culture.
As Torre shows, cacti have played a prominent role in human history for thousands of years. Some species were revered by ancient civilizations, playing a part in their religious ceremonies; other varieties have been cultivated for their medicinal properties and even as a source of dye, as in the case of the prickly pear cactus and the cochineal insect, the source of red carmine used in everything from food to lipstick. Torre examines how cacti have figured in low-footprint gardens, as iconic features of the landscapes of Westerns, and as a delicious culinary ingredient, from nutritious Nopal pads to alluring Pitaya—or Dragon—fruits. Entertaining and informative, this book will appeal to any of us who have admired these hardy, efficient plants.