It’s prickly, pesky, pernicious, and a pain (literally) in the rear, but cactus is fascinating to Allen Duncan. The professional banker has been collecting the thorny plant for 58 years. There has to be a story there.
When Duncan was a lad growing up in west Texas, he was gung ho about the outdoors. Every summer he loaded up his army surplus backpack, BB gun, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and went exploring.
Once day as he was eating his sandwich, he looked over and saw a beautiful flower with thorns on it. He took out his machete, dug it up, popped it into his pack, and took it back to plant in his cactus garden. “That,” he said, “is how I got started collecting.”
Duncan remains “fascinated” with cactus.
“It was the beauty of the flowers that first caught my attention,” he said. Then he wanted to know the names of them. “I got to looking around and asking what kind of cactus that was. They said ‘strawberry cactus.’ I’d see a different kind and they called that a strawberry cactus too. So I had a problem: this can’t be a strawberry cactus and this big one, too. I didn’t like that, so I began learning the botanical names.”
That led him to the library, where a helpful person helped look up, then explain the Latin naming system.
For someone with a love for cactus, it was fortunate he grew up in Texas. While the prickly pear is the most common type, there are actually 49 varieties in Texas, 17 in the hill country alone. Cactus range in size and shape from 20-foot candelabras to a little one the size of a dime. Most people don’t see those, because they are hard to find and nobody is looking for them.
Duncan’s favorite is the Ferocactus pilosus.
“Feros is a derivation of fierce,” he said. “The cactus is fierce because of the spines.” It is one of many species of that “barrel” cactus. All look different, and are easily identified using the length and color of spines, and other traits. The Nevada Firebarrel, for example, turns bright red when it rains. “I like it because of the beauty.”
According to Duncan, cacti are also easy to care for, most obviously for not needing water for long periods of time, up to one year. Ironically, that aspect can keep hovering gardeners away.
“One girl looked at this cactus for one hour,” Duncan recalled. “She wouldn’t buy it though. She told me she loves them every time she sees them at a cactus show, but ‘I can’t buy it because I am an addict - I am addicted to watering, and I’ll kill them in a week!’”
But that hardiness is also a reason for the recent growth in popularity, as homeowners add them to their xeriscaped yards.
Duncan believes “anyone and everyone” will enjoy his class.
“What’s neat is that it is something most people don’t know anything about,” he said. “Every fencepost in Texas has a big clump of prickly pear on it. That’s what people think cacti are.”
Allen Duncan’s Cactus class starts April 6. For information or to sign up, click www.clubed.net, or call 830-895-4386.
Club Ed is the Community Education program of the Kerrville Independent School District. Each year, we offer more than 400 classes throughout the Texas Hill Country, along with online courses, business and individual training, and after-school and summer camps. Comment online at clubedcomments.blogspot.com, or follow us on Twitter @clubedtx.