It was not love at first sight. Cacti are not the most beautiful plants to behold. They look mean and grumpy. Their spikes seem to send threats to those who dare to come too close—”back off!” They are like gunslingers from old cowboy movies, ready to fire a shot to anyone, with an evil grin and menacing stare.
I don’t know how I grew to love them. It just happened.
One fateful December day in 2019, I bought cacti on a whim. Three small spiky creatures planted on small black pots. I placed them on the windowsill of our office, beside my seat. I had zero idea how to look after them or what kind of cacti they were. All I knew then was, as the young seller told me, I should not water them too frequently lest they die.
It sounded easy. In fact, it sounded perfect for a neglectful gardener like me. The plants did not not require much, unlike my mother’s ornamental plants which needed to be watered at least once a day, or twice during hot summer days. I didn’t have to soften the soil, trim overgrowth or uproot pesky weeds. I just needed to place them in pots with fast-draining soil, give them sunshine and a little water every now and then, and the cacti were happy.
Cacti have no frills, I realized. They are straightforward plants. Love them or hate them — there is no in-between. It was then that I decided that cacti are the right plants for me. And so my fascination with these prickly creatures began. I tended to my cacti with gusto.
But then the pandemic happened. Movements were restricted and everyone was ordered to stay home. Alone in the office with no one to look after them, my cacti were forced to fend for themselves. Three hot summer months without water: I thought they would shrivel and die like most plants. But cacti are not like most plants. I was surprised to see them alive, albeit dehydrated, when I came to the office as soon as the restrictions were eased. I was happy to be finally reunited with them.
I took them home and placed them again on the windowsill of our apartment so I could look after them better. But much to my dismay, two of them died only after a couple weeks. My mammillaria cacti bid me adieu. The pandemic took a toll on them, too. Sadly, no amount of TLC could reverse the ill effects of neglect these plants had endured during the lockdown, especially from an ignorant and inexperienced plant parent like me. I was left bereft with a single echinopsis cactus.
Days, weeks, months passed. Time dragged on, and everyday seemed like a torture. As my quarantine fatigue grew, so did my cacti collection. I devoted some of my time researching about my spiny friends. The more I got to know them, the more I grew interested in them. I bought one cactus after another and decided to add haworthias to my collection, too.
There is truly something about these tough plants that I admire. Cacti seem to have mastered life and the art of living it. They are tenacious and adaptable. In their original habitat in the wild, the sun is ablaze against these resilient creatures, yet they stand tall and firm, unbothered by the harsh condition. They are corking and thriving. Placed in a pot, they flourish still, adapting to their environment.
Cacti are unconventional. They are badass rebels who refuse to compromise and change their identity despite the changes all around us. The whole world evolves and they still remain themselves. Saguaro cactus, for instance, a large cactus specie that can grow up to 15 meters when mature, would only grow two centimeters during its first 10 years and would not bloom until it is 50-75 years. Patience is definitely a must-have virtue when growing a cactus.
But, while cacti may seem tough and prickly on the outside, hence the tendency to be judged for their menacing appearance, their insides remain soft and mushy. No matter how long and spiky their spines are, no matter how tall, short, big, or small they are, cacti are all the same inside. They are tender and soppy. They never let the unforgiving environment change them inside. Instead, they equip themselves with spines to protect themselves better. Treat them carefully and they will reward you with all the good things they have to offer; approach them aggressively and they will fight back.
Indeed, cacti have taught me a lot about surviving life, especially with the stress and uncertainty of our current situation. By nurturing these prickly creatures, I am always reminded to look hard at things, to pause and reconsider, and to always try to see the goodness and beauty in everything despite their rough appearance. Cacti remind me to be patient and to remain gentle despite life’s adversities — that there will always be consolation from our Divine Creator and Protector. Not every time is a period of drought, for there will come a time of abundance, because God loves all His creations alike, be it man or cactus.