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Desert Dust and Thorns

If you think that's all there is to cactuses, read on.

March 01, 2001|ROBERT BURNS | robert.burns@latimes.com

This week's Click could get a little prickly. But that's to be expected as it's the cactus tour.

To be honest, the main reason we're taking on this thorny subject is that a colleague has been nagging us for months to visit cactus sites. She evidently spent a small fortune landscaping her South Pasadena hillside but is incapable of typing six letters into a search engine.

It's not that we have anything against cactuses. We'd just prefer them in the desert, where they can be free.

And since we like our cactuses wild, we'll start with Southwestern Cacti (http://arizona.cacti.home.att.net/cacti.htm). Here you'll find information and many photos of the 152 cactus species found in the American Southwest. The plants are indexed by both scientific and common names. Descriptions are somewhat Arizona-centric, however.

There are maps showing where various species grow wild at the BONAP Cactaceae listing (http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/FLORA/kartesz/karcact5.htm), which is, um, helpful.

DesertUSA (http://www.desertusa.com) covers many common types of cactus, as well as wildflowers and other plants.

Probably the saguaro of all cactus sites is the Cactus and Succulent Plant Mall (http://www.cactus-mall.com/index.html). As the name implies, there is a commercial element to the page, but there's also plenty of links on conservation, photos, cactus lovers' home pages and listings of local clubs.

Los Angeles has its own branch of the Cactus & Succulent Society. Its Web site is at http://www.lacss.homestead.com, but it's busy enough to prove that old adage that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

If all the moving text on the L.A. site gets you nauseous, try CactiInfo (http://www.cactiinfo.com/introduction.html), where there's an encyclopedia of succulents, along with a tip of the day and a message board for questions and answers.

More answers and other info are at the Garden Web's cactus & succulent forum (http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/cacti). There's one from JollyJan in Yorkshire, England, who asked: "How many is too many?" She's even bringing home cactuses that look a "bit sad" at the garden centers. Joke all you want, but we know a cry for help when we see one.

If you'd rather see other people's cactuses and succulents than grow your own, there's a cyber tour at the Ruth Bancroft Garden (http://www.ruthbancroftgarden.org) in Walnut Creek, Calif.

A more exotic tour can be found at the Botanical Garden of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean (http://www.cactustropicalgarden.com/index1.html). You can take the tour in English or practice your French.

Photos can be so real. The Smithsonian Institution's Department of Botany has a big collection of cactus illustrations at http://www.nmnh.si.edu/botart/cactgen.htm. It's so Darwin.

If all this is making you hungry--and why shouldn't it?--Rivenrock Gardens (http://www.rivenrock.com) in Nipomo, Calif., has some cactus recipes. Included are a cactus breakfast burrito, cactus chili and, the obvious choice for Hannibal Lecter, a fava bean and cactus soup. The Chianti is optional.

Of course, the best way to get your minimum daily requirement of cactus is a lot more fun: tequila.

*

Robert Burns is an assistant Business editor at The Times.

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