I hear this question pretty often and each time I wonder why people are so concerned with the use of cactus plants. Nobody’s interested in the use of aquarium with tropical fishes or a matchbox collection. Why? Isn’t it the same with collecting cacti? I believe in case of cactus plants it’s not the matter of use but for the most part of aesthetic beauty and true admiration of one’s hobby. As for me, there’s nothing more beautiful than a collection of variegated cacti even if they don’t bloom. And in my opinion a flowering cactus will surely gain the first prize in the flower competition.
Like breeding fishes or collecting stamps, growing cacti first of all satisfies your aesthetic needs. Moreover, you get closer to nature, broaden your horizons, liberalize and increase the number of friends, as no collecting is interesting if you don’t share your joy with other collectors. Some people even assume that interest in cacti brought them to life during a serious illness or depression.
From the historical and cultural point of view the question about the use of cactus plants has a different answer. As a matter of fact, various types of cactus were adopted in this or that way for people’s life in those cultures and countries where they distributed. For ages cacti have been used as building material, food, medicine, ritual objects among native Americans, Mexicans, Colombians and others.
Saguaro cactus served as a building material at all times. Fences and hedges of growing saguaros with big thorns are prevalent in many countries of Central and Southern America. It’s typical not only for villages and pauper houses but also for posh modern villas. The stalks of old large saguaros, or rather their dried up wood, is a light and firm material to make poles, beams and frames of buildings. The smaller cacti are used by local handicraftsmen as stuff for souvenirs that tourists buy up.
There are much more other ways of how different types of cactus plants can be useful for the civilized man. I will talk about them next time.