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Cactus flowers for multiple uses

By: Jane Rounsaville, special to Home & Garden
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They’re prickly, weird looking and sometimes excessively hairy. From aloes and agaves to baby toes and saguaros, cacti and succulents are some of the most bizarre — yet surprisingly loveable — members of the plant family. Aloe vera is a natural remedy for minor skin problems, blue agave gives margaritas their kick, and the pads (nopales) and fruit (prickly pear) of Opuntia ficus indica are edible. An extract from the skin of the prickly pear fruit has even been shown to reduce hangover symptoms. “You can buy a cactus and cut the leaf (fleshy pad) and the goo that comes out can be used directly on burns for healing,” said Cyndi Davis at Eisley Nursery in Auburn. “It’s excellent for burns.” Known as the camels of the plant kingdom, cacti and succulents can survive long dry spells by storing water in their fleshy tissues. This drought-resistance has made them increasingly popular with landscapers and home gardeners. Unfortunately, many types of cacti have become so sought after that they are being illegally collected from the wild, and are now in danger of becoming extinct. The best way to protect against poachers is to buy cacti from a reputable nursery, and find out how they were obtained. In the foot-hills, the plants can be grown in containers or in the ground, indoors or outside. “I have about 10 kinds,” Auburn gardener Rena Webb said recently. “I have Christmas cactus, and they bloom all the way from September to Easter. There is an Easter one that is just precious.” Sedum ‘Angelina,’ Dragons Blood, and Cooperi are also popular with Auburn-area gardeners. Webb said she likes to use succulents in her dish garden. “Your succulents, they are more meaty types of things,” Webb said. “They have thick leaves, they hold water. They multiply, some of them are kind of like little seedlings and hang over, and make vines — some of them look like little flowers.” With proper care, cacti and succulents are low maintenance, and live for a long time.