By MAGGIE MCMURRAY
Moapa Valley Progress
In an effort to help local gardeners understand the many advantages of planting and harvesting native plants, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension hosted a lecture on cactus horticulture by proclaimed “cactus guru” M.L. Robinson last week at the UNCE Logandale office.
Robinson is an Associate Professor of Water and Environmental Studies for UNR as well as a horticulture and herpetology specialist. He travels around the state giving classes in water, horticulture, agriculture, rattlesnake relocation and food preservation.
He is a big fan of cactus and travels around the world to study types of cactus.
“Cacti are the “orchids of the desert,” he said. “Just like regular orchids, the plants can be nondescript. But then they turn into stunningly beautiful specimens when they bloom.”
Robinson spoke to a crowded room of eager gardening enthusiasts on many aspects of cacti. The presentation included the differences between species, where they are located naturally, their adaptability for the local environment, how and where to plant and grow them, things to watch out for, and how much to water them.
He also spoke briefly on a variety of uses for cactus fruit and plants. All species of cacti except one are native to the Americas. Each desert in the Americas has its own unique type of cactus and looking at the variety that grows there can tell a person which desert they are in, he explained. For example, the famous giant Saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoron Desert. The Baja Desert grows the Cordon cactus. Beavertail Cactus, such as the Opuntia seen growing all around Moapa Valley, are native to the Mojave desert where we live.
Despite the fact that cacti are native to this area, growing them requires planning and proper care, Robinson said. Cactus plants need to be planted in well-drained soil and often prefer native soil over nursery mixes.
In one of the more humorous parts of the lecture, Robinson stressed the importance of planning ahead when planting cacti. He explained how to sucessfully move a cactus plant should it be necessary, but said that because of their spiny nature, it is better to plant them so you never have to move them in the first place.
Although many varieties of cactus are slow-growing, they do grow. Robinson showed the group several amusing slides of examples where people had underestimated their cacti when planting. These included examples of cacti covering sidewalks, forming impenetrable barriers around houses, encroaching on driveways so people couldn’t get in and out of cars safely. In one case, a roof had to be notched to accommodate a large saguaro cactus planted too close to a home.
Robinson even went into detail on how to graft cactus. “Cactus is easy to graft and the resulting plants can be a lot of fun,” he explained.
Attendees enjoyed the lecture and felt it was educational and worthwhile. Jim Rimpau came from Mesquite to hear Dr. Robinson speak. “I am a master gardener and I’ve heard a lot about Dr. Robinson and seen a lot of his work,” Rimpau said. “I’m interested in growing cactus and thought this would be a good chance to get to see and hear him live and learn about cactus”
Diana Walker, event organizer, was pleased with the turnout and the lecture, which is part of an ongoing focus for extension this year on planting and growing landscapes and gardens, and preserving food. The lecture was the third in a series on cacti at the local Cooperative Extension.
“Cactus is a native plant,” Walker said, “but people don’t know how to grow it and use it. It can be planted for landscape uses, eaten, fed to animals, and has really high nutrition values for humans. We’re trying to teach people about the gem we have all around us so they are not afraid to grow and use it.”