Cacti are full of contradictions. Although they can be found in some of the harshest, driest and most barren environments on earth, some are delicate tropical plants that grow high among the branches of the rainforest canopy. Many examples bristle with ferocious-looking spines, while others are completely bare. Nearly all exhibit remarkable floral displays – some having flowers that are even larger than the plant itself.
Cacti have played a prominent role in human history for thousands of years. Some species were revered by ancient civilizations, playing a part in their religious ceremonies; other varieties have been heavily cultivated for food or for the production of the bright red dye cochineal – which is actually derived from a parasitic insect that feeds on the prickly pear cactus. Native to the American continents, cacti have spread worldwide and have become an important feature in many gardens and collections. Although not often in the culinary forefront of people’s minds, a number of varieties of cacti are delicious to eat – it is a cactus that produces ‘dragon fruit’, which is fast becoming one of the world’s more popular tropical fruits.
In Cactus Dan Torre explores the natural, cultural and social history of cacti, with particular emphasis on how these remarkable plants have been represented in art, literature, cinema, animation and popular culture around the world. This is a highly original, entertaining and informative book that will appeal to everyone with an interest in cacti.
‘Torre’s book also looks at cacti in art, literature, linguistic phrases and popular culture. There are cactus fences, cactus medicines and cactus societies. For a family of plants that has, at times, been widely loathed, it has managed to permeate every aspect of our lives.’ – The Age, Australia
Dan Torre is a Lecturer in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He is an avid grower and collector of cacti.