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216 × 138 mm
224 pages
117 illustrations, 101 in colour
10 Apr 2017

Cactus Dan Torre

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.

‘A wide-ranging social and cultural history of cacti that champions a family of plants usually neglected by gardeners . . . The most entertaining chapter is an account of the anthropomorphic view of cacti in films, television, comics and art. Cactus ‘men’ seem to have been around, in some form or other, since the 19th century. Subjects such as the long history of the cactus in art, or the use of the plant as food are covered in a deft and often amusing way. The book is learned and well-researched but always easy to read and full of fascinating anecdotes . . . an engaging insight into a fascinating group of plants.’ – Gardens Illustrated

‘This fascinating title puts the horticultural specifics of the Cactaceae family in the spotlight, and explores their social and cultural impacts on society . . . The worldwide popularity of cacti is well documented in these pages through interesting commentary and images.’ – Gardening Australia

‘This delightful series is accessible and worthwhile for general readers who are interested in plants, history, or art. Covering the history of human interaction with cacti and especially cactus-inspired art, this work is a fascinating ingress into all things cacti . . . This work will appeal to a broad range of readers . . . Highly recommended.’ – Choice

‘Cacti’s diverse appearance and survival tactics have made them not just the focus of gardeners and photographers from desert to tropical regions, they have inspired sculptors, painters, filmmakers and writers, and been used by cooks (think dragon fruit) and for their therapeutic qualities such as pain relief and antibacterial properties. The prickly pear was even revered by early civilisations such as the Aztecs. All this, just for a cactus? Look and learn with this entertaining book that uncovers the rich natural, cultural and social history of a plant with attitude.’ – Reader’s Digest

‘Torre’s book 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

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Dan Torre is Senior Lecturer in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Carnivorous Plants (Reaktion, 2019).