July–August 2024

Young Naturalists

On Pins and Needles

Extreme heat and cold are no match for Minnesota's tough little cactus species.

Christine Petersen

Say the word “cactus” and most people will think of thorny plants growing in a hot, sandy desert.

There’s some truth to that image—most of the nearly 2,000 species of cactus are found in warm regions of North and South America. But did you know that you can also find cacti (that’s the plural of cactus) in parts of western and southern Minnesota? In fact, our state is home to three cactus species: brittle prickly pear (Opuntia fragilis), plains prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha), and ball cactus (Coryphantha vivipara).

I wish I could share that information with my grandmother. She had a special love for rocks and cacti, and, on road trips we took together, she taught me to appreciate parts of nature that are often feared or overlooked.

If she were still alive, I’d take my grandmother to Minnesota’s cactus country, a place she never got to visit. We’d wander among the ancient rocks and prairie grassland in search of these special plants. Will you come with me instead? Read on!

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