Candy Barrel Cactus

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Ferocactus wislizeni (Arizona Barrel Cactus)

Ferocactus wislizeni (Arizona Barrel Cactus) is a cactus with a globular to cylindrical stem that grows up to 6.5 feet (2 m) tall and up to…

Ferocactus Plant Info – Growing Different Types Of Barrel Cacti

Fascinating and easy to care for, barrel cactus plants (Ferocactus and Echinocactus) are quickly recognized by their barrel or cylindrical shape, prominent ribs, showy blooms and fierce spines. A wide range of barrel cactus varieties are found in the gravelly slopes and canyons of the Southwestern United States and much of Mexico. Read on and learn about a few of the most popular barrel cactus varieties.

Cactus Garden Design In the Front Yard

Your front yard is the first thing that people sees when looking at your home. Thus, it’s important that you make a good impression by coming up with a beautiful front yard landscaping.

Cactuses are amazing plants and can help to make your front yard to stand out. Depending on the variety, there are those that produce abundant blooms as they mature. Adding the cactus in your front yard landscaping is just similar to adding any other plant, except that they have a much longer life expectancy. Therefore, you should give them enough room to grow. Grow them in areas that will not pose safety hazards in your front yard.

Although most cactuses can flourish under a bright hot sun, this may not be true for all varieties. There are those that that can thrive better under the shade. Also, most of them are slow growing so you need to know exactly how much space and light the plant will need before you include it in your landscaping.

Cactuses often have shallow root systems. Therefore, watering should be given utmost consideration. Drainage is also vital to the growth of the plants since they cannot tolerate constant wet soil. A good idea is to plant them in a spot along with other low watering plants so it gets watered infrequently. If you need more ideas and inspiration for your cactus front yard landscaping, then you better check out these cactus garden design ideas for the front yard.

A garden of cactus and succulents in the front yard.

Beautiful cactuses by the front yard walkway.

Large varieties of cactus in the front yard.

Golden barrel cactus and a variety of succulents.

Magnificent front yard landscaping of cactuses.

A large barrel cactus adorn the front yard landscaping.

Fake legends and Southwest imagery sold crystalized cactus to Americans.


In 1891, on the final leg of his long journey from southern Italy to Arizona, 12-year-old Dominick Donofrio looked out the train window and saw his future take shape. For miles, the Southwestern desert was an uninterrupted forest of cacti: tall saguaro and organ pipe, clusters of cholla and prickly pear, and everywhere, the giant, round barrel cactus, known by Native Americans as visnaga.

Arriving in Phoenix, Dominick went to work at his older brother’s booming confectionary. But he yearned to make a mark of his own. “It came to my mind that millions of dollars could be made out of cactus,” he would later recall. For a decade, a scheme combining cactus and candy “preyed on my mind until I could see myself counting the money.” In 1905, Dominick bought the store from his brother and realized his vision right away.

For centuries, the Pima and other tribes used the visnaga’s cooked pulp as food and its spines as fishing hooks, and candy from the plant was a well-known homemade treat in Mexico. But “Donofrio’s Crystallized Cactus Candy” marked its first industrial production in the United States.

A young, adorably round fishhook barrel cactus in Arizona. Susan Lynn Peterson/CC BY 3.0

The process involved a startling amount of labor, cactus, and sugar. Out in the desert, Donofrio’s hired hands hacked down plants ranging from two to five feet tall and 80 to 100 pounds, then de-spiked and trucked them back to the factory. Here, workers peeled, cored, and sliced up the visnaga into small cubes, boiled them into tenderness, and cooked them in sugar-syrup over and over again, hotter and hotter. Then, via a top-secret Donofrio process, workers crystallized the cubes in vats, cooked and crystallized them again, and set them out on racks to harden. The result was something like a gumdrop, with a sugar crust and a gelatinous core.

“That man’s name will go down in history who first converted the ugly desert plant into such a delightful delicacy.” Thus boasted one of Donofrio’s earliest ads, inaugurating a decades-long marketing juggernaut. Donofrio targeted Christmas shoppers, guilty husbands, and snowbirds anxious to impress friends back home. Cactus candy was “pure, wholesome, nourishing, [g]ood for breakfast, luncheon, dinner,” his ads claimed, thanks to the pure air and sun of the desert. Playing on a romanticized vision of the Southwest, his cactus candy came in boxes illustrated with Spanish missions and sandal-wearing Native Americans.

On top of that, Donofrio’s promotional materials spun an elaborate, fake origin story for both candy and proprietor. According to “Toltec legend,” the Sun God imprisoned a beloved maiden’s soul inside the visnaga to protect her purity. This legend, claimed Donofrio’s, then inspired a Toltec wedding ritual, where prospective grooms had to make cactus candy by ripping out thorns with their teeth and crystallizing pulp with wild honey.

Donofrio’s marketing strategy presented a romanticized vision of the Southwest. Pamphlet Collection OB9791 Pam. 2, courtesy of University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections.

That wasn’t all. At least one brochure stated that the Donofrio family was not Italian, as their name might suggest, but rather had descended from a long line of Mexican confectioners, beginning with Donofrio, royal candy-maker to an ancient Toltec king. Maybe these claims were meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but newspapers and trade journals regurgitated them wholesale.

By all accounts, the gimmickry paid off. Mail-order business soared, and Donofrio’s new treat popped up in candy stores across the nation. The company produced 15,000 pounds of the stuff in 1920 alone.

A year later, another Mediterranean immigrant took up the cactus candy mantle 400 miles away, in El Paso. Originally from Greece, George Carameros and his brother-in-law made candy in Mexico City until around 1918, when the Mexican Revolution forced them north. Then they bottled beer and soda in Texas until Prohibition killed that business, too. Wandering through an outdoor market in search of a new calling, Carameros happened upon a cactus candy stand, gave the merchant five dollars to show him how it was made, and the rest was history.

Visnaga piled high in the Donofrio’s factory. Public Domain

To announce his new business, Carameros displayed a 300-pound visnaga in downtown El Paso. And he upped the cactus candy game in more ways than one. He made cactus preserves and ice cream, infused the candy with fruit flavorings, coated it with chocolate, and touted an allegedly unique method of anti-mold preservation. His candy was hawked on every transcontinental train, in restaurants and hotels across the West, and even aboard international steam ships. In 1927, Carameros produced 165,000 pounds of cactus candy, and nearly twice as much a decade later.

Success bred plenty of imitators. Throughout the 1920s, smaller, shorter-lived cactus candy ventures sprouted up across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California wherever the open desert offered visnaga for the taking. Gushing at the trend, one news report opined optimistically that “the supply [of barrel cactus] is said to be almost inexhaustible.”

But while cactus candy appeared to be all the rage, whisked from shelves and gobbled by the handful, one thing was missing from the breathless coverage: a description of its actual taste.

Then, in 1924, a cranky El Paso journalist named Norman Walker opted to speak his truth, via a colorful survey of Mexican candies, syndicated nationwide. “Eating Mexican cactus candy is like kissing your sister,” he began unpleasantly, “it fails to satisfy.” After skewering all the cheesy marketing, he got to the bottom of why so many new companies seemed to fail: “Some success has been attained, but it does not repeat itself in sales.” In other words, lots of people bought and sampled one box of cactus candy, but few chose to ever do so again.

Donofrio’s advertised and sold candy across the nation. Public Domain

But it didn’t make a difference. The trend continued unabated, and by the late 1920s, in California at least, the desert’s supply of visnaga no longer looked so inexhaustible. “Our Sweet Tooth Eating Up Cactus,” one paper reported, echoing a lament among Los Angeles-area garden clubs that automobile access into the desert was causing the demise of a rare botanical treasure. “Barrel cactus on the deserts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties is being taken out by the truckloads daily for the manufacture of cactus candy,” railed one early conservationist.

In 1928, both counties adopted legislation banning removal of desert plant life, but the threat persisted. Over the next decade, alarmed California citizens reported truckloads of pilfered cacti being smuggled along back streets, beloved fields of cacti hacked to the ground, and a Los Angeles candy plant overflowing with giant, freshly-butchered visnaga. Cactus was seized not just for sweets, but for home gardens, shoe-heels, even goldfish bowls. Foreseeing mass extinction, “friends of the desert” groups sprung up across Southern California, lobbying lawmakers for wildlife protection and transforming the public’s vision of the desert, from bleak dust bowl to environmental treasure.

Donofrio’s Candy Store in Phoenix, as it appeared in the late 1910s. McCulloch Brothers Photographs, Herbert and Dorothy McLaughlin Back and White Photography, Greater Arizona Collection, Arizona State University Library.

Following in California’s footsteps, Arizona adopted protections for its desert plants, including the endangered giant barrel cactus. But Dominick Donofrio was undeterred. For two more decades, he hired a Native American to procure the cactus from his reservation, where harvest by permit was still allowed. And in El Paso, Carameros continued to send his workers deep into New Mexico’s Organ Mountains for visnaga, until he sold the candy business in the early 1950s. Only in 2014, thanks to a tireless coalition of desert-lovers, was this region granted federal protection under the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act, which named the barrel cactus among its treasured species.

Once facing extinction, visnaga can be found across the southwestern deserts and in Mexico. But it has an uphill battle for survival. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the particular species used for candy as “vulnerable” with “population decreasing” in the United States and “near threatened” in Mexico, urging further action to protect them from theft and destruction.

Cactus candy remains an Arizona novelty, on sale alongside cactus jelly in airport gift shops. But these days, most candy is made from prickly pear fruit, rather than the pulp of the imperiled visnaga. So a taste of the desert is now more sustainable.

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In order to properly water a cactus, you must have a good understanding of its natural environment.

Barrel cactus grow naturally in some of the most foreboding landscapes on the planet. These desert landscapes produce extreme scorching, relentless blazing sun and little to no precipitation for much of the year, and then monsoonal rain.

A cactus is a sort of a water storing stem that collects water through this compact stem instead of leaves. This compact design helps cacti to minimize transpiration (plant equivalent of perspiration) and maximize water storage. Barrel cactus is one of the most compact cacti, and it could be considered the water conservation tank of the desert. Everything about it is designed for water storage and protection.

Keeping this in mind, and remembering that even the most harsh interior situations are most likely no match for the Sonoran Desert, it becomes obvious that an indoor barrel cactus will not need much water very often. As a matter of fact, you can probably get away with watering only a couple times a year with good results, believe it or not.

How Often and How Much Water?

Since most barrel cacti are very tight in their grow pots, often forming a muffin-like shape as they pop out over the edges of their pot, it is nearly impossible to check soil moisture. Also, the dense intertwined spines prevent feeling its turgidness or how firm it is, so how do you know when to water?

Easy: Put it on a very lean watering schedule, watering thoroughly maybe every two months and then leaving it alone.

The best advice is that if there is any question on whether to water or not, DO NOT WATER. It is highly unlikely that a barrel cactus will die from under-watering.

The most common health issue for interior cacti is overwatering. It is difficult for us humans to just leave things alone this constant need to do something can be compounded if one has become accustomed to caring for interior foliar plants that need more consistent care. It is a whole new approach to plant care.

How Do I Get the Water Into the Soil?

With a barrel cactus basically overflowing its pot, leaving no room for exposed soil surface, one may wonder: How can I get the water to the soil? Looking at this cactus, we see that it has a center at its top and a series of peaks and ridges that run all around the body. The valleys of these ridges will act as little irrigation troughs if you water onto the center of the top of the cactus. The water will run down the ridges and into the soil under the plant.

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