Casper’s cactus

As it was in better days. It always was a bit motheaten in appearance, being well out of its climatic zone but it persevered down the decades.

It is a cactus. Well, mostly was a cactus now but we will get to that. It is a particularly prickly cactus and we have no idea at all of its name or botanical history. Presumably it came from somewhere dry and desert-y, maybe southern USA? It has sat in the narrow border outside the laundry window as long as Mark can remember and he was born here.

Over the years, his father Felix had tied it to the wooden window frame and festooned it with old horseshoes and stirrups which we left in place – a nod to his history on the farm that he managed with horses, never a tractor.

When we moved into the house in 1997, it was a great puzzle to us how our cat, Casper, was getting onto the roof and in through our upstairs bedroom window.

Generic Jury Ginger Cat (photo credit: Michael Jeans)

Casper – still referred to as Cassy-purr on account of his excessively loud purr – was a characterful little cat. This is not a photo of Casper. He came before digital cameras. This is actually his successor, Buffy, blockading the stairs that the dogs may not pass. But in the days when we still had cats, they were all ginger. As far as I am concerned, cats should be ginger so they were somewhat clonal. Buffy can serve as Generic Jury Ginger Cat.

I walked around the house trying to work out how Casper was climbing onto the roof to get access to our bedroom window but there was nothing that looked climbable. I told the children that I would give five dollars to whomever solved this mystery. Elder daughter was reversing the car out one day and in the mirror she saw Casper, shinning his way up the cactus. To this day, I do not understand how he managed to do it without getting the pads on his paws pierced by the very fine, sharp prickles but he kept using that cactus as his personal access route until he met an untimely end on the road. It has remained Casper’s cactus to us.

Beyond motheaten and shedding sharp spines in abundance

Of late the cactus has been looking sadder and sadder and has become somewhat hazardous, shedding bits of its outer layer, with the fine spines still attached, onto the path below. It always was somewhat dangerous in that location so close to the path, but as I pulled the spines out of my feet whenever I ventured out without shoes on, I decided we needed to clean it up. As we looked closely at it, it was clear that most of it was now dead.

A shadow of its former self and on its last chance to decide if it wants to live or die. At least we can now paint the laundry window frames and wash the windows

Donning leather gloves, I cut it back it back to live stems. There is not much of it left. Some of the tips were still alive and I have put them to one side for Mark to grow again, if he gets around to it. I do not like prickly plants. I do not like them at all. If the rest of the remaining plant dies, I will not mourn its passing. It is only of passing historic interest, really. Besides, the laundry window frames have not been painted since we moved in to the house, and probably not for a long time before that.  Repainting them is on Lloyd’s to-do list at last.

Why is it dying? Mark thinks it likely that one of the stems had grown to a point where it was catching drips from the spouting and channelling the water down the length of the plant to the roots.  Such a death is most likely to be a change in the drainage. Whatever, after about 70 years, it seems to have had enough of us.  

6 thoughts on “Casper’s cactus

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I can’t disagree with you on that. Though Buffy was a particularly bolshie cat who met the world on her own terms. I remember when our son went to university, he marvelled at all the city cats he would stop to say hello to, sitting out on fenceposts and letterboxes, watching the world go by. “Mum, they are all friendly,” he said. “They don’t attack me like Buffy.” And we do remember Buff being a little discourteous to garden visitors who assumed this ginger ball asleep in the rockery would be friendly.

  1. tonytomeo

    Some species of cacti that are endemic to desert regions seem to be happier with more water than they need, but do not live as long as they would without it. In the wild, some of the larger sorts live for centuries. The same species may live for only a few decades in landscapes. The same applies to Joshua trees. People pay tens of thousands of dollars for semi mature saguaro cactus and Joshua trees which may not last more than ten years. Within the native range of Joshua tree, homes are sometimes built and landscaped around native Joshua trees. Because their root systems are so extensive, they find water from the landscapes, even if it is not close by. They grow so vigorously that they can not support their own weight, and then start to drop limbs, or even fall over! They are wickedly spiny and very heavy! However, they are protected, so can not be cut down.

  2. sarahnorling2014

    Years ago, while we were living in Sydney, our neighbour Fred over the back fence had a row of these huge cacti. Not my favourite plant either, although the flowers were pretty when they opened at night. Anyway we had a visitor who thought they were just lovely, and with Fred’s permission, flew back to the Gold Coast with her suitcase stuffed with pieces of cactus! She went on to plant them all around her swimming pool. Only one of them never grew, she reckoned she must have put it in upside-down.

  3. Lisa P

    I think it would be dying because your down spout isn’t connected to a down pipe as pictured in your photo. Maybe a swale would be more suitable than a cactus. I think you should cut off the best bit of it and start again.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We are not that dumb! The downpipe was removed early on and the spouting hole completely blocked up to stop any water coming down that stretch of roof line.

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