A Walk in the Cactus


Some people live near cactus, while others only see cactus in nature parks.

The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC is building a new National Nature Park. Your class has been asked to create a special desert plant exhibit.

You are in charge of the new "cactus walk" that includes the plants that would be found on a walk in southern Arizona.

Before they fly you to Washington DC, they need to see a life-size mural of what will be included in the exhibit.

The Mission

Learn about cactus. Plan plants to include in the "cactus walk." Create a life-size desert mural.

The Process

Activity 1:

Find a reading buddy. Talk about what you already know about cactus. Then, read about them. Talk about the new things you learned.

Choose an option that fits your information need:

For more information on deserts, try 42explore: Deserts.


Activity 2:

Create a list of the cactus you will include. Also list the characteristics of these cactus. You might want to print pictures for ideas. Decide on the time of year for your walk. Will the flowers be blooming? Will there be fruit on the plants?

Become an expert in one cactus that you will draw on the mural. Be sure to read and look carefully at the kind of flowers, seeds, stems, branches, spines, and ribs on the cactus. The person should be able to see the characteristics.

Activity 3:

Although you'll include lots of cactus in the mural, you'll also need to think about other parts of the walk. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of soil is on the ground? Is it rocky, sandy, black, red, tan, or brown?
  • What would the weather be like? Is it wet, dry, sunny, cloudy, rainy, or snowy?
  • What animals might live in or near the cactus? What are signs of these animals?
  • What creatures are important to the life cycle of the cactus? Should they be included?
  • What other desert plants might be included besides catcus? Use the Not Cactus pages for ideas.

Activity 4:

A good museum exhibit has a guidebook, so people can identify interesting facts about the place and plants. Create a brochure that includes stops in the nature park with information about the desert habitat. Also include information about your specific cactus.

You might also want to create some music to play in the background. What music would go with the desert? Why?

If you've got extra time, include a game in your guidebook that asks questions about cactus. You might even include "flip up" signs on your mural to hide and show special areas.

If you have more questions about cactus, think about emailing a class in Arizona. You might share photographs of your mural.

The Conclusion

Since you won't actually be able to go to Washington DC for the opening of your exhibit. Hold a museum opening at your school or home. Be sure to give each visitor a guidebook!


Note: All photographs taken with a digital camera in Arizona and Utah.
Developed by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 05/02.