In many places, cacti are often disregarded as thorny, desert plants with no use for human beings, but in Morocco they have become a major source of revenue for locals.
Apart from eating them as fruits and feeding them to the livestock, Moroccans are now using cacti to produce medical and beauty products.
But apart from the consumption side of it, this spiky plant has become a major tourist attraction in Morocco, raking in millions of dollars every year from local and international tourists.
At Cactus Thiemann, one of the largest cactus plantations in Africa, tourists from all corners of the world have found a perfect spot for their nature cruises and sightseeing.
The ranch, which covers approximately 17 acres, is located just a few kilometers from the ancient medina of Marrakesh – the fourth largest city in Morocco – a few miles away from Yves Saint Laurent Museum.
Cactus for Beauty
The ranch was established in the mid-1960s by a German agricultural engineer, whose family was known for their long-held passion for the spiky plant.
Reports say Mr. Thiemann was tired of growing cacti in greenhouses and therefore wanted a place with favorable climatic conditions for the plant to thrive on its own.
After extensive research in Europe and other parts of the world, the German engineer found the Moroccan desert to be the most convenient location for his childhood passion. So he left for the North African country in the late 1950s.
With him, Thiemann brought an assortment of cactus specimens to Morocco, most of which still exist up to today.
Currently, the farm, which is now under the management of Thiemann’s widow Fatima, is divided into 150 stadium-size patches, each of which carries a single specimen of cactus. The ranch is characterized by monster cacti disappearing into the horizon.
Some of the common varieties of cactus found on this farm include Astrophytum capricorne and Echinocereus pectinatus. The taller varieties, most of which grow two inches a year, include Cephalocereus senilis, Afghan hound, and Neoraimondia herzogiana.
Every year, hundreds of tourists make their way to this cosmological countryside to catch a glimpse of the gigantic succulents and enjoy the rare scenery.
For so long, the cactus plant has been largely overlooked by scientists perhaps due to its scary appearance.
But since 1980 a renewed interest in the plant continues to grow, mainly due to the multi-functionality of its prickly pear fruit.
Studies have shown that the plant possesses high levels of certain chemical components such as calcium, magnesium, and betalains that give it a supplementary nutritional value.
by Fredrick Ngugi