Block of the Week: Cactus

Unpick its prickly promise, centuries in the making

What do you reckon is the most embarrassing way to die in Minecraft? Hugging a Creeper you mistook for a loved one? Skinny dipping in a pool of lava? For us, it's the idea of the humble cactus block getting the finishing blow. When you touch their spiky skin, they only deal a half heart of damage at a time. That means you'd have to fall on a cactus block twenty times to perish to their prickles. Oh, the shame...

Still, after safely being placed in a pot, they certainly look nice in our living room, and real world cacti are actually incredibly useful. Water is never far away in Minecraft, particularly if you forgot to build a roof. Whereas in the real world, a cactus can act as a crucial natural water reservoir in dry areas. Slice some cacti open and you'll get a liquid that's thicker and murkier than the water we all know and love. This mucilaginous substance varies between different cacti but can be drunk by humans.

This has even saved several human lives! Humans that were stupid enough to wander around in the desert without enough water, but saved lives nonetheless. We wouldn't recommend tearing out your sink and sticking taps in your plant life just yet, as the acids in some cacti can make you sick, but it's still a handy tip for the next time someone leaves you stranded in the desert without any water. Jerk.

This pic by Jon Abbott shows a saguaro cactus standing tall in Sabino Canyon, near Tucson, Arizona.

If you're planning on keeping a cactus of your own, keep in mind it could be a long-term commitment. Some cacti reach 25 and call it quits, but others, like the saguaro cactus of the Sonoran Desert, can live to be up to 200 years old. All in all, this powerful plant is one of nature's most quietly impressive achievements. Maybe we shouldn't be so ashamed about falling into that Minecraft cactus patch twenty times after all.