5 Questions for Cactus Man Sal Rizzo
By JESSICA ZIMMER / Santa Rosa Correspondent
Sal Rizzo planted a 2-foot-tall Peruvian Torch cactus in his Santa Rosa yard in 1992. It’s now more than 17 feet tall and has enough arms to hold a fine collection of hats and other accessories.
Neighbors on Montgomery Drive, as well as a host of others who drive past, find themselves wondering about its story.
Do the hats and cactus attract a lot of attention?
I have people stop by the house every day taking pictures. One year a van of people from Canada came. About eight people got out, surrounded the cactus and took pictures of themselves with it. I’ve gotten so many questions that I pulled together a synopsis of what I could find on the Internet and posted it outside on a small sign.
How did you get it to grow this high?
I was supposed to leave the cactus standing up out of the pot for about 6 months. That way a hard cast, or “scab,” would form on the bottom of the cactus. Instead, I left it that way in the shade in the backyard for about two years.
In 1994, I decided to move the cactus to the front yard. I planted it in full sun. It started growing right away, about a foot a year and then some.
How did it come to sport hats, ladybug wings and wires?
I put in wires because the limbs were starting to grow into the street. I put up Christmas lights at Christmas time and always get pricked when I have to take them down.
About 10 years ago, someone brought by a hat and put it on the cactus. Today, there are many more hats on the upper limbs of the cactus. The ladybug wings are to replace a pair of angel wings that were contributed and later stolen.
Does it grow flowers or fruit?
In a typical year, over 1,400 flowers bloom on the cactus. They’re white and they only last a day. The flowers (bloom) at night, close up at 10 a.m. and then die. The cactus also produces several prickly-pear-like fruits during the year. The fruit is red and about the size of a golf ball. It’s kind of sweet but kind of a blah flavor. In the summer, it’s nice and cool from the refrigerator.
Why did you grow the cactus?
My ex-wife hated cacti and I liked them. So I grew one. I’m just getting even.