For the prickliest patients, a desert doctor makes house calls

CACTUSBy Rick Rojas | The New York Times

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — The aging patient, prickly and stiff, loomed over the doctor, showing a number of troubling signs. The doctor noted poor posture, callused skin, limbs pocked with deep scars. He feared survival would hinge on drastic action, maybe even an amputation.

A saguaro, that succulent symbol of the Southwest, was in need of medical attention, and Rilée Leblanc — otherwise known as the “cactus doctor” — is the specialist cactus owners turn to around here.

He considers his bond with the plants to be something spiritual, and on a recent morning, he examined the saguaro, trying to divine what ailed it. It stood nearly 30 feet tall, weighed some 12,000 pounds and leaned dangerously close to a home. Mr. Leblanc looked at the thick skin at its base and estimated it was over 100 years old.

“They all have personalities,” said Mr. Leblanc, 66, wearing a newsboy cap and squinting in the sun’s glare. “They all have separate problems. You can’t lump them all together.”


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February 2015