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Make Your Own Origami Cactus Garden

This ancient Japanese art transforms ordinary paper into whimsical succulents.

By John Roark | Photography by Rick Gayle

As Valley residents, we love our cacti. For a cheerful tribute to our barbed desert dwellers, we turn to the ancient art of origami. Armed with just a square of paper and a petite pot, you can create a colorful  cactus to brighten a desktop, tablescape or anywhere else you’d like to add a dash of Southwestern elan.

From the Japanese word “ori” meaning “folding” and “gami” meaning “paper,” the art form has evolved over centuries and today enjoys a devoted following of happily folding aficionados. Clubs and societies have popped up all across the country; the Arizona Origami Society, as well as community groups in Prescott, Chino Valley and Tucson, meet monthly to crease and create.

“People have taken the art and run with it,” says Phoenix native Doris Asano, who leads an annual “Origami Garden” class at Desert Botanical Garden, in which students learn to create desert flora, including the cacti pictured here.

As a child, Asano learned to fold from her grandmother and later in her career taught the craft to kindergartners. She attended an origami convention in New York City in the 1990s and discovered that the paper art was much bigger than she realized. “For me, it was like an awakening. Since then, origami has exploded along with the internet. Once, you were lucky if you could find one or two books at the library. Now children are doing complicated models by following instructions they find online.”

True origamists, says Asano, create objects with of one square sheet of paper, and no glue or scissors. “You are constrained by that piece of paper, and that’s where things can get interesting,” she says. “A complex folder can manipulate that square, making 250 folds into an amazing creation.”

Asano notes that our desert flora translates particularly well to origami’s aesthetic. “The angular forms and straight lines of our native plants, cacti in particular, are a good place for beginners to start and can be completed using basic folding techniques,” she says.

You’re never too young—or too old—to learn to fold. “Start simple and learn the basics,” Asano advises. “Origami requires patience and accuracy. Many people want
to make the hardest models right off the bat, but it’s difficult to jump in and try to learn to complete a complex piece for your first project.”


Origami is a precise art, says origamist Doris Asano, who offers these tips to achieve crisp creases and perfect pleats.

  • Always start with clean hands and an unfolded piece of paper.
  • Choose paper that is thin enough that it will not crack when folded, but not so delicate that it will easily tear.
  • Make folds with precision, aligning straight edges where applicable.
  • If you make a mistake, start with a fresh piece of paper.
  • Be patient and take your time. Origami should be a fun and relaxing experience.
  • Desert plants’ straight edges and angular forms are a great place for beginners to start.

Check out our how-to video to learn the simple steps you need to create your own origami cactus!


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