Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cactus in our desert

We're lucky, here in Prescott, to have our own lonesome and reasonably private desert, free from encroaching highways or Phoenicians. Just get on Iron Springs and head west, toward Bagdad. Saturday, the dotter wanted a real Arizona sunshine fix; what could be better than a trip down to the Santa Maria River the day before her return to darkest Alaska. While she hiked, I looked for cacti. What I found:

Excellent, multi-branched saguaros, growing right near the river's edge. These are obviously very tall old trees, with even the limbs growing limbs! Note the evidence of our recent soaking rains -- the white fuzzy tops of the cactus below, preparing to blossom.

There were several types of opuntia within a short walk of the car. Your standard prickly pear above and its cousin, the beaver tail cactus below; the beaver tail has spectacular magenta blossoms. Did you know that the prickly pear is native to at least 45 of the 50 states and most Canadian provinces?

I'm not sure if these (above, below) are the same brand of cholla or near relatives. In any event, you do not want to tangle with one, though their blossoms, like most of our cactus, are beautiful in season. Cholla are also in the opuntia family.

More cholla. Unfortunately, those mean spikes are all that show up in the tangled mass of the little Christmas cactus, characterized by pencil thin branches and small, bright red fruit.

And yet another cholla. If you have heard the term, jumping cactus, meet one. Also known as teddy bear cactus, this is one plant to keep at a distance. Though they don't actually jump, those pretty joints quickly attach to anyone or thing that touches them and break off, the idea being to start a new teddy bear cactus elsewhere. In the southwest, one hears apocrophal tales of men who peed too close to such a cactus with a very painful aftermath.

This particular teddy bear cactus was collapsing, as the main stem died, shedding all those joints to start new plants.

The barrel cactus is a short, stout, unbranched plant. All but one of the barrels I saw yesterday was growing out from beneath a so-called nursery tree or shrub (below), which provides shelter from the hot, drying sun when a seed sprouts and the tiny cactus begins its slow growth.

The prickly pear (above) started in the shade beneath a nursery tree, spread and continues to spread. Seeing the barrels and optuntias 'neath trees and shrubs gave me the idea of inspecting the assorted palo verdes, mesquites and cat claws to see if I could find a young saguaro. I lucked out -- take a look at the adolescent cactus below. It is probably 30+ years old, by the way, which should give you some idea of the age of those saguaros at the beginning of this post.

13 comments:

Antipodean Curmudgeon said...

You can add Oz to the list regarding prickley pear. It's a big pest in parts of the Queensland bush.

Hermano

worldphotos4 said...

Super post. Enjoyed the lesson and the photos.

sheoflittlebrain said...

I really enjoyed this cactus post. And it's lovely to see so much water in the Santa Maria!

Anonymous said...

You really lucked out on finding cacti!

Please, more visits to the Santa Maria River area. Before the ranchers sell it all off, and it's subdivided.

Beautiful post!

~Anon in AV.

RV-boondocker-explorer said...

What elevation were these photos taken? You must have been quite a bit lower than Prescott.

quilteddogs said...

Beautiful Granny J. I am certainly no fan of the jumping cactus. I hate that stuff.

Granny J said...

bro -- thanks for the reminder of the precautionary tale about OZ & the prickly pear. I recall yr number two son wanting to see our opuntia in situ -- prickly pear growing where it wasn't a critical pest...

steve -- not something you will see in Germany, tho the prickly pear might survive there. I was surprised to see that pp turned into an important Mediterranean crop!

brain -- we figured that our last rain probably filled the river...

anon av -- fortunately, the area is a little too far from any mall; there are a couple of enclaves of mobiles containing retirees who probably really love the desert. If it were to get subdivided, it would be into those 40 & 10 acre parcels you see up around Juniper Woods near Ash Fork.

boonie -- the Santa Maria is at roughly 1200 ft. elevation where we were. About the lower limit for the prickly pear, BTW, which is reasonably happy up here in Prescott. Otherwise we have a different suite of cactus here at 5400 ft elevation.

qd -- I don't mind cholla in small doses and few & far between plants so that one can go walking through the stuff safely!

dagnygromer said...

I have pulled many cholla needles from dogs' feet over the years.

Granny J said...

dagny -- that's a bummer! Especially for the poor dogs...

Melanie A. said...

Oh, so pretty. I loved the image of that clear blue sky in the background, while it was esp. dreary here in northern California. Thank you for reminding us how venerable and old the taller saguaros are.

Granny J said...

melanie -- that first saguaro was probably at least 200 years old... don't forget that these cacti only grow about 1 inch per year!

PS - we're getting the clouds and precips from the coast today... in between fine periods of sunshine.

Sally said...

Great post, GrannyJ! Makes me homesick for my Arid-zona days. I especially liked (from a distance) those cuddly teddy bears, but too easy to get them stuck on your pants legs!

Thanks for submitting it to BGR...

Granny J said...

sally -- ah -- it is winter and a good time to miss Arid-zona! If I recall, there is another, mean jumping cactus you see in the desert nearer Phoenix.

PS, for my other readers, Sally is referring to the Berry-Go-Round, a frequent carnival of things botanic and floral. I'll let you know when the next carnival appears.

 
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