By Valerie C. Coffey
After spending the spring of 2016 RVing through the desert southwest, is it any surprise that I took at least 100 pictures of cactus? Doesn’t everyone take pictures of cactus? Maybe not, but perhaps it seems less nutty in light of the fact that Mitch and I were in several gorgeous state parks and national parks where cactus was in full bloom.
So with apologies to Sheldon Cooper (you know, the nerd on Big Bang Theory who does a “Fun With Flags” video series), allow me to present some amazing, informative and amusing facts about southwest cacti for the cause of cacti awareness. I bring you, Fun With Cactus.
I am by no means a cactus expert, I’m just an amateur nature enthusiast and a science writer. So I do know how to research things. And compared to Mitch, I’m a flora and fauna expert. So I’m just gonna go for it, but don’t quote me. And if you identify any mis-identifications, let me know!
Cholla cactus come in more than 20 species, including pencil, staghorn, buckthorn, chain-fruit, club, and devil. They grow in every desert in the American Southwest and bloom from April through June.
The most amazing thing about cholla is how many different colors of blooms it has!
Prickly pear cactus come in more than a dozen varieties, all of which have flat, fleshy, green “paddles” that are round or oval in shape, with long sharp spines. The Engelmann prickly pear is the most common prickly pear, growing in all North American deserts.
The Purple-Tinged prickly pear is purplish in color with longer spines (Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts), while the Blind prickly pear has smooth paddles with few spines (Chihuahuan Desert only).
Even though the Blind prickly pear appears to have no spines, if you touch it, you may find that it has many small almost invisible brown spines around the joints. The spines can come loose and get in animals’ eyes and cause blindness, which is where it gets its name. So you wouldn’t want to touch it. The Blind prickly pear has yellow and orange flowers, often appearing on the same plant at once – cool! It only grows in certain parts of Big Bend National Park.
Species of hedgehog cacti appear all over the world and hundreds of different species exist. They grow close to the ground in a small barrel shape that resembles hedgehogs covered in spines. The flowers are big and colorful, ranging from pink to orange to red, and are pollinated by hummingbirds. We saw them blooming in Arizona in March and found them blooming in New Mexico and in the Big Bend region of Texas in April.
Saguaro cacti are the quintessential icon of the American Southwest, even though wild saguaros don’t grow in New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, or in the high deserts of northern Arizona. They are found mainly in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and northern Mexico (and a few grow in limited places in southern California). They are like trees, growing up to 70’ tall with arm-like branches. They might grow for 75 to 100 years before growing their first arm, and can live to be 150 years old!
For me, the best part about saguaros is finding them in amusing, ancient poses.
The Southwest in spring has my heart, for sure, knowing that it contains such amazing, amusing, attractive flora. It’s a place I could stay for a very long time!
It’s hard to leave the desert behind, but we are excited to move north! We are now in Ooooooooklahoma! (where the wind goes sweeping down the plain)…and that makes 44 states for the Love Shack! We’ll be arriving in Colorado Springs, Colorado, tomorow! We’re so excited to enjoy the vistas and cool forests and lakes of the Rocky Mountain state this month.
Here’s our schedule for Colorado in June, Utah in July, and beyond:
Check out our Facebook page for up to the minute pictures and news of our travels — that’s the best place to follow us every day.
See you in the warm places!
Val (and Mitch!), RVLuckyOrWhat
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