Crested Blue Flame is in the north specimen bed nearest the Café and Solar Field. It’s easily identified by its shape, which is a series of heavily folded skin. It makes it eye-catching. This feature has resulted in a variety of common names including Dinosaur Back, as well as “Crested” followed by multiple descriptive names. All an attempt to capture this unique growth pattern.
The pattern could best described as clustering, since it grows a trunk-like center crest, and then sends up additional stems that will grow around each other, thus forming a cluster. It makes an interesting addition to any garden space as quite an attractive curiosity.
At Sunnylands, it elicits questions from visitors, including “What’s wrong with that cactus?” For those used to more recognizable patterns of barrel, columnar, and pad producing cactus, this one is a surprise.
It’s also a growth pattern we see in other ecosystems, like the coral reefs. The corals are colonies of organisms that act as one, but the cactus creates this visual effect as a single organism.
The blooms are small with radiating petals and greenish-white in color.
The Night Blooming Cereus has some variability in its growth. It mainly grows similar to a tree-form, having stems that curve upward resembling branches. At maturity it can reach as high as 35 feet. Spines may be completely absent or grow as long as two inches.
This cactus has bloomed at Sunnylands producing a large, beautiful white bloom, tipped in pinks and reds. The bloom is followed by a red fruit with white pulp.
Assumed to be native to Venezuela and the Caribbean, but due to wide cultivation and distribution, this is not confirmed.
Also: Cereus repandus (Anderson)
This vibrantly colored cactus can grow solitary or in groups with spines that range from yellow to bright red and may even be combined on one plant. The spines have distinct banding and a slight curve. In the gardens they can be found in the specimen beds at the shuttle gate and nearest the solar field.
Flowers are a bright yellow and red-orange blend, which are followed by yellow fruit at the crown.
Their distribution is throughout Northern Central Mexico in San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Durango, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas.
Fish Hook is found in specimen beds between the café and solar field, and around the wildflower field. This barrel, from the same genus as the Blue Barrel, is easy to distinguish by the variety of its spines’ shapes. The name comes from large, flat spines that appear on this cactus and curve to form a hook. These central spines have been used by the local Seri people as fish hooks, and all parts of the cactus have been used for food or tools.
Flowers range from yellow to orange, followed by yellow ovoid fruit.
Distribution includes central and southern Arizona, New Mexico, southwestern Texas; and Chihuahua, Sonora, and Sinaloa in northern Mexico.
The Golden Barrel cactus forms dense wooly caps, from which it can grow crowns of yellow, cup-shaped blooms in spring and summer. These cactuses, like agaves and many other succulents, also produce clones and can create a colony of barrels all stemming from one parental plant.
At Sunnylands, this showstopper is planted in the scoria-mulched beds under the Palo Breas, adjacent the Center. Planted alone in rows, it draws visitors with cameras trying to capture unique views that emerge below the Palo Brea trees. In other parts of the gardens, it shares the spotlight with the San Pedro cactus.
Mary Irish, horticultural consultant on the project, describes these spotlights: “San Pedro cactus and Golden Barrel cactus are set like twin jewels on the dark base. This dramatic presentation is one of the artistic gems visitors find while wandering through the gardens.”
At sunset, the bright green flesh and yellow spines create a glowing effect that looks as if they radiate light.
This cactus, included on the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) list, is endangered in the wild. Transport across international lines is restricted as the demand for certain desirable species often results in their depletion at their home of origin, as they are poached and transported to private collections around the world. Now heavily commercially cultivated, they are more available, but as the plants grow to larger sizes, their price point increases, leaving older, wild specimens in danger of being poached.
Santa Rita is found in the specimen beds between the café and the solar field among a variety of other Opuntias. This species grows in mounds and doesn’t form a central stem that some other of the genus will. Santa Rita’s pad is very round, rather than obovate (egg-shaped), and is a blend of gray-green and violet-purple.
The cup-shaped flowers have a red base that turn yellow moving up the petal. Its bloom is followed by spineless, purplish-red fruit.
Distribution of Santa Rita is southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas, and northern Sonora, Mexico.
The Walking Stick or Cane Cholla is a compact tree-like cholla that produces unique looking whorled branches. In water, it follows the pattern of some other cholla species and turns a flush of purple. It has the ability to form hybrids with other chollas, including Teddy Bear or Jumping Cholla, which is also planted in the specimen bed.
It blooms red to purple, yellow, or white blossoms, followed by spineless fruit that are yellow tinged with purple and will remain on the cactus until the following spring.
Its origins are the desert and grasslands of Arizona and New Mexico in the United States and the states of Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico. It prefers high elevations well over 6,000 feet, due to a strong frost tolerance.
Teddy Bear Cholla is in the specimen beds between the café and the solar field. The nickname Teddy Bear comes from its appearance as a fuzzy plant, but the “fuzzy” is actually densely placed blond spines. Also referred to as Jumping Cholla, this skilled desert propagator uses a clever method to expand its territory. Barbs at the end of each spine allow the Cholla to grab on to anything passing with the slightest brush against it. It readily detaches from the main plant to hitch a ride on fur, t-shirts, or human skin. The touch need only be slight. Often the victim doesn’t realize a transfer has occurred. It’s easy to assume the spined balls jumped off the main plant or up from the ground where they blow around until settling to root in sandy or rocky terrain. Cactus Wrens and even Mourning Doves recognize the benefits of nesting in Cholla where predators risk serious injury if they pursue them. Small desert woodrats go a step further, using them to build a fortress around their burrow entrances.
The blooms are cup-shaped and range from a green to yellow color. They are sometimes tipped in tones of red.
Cholla’s range extends from the Mojave Desert in California, Nevada, and Arizona, down into Baja California and the Sonoran deserts of northern Mexico. It prefers to be below 3,000 feet in elevation, in sandy and rocky washes, and in bajadas (base of alluvial fans).
This smaller columnar cactus is in the specimen beds between the café and solar field and will grow to about 3 feet. It is a very attractive columnar cactus—perfect for small gardens or several planted in a larger space.
The varietal name grandiflora is no joke! It produces huge blooms and, with a variety of hybrids on the market, it is available in many colors, including pink, red, yellow, and bright fuchsia. When in bloom, they stop visitors in their tracks.
Previously named Lobivia grandiflora or Trichocereus grandiflorus.
Torch originates in Catamarca, Argentina.
Totem Pole is in the specimen beds between the café and the solar field. This columnar cactus is hard to miss with its protruding branches that resemble large bumps along its column. It is a slow growing, small cactus, with smooth spineless skin. It will grow branching stems low to the ground. Most visitors to Sunnylands are familiar with columnar and barrel cactus highlighted in old western movies, but have less exposure to the more unusual varieties. This unique specimen is a delightful departure from standard garden cactus and often is a point of conversation on garden walks.
Totem Pole is a night bloomer. The genus Pachycereus is Greek and Latin for “thick,” “candle,” “wax,” and “torch,” likely referencing their night-blooming nature. Many white-flowering desert plants provide nectar to migrating bats or moths, and so they bloom open at night and then close by the following midday. The flowers will be followed by the formation of sweet red fruit, with seeds called pitaya.
Its origins are in South America, including Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.
The best place to identify this species is in the specimen beds near the shuttle gate, though there is one in the specimen beds by the café. This cactus has a hefty stem diameter and a heavy covering of hair-like spines, which is where the common name Old Lady originated. Edward F. Anderson’s 2004 edition of The Cactus Family does not give this species a common name, but it is referenced elsewhere as Old Lady.
The Espostoa genus has not been studied extensively and many species will likely be reclassified through future phylogenics (gene study).
Greenish-white to red colored fruit will follow white bell-shaped flowers.
Distribution is northern to central Peru.
The specimen beds near the café have several Silver Torch cacti. The original planting included the species strausii, but clearly there are some other varieties from within the genus, and possible hybrids displaying a range of bloom color and spine distribution.
Silver Torch displays an abundance of spines on thin, cylindrical stems. It grows to about 10 feet. In the botanical genetics field, there is still some disagreement as to what should be included in the Cleistocactus genus, so as cactus are sorted more specifically along genetic lines rather than botanist observations, we will see new groupings in the future.
Red blooms can occur on Silver Torch Cactus throughout the year. At Sunnylands, the blooms emerge between red and orange, but generally the plant can flower with yellow and green blooms, too. The flowers barely open, and it is from this they get the name of the genus, Cleistocactus, as Kleisto in Greek means, “closed.” This tightly wrapped bloom may show some diversity, growing both straight and curved on different species. The blooms have a beak shape that closely accommodates the beaks of the hummingbirds that pollinate them. Birds with larger beaks would have difficulty. Flower design clearly shows preference when it comes to pollinators. In this case, it’s the hummingbirds that are preferred.
The genus of Cleistocactus extends throughout Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia.