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.
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.
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.
The Spineless Prickly Pear, known as Ellisiana, is a cultivar of the Opuntia cacanapa. A popular, cold-hardy variety, it can be found in the specimen beds between the café and the solar field. It boasts high heat tolerance and cold tolerance to zero degrees, making it a desirable choice for deserts with wide temperature ranges. It has a spreading nature, so it can fill in larger spaces.
It blooms in summer with bright yellow flowers followed by dark red edible fruit.
It originates from species in southern Texas and Mexico.
Planted in the specimen beds between the café and the solar field, Prickly Pear is one of the earliest Opuntias recorded by traveling European botanists, listed by Ferdinand Lindheimer in 1768. Prickly Pear is one of the most known names in popular culture for Opuntias, becoming a generalized name applied to all padded cactus. Prickly Pear can grow low, creating a shrubby appearance, or may ascend on a single, tree-like stalk. Spines (leaves) may be absent or irregular in growth.
Its cup-shaped flowers bloom yellow to red and are followed by green, orange, or red fruit.
A highly cultivated species, its origins are not confirmed, though it is likely native to Mexico. There has been significant collection transport of this species, as well as cultivation. It is now naturalized in South Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean.
Old Mexico is one of the Opuntia in the specimen beds between the café and solar field. It has bright green pads (stems) with vivid yellow spines (leaves) and it makes a wonderful accent plant in gardens. The spines will stand straight and may be accompanied by glochids, which are small barbed spines that appear like fur. The plant needs plenty of room to grow as it branches wide, sprouting new pads to create a large shrub appearance.
Old Mexico is sometimes classified as lindheimeri (Britton and Rose) and has some of its characteristics, but it is distinct on its own, and intermediates have not been identified.
Blooms are bright yellow and funnel-shaped. Fruit is dark purple, and like other Opuntias, this plant is a food plant.
It is common near the Rio Grande delta and some inland areas of southern Texas.
This is one of several Opuntia in the specimen beds between the café and solar field. A sprawling, shrubby Opuntia, it will grow in many directions. It doesn’t usually form stems, instead pads spread from the base. Its pads can grow up to a foot long, and its spines (leaves) can be quite variable and, on some plants, completely absent. It has hybridized into many varieties that occur in different regions as a result of human selection, use, and its tendency to replant easily in disturbed areas.
Its bloom is yellow to reddish in color, and many parts of the plant are used for food and medicine.
Its distribution is widely spread through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, and in San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, and Hidalgo, in northern and central Mexico.
Bunny Ear is found along the path that surrounds the wildflower field and in the specimen beds between the café and solar field. It is a beautiful example of the Opuntia genus, displaying small pads with spines placed close together that give it a fuzzy appearance.
With a common name that evokes a soft and cuddly image, Bunny Ear is a very misleading cactus. The fuzzy hairs on its pads are not soft and touchable. They are groups of spines known as glochids, which are small but strong in bite if you mistakenly brush against them. They are delicate and break off easily at the skin’s surface, but their barbed spines, left embedded in the skin, are very difficult to retrieve. The pain from the almost invisible embedded spines can last for days, sending a stinging sensation each time that part of the skin is touched.
REMOVAL OF GLOCHIDS: If you accidentally touch this cactus, do not attempt to wipe off the glochids, as they can attach to other parts of your skin, causing additional wounds. The best removal strategy is duct tape. Though it may not get all the spines, it is an effective remedy for most. Tweezers and a magnifying glass are good tools to remove the rest.
Bunny Ear blooms in the warmer months. Soft yellow cup-shaped blooms will appear, which are a delight to many pollinators. North and South American desert plants have a unique pollination strategy with native bees. Rather than using leg pouches like honeybees, solitary bees roll around in the flower cups, covering themselves in pollen to be distributed at their next stop. Catching them in the act is a delight, reminiscent of a dog rolling in grass.
Native and endemic to northern and central Mexico.
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.
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.
San Pedro is planted throughout the gardens. You can see it in the specimen beds, in spotlight beds around the wildflower field, and the lower garden path. This is a columnar variety with very small spines spaced along the rib margins. In some cases, the spines are completely absent. Native at much higher elevations than Sunnylands, it nevertheless seems to thrive on the desert floor, as it is one of our most prolific bloomers.
The fragrant, white blooms open at night to await the nocturnal pollinators, bats, and moths.
The large, funnel-shaped blooms remain open the next morning, finding themselves the host of native bees who are completely engulfed by the long, pollen-covered stamens. The bees disappear into the bloom and re-emerge, speckled yellow.
San Pedro is native to Ecuador and Peru, where it is used extensively by indigenous cultures for medicine.