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.
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.
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.
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.
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.