Nature’s Ornament


While humans decorate their homes for Christmas, nature’s been busy decorating her world. On a recent trip around the Willow City Loop in Gillespie County, hints of the holiday season were everywhere.

Reddened by cold, this pad from a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) would look especially festive hanging from a live oak. Unfortunately, bringing it indoors to hang alongside more traditional ornaments on a fir or a spruce would be ill-advised. Some of those spines are two inches long, and believe me — they’re more Scrooge than Santa!


Comments always are welcome.

53 thoughts on “Nature’s Ornament

    1. Cold weather brings color changes to more than the leaves on our trees, and I’ve always been fond of the way the cacti can be transformed as the seasons progress. The purple fruits of the prickly pear are photogenic, but I was attracted to this colorful bit of ‘look but don’t touch.’

    1. I like your vision! There’s nothing like a tree that’s rooted in reality. To be honest, all those decorations you mentioned could evoke as many memories as more traditional baubles — especially the credit card bills for those gifts that seemed such a good idea at the time, but turned out to be ‘iffy’ at best.

    1. That’s where it belongs, for sure. It was fun to find one that had turned such lovely colors, yet still was undamaged. I don’t know what had been nibbling on its friends, but something found them tasty, despite the spines.

    1. Now, there’s something that might be worth witnessing: a cat/cactus encounter! I’m fairly sure the cat would be the loser in that one (although the tree might end up horizontal, anyway).

  1. You did an excellent job making that prickly pear pad into a Christmas ornament. The image even seems to bulge forward in the center. More dangerous than a prickly pear’s long spines, which at least are easy to see, are its Tiny Tims, those insidious glochids that are oh so good at staying in a person’s skin.

    1. Ah, yes. The ghastly glochids. Despite all the advice out there, duct tape, Elmer’s glue, nylon stockings and ice usually don’t do much to get them out. Even the so-called ‘spineless’ prickly pear has it’s ways of protecting itself, often to my chagrin.

    1. Look at you, going all punny — and funny — this morning. Your idea of a cactus security system’s a good one. After all, people have used thorny hedges to help protect buildings, so why not?

      1. Intriguing – I remember seeing prickly pear growing around old houses in the south of Spain, looking almost like a hedge. So maybe it was indeed a hedge…a very secure one! (And that’s one Christmas decoration that I’d steer well clear of!)

  2. Prickly pear can be beautiful at times, but anyone who has spent time in Texas has learned they’re best viewed from a distance. We try to maintain an on again – off again eradication program on our property near the house, but getting rid of the little (or big) cacti is a major production. As Steve and you both mentioned, the glochids can leave memories you’d rather not have. Assuming it was Dixie Rose that sat on the prickly pear, I’m sure she would agree.

    1. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Dixie Rose, but her mistress, who plunked down on the cactus; it had fallen over and was covered with grasses. Whoops. I have a tendency to get over-excited with new discoveries, and can be less attentive to fire ants, dewberry vines, and prickly pear than I should be.

      One of the funniest sad stories I know about the plant involves the new Texan who decided to mulch his prickly pear. Those miles and miles of Texas that Asleep at the Wheel sings about were matched in about a year by thousands and thousands of baby cacti.

      1. I was wondering if it was you or Dixie Rose but decided I’d leave it up to you to come clean, if necessary. I have a similar story from long ago that ends in a small town doctor’s office in Colorado. Let’s just say it was a bad day (for me) on the family vacation. There was a whole lot of tweezin’ goin’ on.

        Getting rid of prickly pear is always a task, but we make sure it never has a chance at a second life. It’s amazing how much can spread from one carelessly discarded piece of pad.

    1. Thanks, Pit! I was tickled pink to find some of the cactus turning colors, and it was fun to turn this one into an ‘ornament.’. Here’s hoping you get some rain out of the system that’s coming through tonight and tomorrow; that would be a fine Christmas gift.

    1. Well, as long as you stay four inches away, you’re good! The ones that stand upright are pretty easy to avoid; it’s the ones that sneak up from behind or lurk in the grasses that are problems.

  3. Looks kind of scary. My favourite use of prickly pear is in a Prickly Pear Margarita. There’s a restaurant in my area that has the best ones…..maybe only ones I’ve seen anywhere….delish with salt of course. :)

    Merry Christmas Linda!!

    1. They must use the juice of the tunas for your Margaritas. The question is, do they serve them with a spine as a stirrer (or decoration). That would be appropriate, given the lethal nature of both the drink and the spine! (Well, at least the lethality of too many drinks!). Merry Christmas to you — here’s to some feather-full festivities!

    1. I didn’t get the ornament idea until I was looking at the photos after the fact. Then, I thought, “I wonder what would happen if I used a circular crop?” And there it was — an image just as appealing as any bauble from a store.

  4. Yes, um, prickly pear is prickly. The big spines are bad enough, but those little spines are real boogers to find, never mind extricate. And the Okeefenokee (Pogo) version of the 12 days of Christmas crossed my mind the other day and had me warbling about a parsnip in a pear tree. At some moment amid the hustle and bustle, I need to find which book that’s in and reread it. As I recall, the general consensus of opinion was that the true love was a thief and the recipient of all the swag was his fence.

    1. I’m not sure I’ve heard that version of the 12 Days. I always since the Pogo version of “Deck the Halls,” of course. Nevertheless, I suspect you’re right about the thief and the fence. It’s a perfect example of the kind of layered meaning that made that strip so memorable. I’m going to devote a little time to finding the 12 Days myself, now that I know it exists.

    1. I have a friend who put one of those spines into her hand, just below her thumb. She still counts it as one of the least satisfying experiences of her life. That one required a medical profesional to get it out.

    1. No kidding! Long ago, I read someone’s comparison of these to a pet python in the bathtub. They’re attractive, and interesting, but potentially very, very dangerous.

  5. Love the image. As Australia also has it’s invasion of the prickly pear, they have a beetle they’ve been using to assist in eradication. Of course, we hope it’s not another cane toad scenario! Those blighters continue to spread across the country killing native creatures along the way, as well as pets.

    1. We have a whole variety of native Opuntia, but that doesn’t mean they can’t become troublesome. In fact, they often do. It’s interesting that you’re using biological controls for them. It can be an iffy proposition, but I’m keeping my eye on the same sort of efforts to control fire ants and mosquitos. Now, if we only could find a way to deal with the feral hogs, life would improve considerably.

      1. Yes, the feral hogs are a big problem here also. By the way, if you have the nerve for it, a classic Australian movie, Wake in Fright. The original version, circa 70’s.

        1. I looked up the film, and found that it’s accessible through Netflix. I read the summary, too, and decided to pass it by just now. Life is frightening enough for a variety of reasons: primarily car and work issues. Once those are resolved, I’ll be more ready to scare myself.

    1. I think you’re right about cats and cacti. When I chose to bring in plants during our hard freezes, the cacti came in, too; they all were in pots, and more susceptible than if they’d been in the ground. It took Dixie Rose about a day to figure out that no matter how intriguing they looked, they weren’t worth messing with! On the other hand, some of the stories I’ve heard from dog-owning friends about cactus encounters of the let’s-go-see-the-vet kind are disturbing, at best!

      1. A friend had a dog who was curious about my friend’s girlfriend’s tall euphorbia and gave himself a stroke after chewing and getting some of the milky sap in his mouth. He lived for a few more years (he was already oldish) but had a lot of difficulty walking. For that reason I am careful not to have plants of any noxious kind in the house. Bentley will eat most anything.

            1. I don’t know if it was on your blog or mine, but didn’t you mention Mary Beth leaving her purse in the car, and Bentley having himself a little chew on it?

            2. Totally slipped my mind. Fortunately there wasn’t anything as harmful as a cactus spine in the purse.
              I don’t remember whose post I mentioned that on.

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