Prickly But Pretty

Opuntia cacanapa ~ El Capote Ranch, Gonzales County

By early July, the peak flowering of assorted Texas cacti has come to an end. The plants — claret cup, lace, hedgehog — fade back into the landscape, and even the more obvious pencil cactus can be hard to spot without its bright red fruit.

Even the best-known of our cacti, the prickly pear, rarely shows deep summer blooms. Still, occasional plants were producing their delightful flowers across the Texas hill country the first weekend in July.

Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri  ~ Old Willow City Road, Gillespie county

There are more species of prickly pear than I’d ever imagined, and distinctions among them sometimes depend on such small details as the number and arrangement of spines and glochids: a part of the cactus that, once encountered, never is forgotten. Flower color isn’t the best guide for prickly pear, since color variation occurs in all species.

I’m relatively certain that the identification of the first cactus, O. cacanapa, is correct. It’s worth noting that German geologist Ferdinand Roemer, for whom so many of our plants are named, visited the El Capote ranch during his collecting trip to Texas in 1845-1847.

While the other identifications are ‘best guesses’ based on size, spine color, and other factors, there’s no doubting the plants’ membership in the the genus Opuntia, or the beauty of their flowers.

Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa) ~ Sabinal river crossing, Bandera County

 

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