Saturday, June 9, 2012

Next wave of cactus blooms

I know I’m becoming a bit repetitive, but this is the season for cactus blooms. It’s short enough, so please bear with me as I obsessively photograph these ephemeral flowers. Many other plants have beautiful inflorescences, but seeing such delicate blooms on rugged, anti-social plants often armed with vicious-looking spines leaves a particularly indelible impression.

Opuntia macrocentra var. macrocentra
Opuntia macrocentra var. macrocentra

The flowers of prickly pears (Opuntia sp.) remind me of wild roses, not because of their color but because of the petal structure.

Potted opuntias on the front porch
Opuntia microdasys var. albata
Opuntia microdasys var. albata
Opuntia microdasys var. albata
Opuntia microdasys var. albata

This Opuntia microdasys has had a hard life. It was neglected at the place where I originally bought it at a bargain price, it’s stuck in a pot in the driveway, gets baked in the sun and sees water only occasionally. I feel guilty for not nurturing it the way I should, but the truth is, I’m not that fond of it. I should probably find somebody who will love it more than I do…

Opuntia microdasys in driveway
One pad is half shriveled, and yet that is the pad that produced two flower buds
Like the plant itself, the flowers fall a little short…
…but I still admire their fragile quality

Opuntias are the nastiest cacti in my collection as far as spines goes (make no mistake, the soft-looking “hairs” on the cacti above are actually tiny spines, called glochids, that will bury themselves in your skin and hard to remove).

The next one, on the other hand, is the most user-friendly. Astrophytum myriostigma, or bishop’s cap, is completely free of spines. Native to Central Mexico, it’s particularly popular in Japan where many cultivars have been bred, ranging from ones with countless dots to ones with no dots.

Astrophytum myriostigma (“myriostigma” means “many dots”)
Astrophytum myriostigma flower

Below is another Astrophytum I bought recently. Before I even had a chance to repot it, a bird pecked holes in it, probably attracted by the soft hairy areoles. The wounds have healed, and while there are scars that mar what was a perfect little plant, its overall health seems to be unaffected. The flowers are a pale yellow offset by orange at the base of the throat. As with Astrophytum myriostigma, there are many different cultivars (check out some of them on this page).

Astrophytum asterias
Astrophytum asterias
Astrophytum asterias

Also blooming at the moment: Ferocactus hamatacanthus or Turk’s head, a barrel cactus native to Texas. Hardy to zone 6, it will be almost two feet tall at maturity.

Ferocactus hamatacanthus
Ferocactus hamatacanthus

Yellow is definitely common in cactus flowers. Good thing it’s one of my favorite colors!

Few cactus genera produce as many flowers as rebutias. These are small cacti (the ones below are less than four inches in diameter) but they flower like there’s no tomorrow. Unlike very large cactus flowers, like those of the echinopsis I showed you last weekend, these actually bloom for a week or more.

Rebutia arenacea
Rebutia krainziana, yellow form (I also have one with red flowers which bloomed last month)

And finally flowers from an echinopsis at a house a few blocks away. My wife spotted these while walking the dog the other day, and I hurried over to photograph them. Somehow, they remind me of water lilies, they’re so huge and sculptural.

Unknown Echinopsis species or hybrid
Unknown Echinopsis species or hybrid


  1. Great photos as always! I like Cactus blooms, more so than the plants itself (sans the flowers, if that makes sense) and like you said it's fascinating to see such colourful and delicate looking blooms coming out from something brute and prickly :)

  2. Wonderful flowers, please continue to obsess! My O. microdasys has never bloomed, so cool to see yours. Always wanted an astrophytum or two...maybe some day...

  3. I love these! That last one at the neighbor's reminds me of one of those huge gaping sinkhole caves in the jungle somewhere: lush beauty surrounding an apparently bottomless hole. So great!