Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ye Olde Prickly Pear

One type of cactus you can always count on is the Prickly Pear whether you like them or not. They come in all sizes from the flat pads, spines, small glochids, itchy to downright painful.  Prickly pears always are around.

From the Opuntia family these cacti are found in all the major North American deserts.  The Great Basin is North America's largest desert. And one of the few species of cacti that live there are the opuntia polycantha.

This lovely cold hardy cacti was one I encountered as a young boy in Sandy, Utah along the mountain foothills. I ran into a giant colony of them and screamed all the way home. Now I raise them, how irony changes a hate to a love.

Lewis and Clark as they came across the continent noted that the prickly pears were everywhere and they had to watch out carefully or they would step in them. The thorns went through their moccasins (OUCH!) and were a constant nuisance.

The one thing you can count on with prickly pears though is that they flower. In fact all cacti are flowering plants.  Prickly pear have a variety of blooms from crimson red, to pink, to orange, to white, and hybrids of the above. This specimen was taken at the Idaho Arboretum in Boise.  One last flower before the summer fireworks were over for the year.  Just how big can a colony get? Well that varies. I have seen them as high as six feet and wide as ten feet.  They propagate by sexual reproduction, the flower, and thus fruit and seeds, and by dropping pads. A disconnected pad will take root and start a clone of the parent plants.

I am not sure if prickly pear or any other cacti for that matter send out rhizomes, so help me out here in the comments section if you have an idea.

I can only imagine Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery encountering colonies like this mile after mile. This type of large colony is not unusual in the wild if the plants are in the right area for sun, moisture, and nutrients.  They love well drained soil and that is where you will find almost all species of the prickly pear.

The last photo is from the Colorado on the Colorado Plateau. This bunch was on a cactus Wikipedia page about cacti for awhile. And then the anal retentives decided that their pics were better than mine. But this batch has made it back because the blog belongs to Dave, yours truly and Kirk the other guy who occasionally posts here. So here I will round out my blog on prickly pears for this cactus episode.  Maybe next time I will blog about Home Depot cacti, but then maybe I wont.

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