Sunday Nature Photography Vol #2
This gorgeous plant is Echinocereus triglochiatus Englemann, also known as claretcup cactus. No matter how many times I see it, I still find it startling to encounter a cactus in bloom. It seem so rare and magical, even though it’s actually not uncommon for many species. We encountered many blooming cacti on our Memorial Day trip to Arches National Park, mainly prickly pears (Opuntia spp.) in yellow or pink, but we only saw a few of these and they are hands down my favorite for their rich, blood red blooms.
Claretcup cactus is actually not terribly rare, although maybe not as common as prickly pears, which grow simply everywhere. There are a number of varieties which can range from having dense spines like this to no spines at all. The flower shade can differ as well, from wine-colored like these to more orange-y or pinkish. One variety, the Arizona hedgehog cactus is federally listed as endangered, due to it’s extremely limited range.
In general, the claret cup cactus can be found all over the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, in Ponderosa pine, Pinyon – Juniper, Sagebrush, Desert or Plains grassland, Desert shrubland, or Southwestern shrubsteppe habitats. It often grow in dense mounds of up to 500 stems (remember, in cacti the “barrel” is the stem and the spines are the leaves), although can also occur as just one or a few stems at a time. The dense mounds may offer some protection from fire or predation to those plants on the inside. They also conserve temperature, keeping the plants cooler throughout the day and then rising in temperature towards the end of the day and keeping them warmer on cold nights.
The beautiful flowers are pollinated mainly by hummingbirds, and the fruit when it ripens is bright red, juicy and sweet. It is edible by humans and most other animals, and is probably a minorly important source of food some desert creatures. Some rodents dig burrows underneath claretcup cactus colonies and nibble at the roots, which can eventually kill the plants.
If you want to see these pretty plants in bloom, head to southern Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, or California in April through June.