An Anomalous Cactus

The area around Bisbee, Arizona lies in a transition zone between the Chihuahuan Desert and the Sonoran Desert. There are scattered cacti here, but nowhere near as many as in the drier Sonoran region. They aren’t as prominent, being mostly low-growing species. The picturesque Saguaro and barrel cacti which can be seen around Tucson are absent; the defining non-arboreal plants in this area tend to be the agaves and yuccas.

I’ve spent many hours walking up and down the canyon slopes surrounding Bisbee and I thought I had seen most of the cacti which call this area home. There are just a few species: the Arizona Rainbow, the Claret Cup, Cane Cholla, and a couple of prickly pear species. These succulent plants are scattered for the most part; ten minutes of a walk can go by without encountering a one.

One recent cool and cloudy morning I was traversing a slope which overlooks Brewery Gulch, one of the canyons which cradle the town. I was in an area which had burned off a few years ago and charred dead oaks and yucca stumps were the evidence. The sideoats grama grass was as lush as it gets, as this is still the monsoon season and the rains have been plentiful.

I was looking for a trail which would lead me home. I had only intended to take a short walk, but the air was so cool and pleasant that before I knew it I had gone farther and higher than I had intended.

I happened to look down. I’m always scanning my immediate environment while walking, as I’m a sucker for novelty. You never know what you might find!

I was surprised to see a large but low-profile round cactus nestled in the grass. It was about nine inches in diameter and had the nipple-like surface texture which led me to believe that it belongs in the genus Mammillaria.

It surprised me to see what must have been a fairly old cactus growing in a burned-off area. How did this cactus escape the fire? Why aren’t there more of them? I carefully transected the surrounding area and found no other cacti like this lone individual.

Once I was home I quickly determined that the cactus belonged to the species Mammillaria heyderi, one of a small group of species often called the Cream Cactus.

This find still intrigues me, and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for further examples. Could it be that the one I saw is the last one left in this area?




Filed under Arizona, Essays and Articles, Natural History, Photos

5 responses to “An Anomalous Cactus

  1. A neat discovery and Great photo, Larry!

  2. ljfitz62

    Larry, I enjoy your posts describing plants from an area of the country I’ve not yet experienced. Interesting! Let us know what you end up doing with those Agave seeds!

  3. Joan

    I am always fascinated by nature’s geometry..(or whatever mathematical method it takes to make this pattern of prickly parts revealed so clearly in this top o’ the cactus picture.) At first I thought it might be a spiral, but that did not work out. Now I’m thinking we have an actual symmetrical geometric pattern. Like a little green Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome.
    I get the same feeling looking closely at a dandelion in full seed.

  4. Thanks, Leslie!

    Joan, look on Wikipedia for articles about the Fibonacci sequence and phi, the Golden Ratio. This ratio has fascinated me for years.

  5. Joan
    Thanks Larry. Above is a link to what you spoke of. Looks like it might have been written for kids. Alas, neither my mathematical prowess, (I have none) nor my Flash Player worked so I could not even experiment. Hope it works better for others.

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