Cactus, etc.

Echinopsis oxygona has been busy inDSC_0111 the front yard. I realized over the weekend that three buds were on the brink of opening, and when I arrived home from work last night there they were, waxy chambers beckoning atop intimidatingly hairy stalks. You might think twice about climbing up to eat those petals, but anyone with wings must be tempted to fly straight down into the pastel depths without a single thought about ever wanting to emerge.

It wasn’t an easy winter for the Easter lilyDSC_0031 cactus, as it is also known. A nameless marauder in the little greenhouse took to gnawing on those dark green, nutritious-looking orbs, leaving some nasty brown scars. But I think cactuses are the Labrador retrievers of the plant world: they have scars. They are  survivors. Injuries hardly slow them down. With unspeakable poignancy, a broken, fallen cactus paddle will still put forth a flower.

But Echinopsis oxygona, native ofDSC_0033 southern Brazil, Uruguay, and northern Argentina, doesn’t have paddles. It is constructed of green orbs that appear to give birth to little green orbs that appear to push the whole family slowly up from the bottom. I bought mine last year because I am a sucker for any cactus that has buds on it, and no wonder.

It’s a night bloomer, so when the budsDSC_0026 that have been swelling like terrible growths finally burst open at the top, it’s time to grab the camera and see when I can get – no matter that I just got home after a long work day, no matter that my level of photographic skill means that the flash will be involved and some of the delicate color washed out. 

Late sleepers will miss the brief morningDSC_0029 show next day, and that will be that. Roughly twelve hours after the splendid display commences it is over, leaving behind a mushy deflated outline of stem and blossom. I should be committed enough to stay up all night discovering which creatures arrive in darkness to carry out pollination duties, but I’m not. Besides, most night creatures terrify me. So I’ll just believe it’s fairies who come along, stepping out of a mild breeze to wave a sparkly wand around the interiors of these pastel castles. 

Who knows, maybe the fairies live in there the whole time.

In other cactus news, a recent visit to Floyd’s shop presented the usual dazzling array of scrap pieces crying out to be turned into something. This time it was assorted pieces of four-inch square tubing. I didn’t even want Floyd to take a minute to weld them together into a planter; I wanted the pieces freestanding. 

I knew they would hold an assortment of littleDSC_0082 cactuses. All I needed was a spot in the yard that would get enough sunlight but also provide afternoon shade to the planters themselves. Steel, as you no doubt know, gets hot. Easily hot enough to bake tender roots. I chose a sun-dappled area where an array of cactus already resides, plopped the hunks of tubing down in a pleasing arrangement, tossed rocks in the bottom for drainage, filled the new planters with a good mix for cactus, and tucked the new citizens into place. Then I wrote them each a name tag, so interested passers-by can find out what it is they are seeing.

Although the Easter lily cactus can’t tolerate a Zone 8 winter outdoors, these little guys should be fine to 20 degrees. In any event, their placement will make it easy for me to toss a cover over them when mean weather returns, as it no doubt will. At the moment, however, almost everyone who walks by is predicting a hot summer. In Texas. How can they possibly make such rash guesses about things? Makes me wonder whether they have any hot leads in the stock market.

The prickly pear are starting to bloom. DSC_0077I saw one by the side of the road as I was running errands this morning: it was covered in lemon-yellow flowers. It will be worth taking a walkabout in the greenbelt just to get some photos – there are fields of them in there. My own various prickly pears, meanwhile, are still mostly promise – which is fine, because the buds are beautiful too, looking like tiny artichokes atop what will grow into the next generation of paddles. 

Opuntia ellisiana, above and here,DSC_0087 is the “spineless” prickly pear, whose paddles can be quite thick. Although it lacks the long needly spines so many cactus possess, this guy has tiny clusters of extremely irritating sharp little things, so caution is still advised. Some people cut holes in the paddles with cookie cutters, or carve images into them with a sharp knife. That seems way too unruly for me, though I do have a few who’ve been gnawn in ways that create interesting edges.

Some of my regular old prickly pearsDSC_0052 are blooming, including a couple of the ones that frankly don’t look healthy enough to be thinking about a new generation. Talk about a blossom that must be impossible for any passing pollinator to resist! It looks like there’s a lemon gumdrop in there just waiting to be eaten. 

Cactus flowers are an elegant reminder that astonishing beauty can spring up from the most unexpected sources. I can look forward to one cactus or another blooming almost all through the summer. It’s great to have so many plants that not only don’t want much water, but that will also create new plants out of its own broken pieces. 

In the back yard, a great discoveryDSC_0005 having nothing to do with cactus: the bronze fennel is full of butterfly eggs about the size of the head of a pin. I grow curly-leaf parsley, fennel and dill especially for the butterflies, and I’ve seen some swallowtails darting around the herb garden. Other butterflies have no doubt been in there too. I’ll be keeping track of their progress here.

Let me state right here and now thatDSC_0014 I think macro photography is pretty much an indoor sport. The instant I step outside with my macro lens, the wind arrives. I had a heck of a time getting that egg into view through the viewfinder, and it doesn’t take much air to move fennel fronds. This little caterpillar comes in at under half an inch, and he wasn’t easy to find either. If these images are as imperfect as I think they are, I choose to blame the wind. 

That, and a new pair of glasses that I just started wearing yesterday. The world is still spinning in place a tiny bit. It will be really nice when it stops.




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