Dog Days Cacti
Reminder: You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it. Click again for a full-screen image.
One of the surest signs that we’ve entered the dog days of summer is the blooming of Barrel cacti. With some exceptions most of our cactus species bloom in the spring, beginning as early as in March. That’s not the case with barrels. They put out their flowers in August and September and these flowers are a reliable sign that summer has past its mid-point in these parts.
A Barrel Cactus in bloom has all the subtlety of neon. Each plant seems to give its flowers its own unique coloration and no two plants seem to put out identically colored flowers. The flowers on an individual plant range in color from a very deep yellow to nearly brick red with orange predominating. The flowers open each morning and die off by the end of the day. Typically, one of these big cacti will put out several dozen flowers in the course of a month or so of blooming.
People who are not familiar with our local flora sometimes confuse Barrel Cacti with young Saguaros. There’s a faint resemblance in that a mature Barrel Cactus will rise vertically, generally with a single stem, to a height of about four feet and in that respect it does sort of resemble a 30- or 40-year old Saguaro. However, the resemblance is truly superficial. Look closely and you’ll see that Barrel Cacti are much thicker through their stems than Saguaros and their spines are shaped totally differently than Saguaro spines. Barrel Cacti have curved spines that resemble fishhooks whereas Saguaros invariably have slender, straight spines.
A popular myth about Barrel Cacti is that they can serve as a source of water for a thirsty traveler who is stranded in the desert. According to legend, if you lop off the top of one of these cacti you’ll find the center of the cactus containing a pool of potable water. It’s false. The interior of a Barrel Cactus is a wet pulp. Yes, it does contain considerable moisture, but no pool of water. And, the pulp contains chemicals that render it unfit for human consumption. One thing is for certain, however. Cut off the top of a Barrel Cactus and you will very likely kill the plant.
Images made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite. All images at M setting. The first image was shot at ISO 200, f11 @ 1/160, the second and third images at ISO 125, f11 @ 1/160.