Cactus & butterfly

Posted: April 5th, 2009 under photography, Plantlife, Wildlife.
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Though our prickly pear cactus has been hit by a disease or parasite, as well as the drought, a beautiful lace cactus, Echinocereus reichenbachii, that a rancher lady gave me off her place is thriving.  They used to be common on the gravelly-rocky hills around here, but they’re salable and have been pirated off some slopes where I used to see them every spring.

lace-cactus-4-bloom271We had a houseguest who had walked out with me, and this was our reward for making it across some hot, sunny rock.   She and I both spent some time photographing the flowers, then rested in the shade (the cactus, of course, was in full sun).  I happened to glance back at the cactus, and saw a bright yellow butterfly land on one of the flowers.


But, you say, it’s greenish, not bright yellow…aha–the top of the wings was bright yellow.   It’s a female Clouded Sulphur, Phoebus sennae, if I’m reading my butterfly field guide correctly.    When it was through with this flower, it moved to the next.


Shortly after this it tired of having two eager photographers creeping up, and flew away, refreshed I hope, and perhaps returned when we weren’t there.   I hadn’t known that this butterfly nectared on cactus at all,  let alone this one.   Cactus flowers usually teem with insects, though–beetles, true bugs, ants–and the packed stamens sometimes writhe in a sort of horror-movie way, since you can’t tell what’s going to emerge.


  • Comment by Barb — April 5, 2009 @ 6:28 pm


    Oh, how lovely. The color contrast between the fuchsia colored flower and the greeny-yellow butterfly is just wonderful.

  • Comment by Adrianne Middleton — April 5, 2009 @ 6:37 pm


    Those photos are quite stunning. I can see why the lace cactus would be popular in nurseries. It’s too bad people haven’t taken the time to learn how to propagate them rather than stealing them.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 5, 2009 @ 10:16 pm


    I’m about to try propagation…we have the right soil type–they need perfect drainage and little water and do well on south slopes. I’ve been reading up on how to do it, though I’m so afraid I’ll do something wrong and kill it.

  • Comment by cdozo — April 5, 2009 @ 10:38 pm


    Wow! The cactus is beautiful, the butterfly is beautiful and your photos are amazing. Well done!

  • Comment by gunhilda — April 5, 2009 @ 10:43 pm


    Lovely, lovely.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 6, 2009 @ 7:29 am


    I really do want more of this cactus…and yet I’m scared that if I cut a piece off (the way of propagating a cactus that will produce a new one in less than years and years) I will somehow kill the whole plant.

    I can imagine having them on the driest slope of the dry woods, with a few yuccas, little sparks of magenta fire. I can also imagine the original plant dying of some horrible infection it got by having an open wound after I cut part of it off…though cacti callous up quickly, usually.

    And then there’s the problem of…well…the spines. How do you gently restrain the cactus while slicing off a chunk (at the joint, to minimize trauma) and then immobilize that cut-off-bit, without getting impaled yourself? I’m thinking barbecue tongs and a second pair of hands.

  • Comment by DD Diana — April 19, 2009 @ 10:21 am


    We have 100 acres in South Texas, near Baffin Bay, which we have had for many years but it has been leased for cattle until now. The lease was up at the end of the year and we decided not renew so as to change from an agricultural exemption to a wildlife exemption. We have plans to restore the native vegetation and add a shallow pond (on 5 acres or so) to attract birds. We also plan to provide nesting and habitat for Bobwhite quail. I have been reading your postings for some time and enjoy your comments as I find them relevant to our situation and plans. Thank you for your website!

    Our 100 acres has many different native plants – and many cactus varieties which are rare. We have caught people – with shovels and bags – trying to steal cactus from our property. I would like to somehow protect and propagate these cactus. I was recently in Phoenix and visited the Desert Botanical Gardens ( It was the perfect time to visit as the cactus and succulents were in bloom. I talked to people on the way to propagate and take cuttings of cactus to produce new plants. I would like to try this with some of our cactus, but I too am afraid I will kill them. I have been told to use sterile tools and soil and to sprinkle sulpher on the open cuts to stop infection.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 19, 2009 @ 4:39 pm


    I grew up in South Texas…down in the Valley. How great that you’re about to start the same adventure we’re on. I think those of us with rare cacti really do need to propagate them in protected situations, just in case. I was just out today photographing Coryphantha missouriensis (Plains Nipple Cactus) in bloom, which isn’t rare as far as I know, but is very beautiful. Luckily it’s low and doesn’t show from the road, on our place. I’ll have some pictures up on the blog later today. I’m thinking I’ll start practicing with a common cactus–good old prickly pear.

    Please keep in touch and let’s share notes.

  • Comment by DD Diana — April 28, 2009 @ 7:11 am


    I just checked in to see if you had responded to my posting and was excited to see that you had. I was also excited to see your latest cactus photos. Beautiful.

    I agree, we need to protect the rare cactus we have in the wild. I know of several on our property which should be relocated. Last year I found two which had been kicked out by cattle (the cattle lease expired and they are now gone). I replanted them in pots; one died but the other is growing very well.

    I have had good success with propagating prickly pear and several “thornless” varieties of similar cactus. A neighbor of my mom’s, in Austin, grows and propagates cactus and succulents. I do not get to Austin very often, but when I do I make time to visit and learn more. Often, I bring home a couple of new plants. Cactus can be dangerous, but that is part of the enjoyment in growing them.

    I will definitely keep in touch!

  • Comment by elizabeth — May 1, 2009 @ 8:51 am


    If you get any good tips I should know about propagating cactus, please let me know.

    My current cactus “problem” is a little prickly pear that’s decided to grow on the #3 gabion, right where I sometimes need to put my hand to steady myself when I climb onto it. It’s still under the chain-link fence segment that holds the rocks together, so I haven’t quite figured out how to grab it and pull it loose before it gets big. (Hmmm…maybe salad tongs?)

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