Cactus Flowers (and a surprise)

Posted: April 19th, 2009 under photography, Plantlife, Wildlife.
Tags: , , , ,

Plains Nipple Cactus, Coryphanta missouriensis, is a small, inconspicuous ground-hugging cactus that almost disappears (shrinks a lot) after between flowerings.   Unless you know where you have a patch, you do not see it then.  But when it flowers, it opens elegant little flowers with long, pointed petals.  The lacy pattern of the spines on the plant, and the starry shape of the flowers, makes this one of the spring joys around here.


The colors range from a very pale yellow-beige (the colors are always tinged with a little brown) to pinky beige, to rich bronzy-oranges, always striped appearance.  Some years they don’t bloom at all; some years they do this:


Today I found a patch in an area where we haven’t seen them before, out in the short-grass strip just east of the dry woods rather than up on the rocky/gravelly soil of the dry woods.   I found it because the short way home, the trail through what we call Cactus Flat,  gave me a surprise.


This photo, originally taken to show the blue-curls and gorgeous bladderpod (yellow) on and near the trail, shows the place of adventure as well: where the shadow ahead crosses the trail.  I was looking forward to resting in that cool shade after photographing flowers and butterflies in the bright sun…but something else got there first and did not want to be disturbed.   Something that sent me home by another path.

It’s that time of year again.   The rattlers are out of their dens and proddy.   It was a polite rattler–it gave me the warning buzz.   So I went back up and around (carefully, you bet), and came down the east side of the dry woods…and found more beauty to photograph.  (I never thought I’d thank a rattlesnake…)



  • Comment by Adrianne Middleton — April 19, 2009 @ 5:56 pm


    Those are interesting flowers. It looks like they have a little yellow flower growing inside them.

    Our flowers are just melting out from under 16″ of snow. Thank goodness!!! We had months without a drop of water, so every drop counts, and every snow is doubly precious because it has so much longer to soak in before it starts to run off.

    I love your descriptions of your courteous wildlife. I’d never thought of rattlers that way. But you’re right, they do often warn you when you’re too close, and that’s a good thing. Maybe one will sit on a sunny rock some morning and allow you to photograph him.


  • Comment by AnnMCN — April 19, 2009 @ 5:56 pm


    I do like that the snake caused you to find unexpected beauty!

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 19, 2009 @ 6:18 pm


    Me, too. I figure it was my reward for being alert and cooperating with Nature.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 19, 2009 @ 6:24 pm


    The stamens are all twisted around–I guess because, in the bud, there’s no room to “unwrap”–until the flower’s fully open. Then they do, forming a little sort of brush in the bottom of the flower, with that very strange branched stigma sort of waving its arms: “Come here, pollen grains…” I don’t know what pollinates this cactus–I’ve seen insects covered with pollen bumping into the stigmas of other species.

    What got me about the rattler’s buzz today is that my gut knew instantly…and my brain was still trying to “think” about it–this was, I’m guessing, a small one, and the buzz really was a bit insectile. So there must be a separate connection from ear to gut, bypassing the logic center. (I can hippity hop backwards with surprising agility, I discovered.)

  • Comment by James Hartman — April 19, 2009 @ 7:02 pm


    Glad you’re OK after your snake encounter. Rach and I had a similar one in Big Bend years back, and you’re right – it can be amazing how quickly one recognizes the sound and starts moving backwards!

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 19, 2009 @ 8:31 pm


    This wasn’t as scary as the very large one that gave me a fright up near the view corner a few years ago. I heard it, looked over, and there it was, coiling up to strike, head and tail up. By the time I got back to the house, and Richard got out there with a T-post, it had gone “somewhere.”

    But it was scary enough. Silly buzzer. It could have just lain there in the shade and I’d have gone past after a bit. I wasn’t looking for a snake supper.

  • Comment by tuppence — May 1, 2009 @ 9:31 am


    Years ago I was walking along a mostly abandoned railway track (train once a week from the salt plant), came around a bend and encountered what was probably a copperhead. It saw me and immediately coiled. I levitated into the briars at the side of the track .. no time for any conscious analysis or decision, just instant hindbrain reflex. Amazing. Probably something hardwired into the protomammel back when reptiles were king.

  • Comment by elizabeth — May 1, 2009 @ 9:40 am


    That’s my response, too. And not my response to obviously non-venomous snakes. I “startle” at any snake, but don’t do the instant levitation/teleportation thing for the kingsnakes, ratsnakes, racers, coachwhips, etc. I think my levitation response now is slower, in part due to age (the body jerks but doesn’t actually make it off the ground for another heartbeat) and in part due to a sort process if the snake doesn’t buzz…we have so many non-venomous, that if the snake doesn’t say “I’m a rattlesnake, don’t tread on/near me” I pause to ID.

    Someday that may get me bitten, after which I’ll probably levitate to a little Rough Green Snake.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment