In The Desert
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Let's start off with the biggest cactus in the desert. Now as far as plants of any kind are concerned this is huge! I'm 6' 1" tall and can reach to 8 ft.so this Cardon Cactus is over 36 ft. tall and look at the spread on it. It had arms bigger than most people. It's main trunk is bigger than a VW bug. They live mostly in Baja, but there are also some on Mainland Mexico. Some Cardons have been measured at nearly 70 ft. high and weigh up to 25 tons. Many live over 300 years.
The photo on the far left -- this cactus no longer exists; it was hit by lightning. Before it's demise it was registered as having the most arms; over 100! The one on the right is over 30 ft. tall. We found it near the Gila Mountains in a remote area. Some saguaro cacti have deformed shapes. Use the magnifying glass.
The state flower of Arizona is the Saguaro Blossom. They are hard to photograph because of their heigth. Found this one at the base of a scalable cliff.
This is the barrel cactus. This one was over 4 ft. high and was found in Baja, Mexico. They are quite prolific here in the Southwest also. There is a little secret to photographing this type of cactus in the desert. It doesn't hurt the plant and in fact may even help it. Pour some water over the cactus to bring out the color of the needles.
Here's 4 younger Barrel Cactus. They grow toward the Sun to prevent sunburn and this often causes them to fall over. A Barrel that has fallen over is often thought to have done this because of the weight of the water in the cactus, which is false.
Organ Pipe Cactus
This is the Organ Pipe Cactus. Found in Organ Pipe National Monument. They only grow in the Sonoran Desert. This is another cactus like the Saguaro that depends on a nurse plant to protect it while it's growing up. Plants like Ironwood and Palo Verde provide the conditions the Organ Pipe cactus needs. They get 15 to 20 ft. High when full grown.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Here's a Prickly Pear cactus that has one blooming flower. These are often seen and photographed with a multitude of flowers. The flowers often have different color variations. Use the Magnifying Glass.
Here's a Prickly Pear that's already flowered and the only thing left is the fruit. Almost all cacti have edible fruit that was used by the Native American People, including the Anasazi for making different foods. Today they make a lot of Jelly with the fruit.There are quite a few varieties of this cactus that lives in the desert. Nopales are grown and sold fresh and canned..
Chain Fruit Cholla
This is the Chain Fruit Cholla. They grow relatively tall for a Cholla and have what looks like fruit hanging from the cactus branches. Common names; Hanging Chain Cholla, Jumping Cholla, Brincadora, Vilas de Coyote. During a drought the Bighorn Sheep rely on them for food and water.
Hedgehog cactus are very prolific and you'll find them almost every where. There are a number of different species. The top one shown here is a Engelmanns Hedgehog. They grow low to the ground. There are 6 to 11 species. Found in sunny and often rocky placesl in open areas in the desert. Some varieties have different color flowers from purple to lavender. The flowers close at night and re-open in the morning.
The Fishhook cactus in the desert is not to be confused with the Fishook Barrel cactus. They are found in many deserts of the Southwest. The top photo is with flower and the bottom is with fruit after flowering. Usually grow up to 6 or 7 inches tall. Use the magnifying glass for a closer look at the spines that look like fish hooks.
The Munz Cholla shown is over 5 ft. tall and get even bigger. They grow in an area around the Bradshw Trail in Ca. Growing in the Colorado Desert it is a rare cactus in the desert and can reach heights of 10 to 15 ft.
Teddy Bear Cholla
There are a lot of varieties of Cholla Cactus, this one to the right is the Teddy Bear Cholla. This is also called the Jumping Cholla because the heads break off so easily if touched by hand or with your clothing. They stick -- and have fishhook barbs on the tip of the spines. If you get one on you, don't try to move it or it will embed more spines.
The Pencil Cactus has arms are very thin; thus the name. But don't let that fool you, it has really long thin spines. This one was photographed in Baja, Mexico.
The Claretcup Cactus is a very low growing cactus that has some of the most beautiful flowers seen on a cactus. They are bright red as shown here and usually have a lot of flowers to show off.
These 3 are Buckhorn cactus. Actually they are called the Buchorn Cholla. They grow 5 to 7 ft. tall. They grow in elevations that range from 100 to 3,000 ft. Yellow to copper colored flowers and a lot of spines.
You'll only find these in Baja, Mexico in the desert. This is the Old Man or Bearded cactus. These grow an average height of 8 to 10 ft. tall and have very fine needles that hang down resembling a beard -- hence the name. The needles on this cactus are not very likely to stick to you which is unusal for any cactus found in the desert.
Ocotillo are not included here as they are not in the cactus family. You'll find them on this site listed under Trees, Bushes, Yuccas, and also a photo in the Desert Flower section. The above listings are the most common cactus living in the desert southwest and Mexcio. We're still adding to the varieties published here.
The usual form of cylindropuntia whipplei is an upright shrub, 6 feet or more high, with many 3 to 6 inch stems branching from a woody central trunk, though the plant also has a low growth variant, found in less favorable environments, where the stems are shorter, stay close to the ground and may have fewer spines. Stems are bright green or sometimes purplish green, bearing distinct tubercles and clusters of 3 to 8 white or yellowish spines, each between 1 and 2 inches long. The spines do not completely cover the stems.The ones shown here were only 7 inches tall.