Archive for August 11th, 2010

Saguaro Cactus – Carnegiea gigantea

Sagoro Cactus

It is a large tree sized cactus; it is native to the Sonoran Desert in the US state of Arizona and Mexico. It is the state flower of Arizona. They live for a very long time; taking up to 75 years to form an arm

Harming a saguaro in any manner is illegal by state law in Arizona, and when houses or highways are built, special permits must be obtained to move or destroy any saguaro affected.

The ribs of the saguaro were used for construction and other purposes by Native Americans. The 3-inch, oval, green fruit ripens just before the fall rainy season, splitting open to reveal the bright-red, pulpy flesh, which all desert creatures seem to relish. This fruit was an especially important food source to Native Americans of the region who used the flesh, seeds and juice.

There is a National Park established just to protect the Saguaro Cactus (it was beginning to disappear from the landscape) located in Arizona (Saguaro National Park)

Claret Cup – Echinocereus triglochidiatus

Claret Cup Cactus

Its many names – Claret Cup, Strawberry Cactus, or King’s Crown Cactus – indicate a large and diverse family of plants of which eight different varieties have been recognized. It is a beautiful plant with long-lasting, waxy, scarlet flowers, which make it a favorite among gardeners. Echinocerens is from the Greek echinos, meaning “a hedgehog,” and cereus meaning “a wax taper.” These names refer to the plant’s spiny resemblance to a hedgehog (or so the early Europeans thought) and the plant’s shape, respectively. Triglochidialus means “three barbed bristles” and refers to the straight spines arranged in clusters of three.

Cacti can store water in the pulp of the plant’s fleshy stems; it is an old tale that one can get water from a cactus. After a rain, cacti can swell like an accordion with the extra moisture. Some Native American groups collected the claret cup’s stems, burned off the spines and mashed the stems. Sugar was then added to the mix and baked to form sweet cakes.

When my husband first saw this cactus…. he came home as swiftly as he could to get me. I had not seen this variety of cactus before…but the color of the flowers is my favorite color, sooooo…he had to get me. We went straight back up Mt. Blanca to the spot he found it, after I ooooo’d and ahhhh’d, took pictures, and stood up, I turned to look back at the valley I had only seen from ground level. It was gorgeous!

Prickly Pear – Opuntia phaeacantha polycantha

Prickly Pear Cactus with 4 flowers

When we lived in Colorado this was the most abundant cactus around us. It grew everywhere. It lead to my husband telling new comers that ‘if it is green or brown, growing on the ground it has prickles!’ We had to clear enough cactus for our home, for a driveway and a place to park the car. We marked off areas that were not to be disturbed, because we wanted the tunas (fruit) to make jam from!


Thought to have originated in central Mexico the Prickly pear cactus is now widespread being found in Southern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, western Kansas, Oklahoma, and the western two-thirds of Texas. Also in the  Great Basin, Mojave, and Chihuahuan Deserts. It is found scattered through woodlands of Pinyon Pine and juniper.

Prickly pear cactus is used in Mexican traditional medicine as a treatment for diabetes, and initial research supports this use. Just 50 years ago it was an almost forgotten remnant of Mexico’s Aztec past, grown by poor indigenous families in their backyards as an insurance against food shortages. Prickly pear fruits would have provided a good source of protein, vitamin C, potassium, and calcium. Today jam is still made from the fruit and relished!

Ripe prickly pear fruits are still one of the most important wild plant dye sources for traditional Navajo rug weavers. A variety of rose and pink dyes can be made from the ripe cactus fruit