Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Color Burst

It was a lazy Saturday morning and I was in sloth mode.  I hadn't even taken my usual walk around the 3-mile neighborhood loop.  If you've ever seen the sloths of Central America, you know that their favorite 'activity' is just hanging out, usually sleeping.  To quote National Geographic, "The sloth is the world's slowest mammal, so sedentary that algae grows on its furry coat."  Rather than in a tree, I had perched myself in a comfy chair on the patio to enjoy the glorious, but all-too-brief show of the trichocereus cactus blooms in the garden.  Big puffy clouds kept the sun at bay and the temperature in the quite pleasant range. 

Trichocereus, also known as hybrid torch cacti, are popular with gardeners in Tucson for their huge, brilliant blooms.  Hybridized from tropical species, they are fairly cold tolerant, asking only for a bit of filtered shade and an occasional splash of water.  I have a collection of perhaps twenty plants in my Jardín Cactita, the little cactus garden.  A paltry number compared to the Desert Museum's large collection.

Cactus bees come to gather the abundant pollen and nectar, and pollinated plants will produce large, round fruits filled with tiny seeds. Being hybrids, it's doubtful that the seeds are viable, but I should ask a knowledgeable grower about this.  I might try growing some new plants from seed.
 For the most part, the blossoms only last one day, closing up by late afternoon, never to open again.  A couple of the species, however, produce flowers that will open for a second day.  Thus, it's important to take advantage of the event, drop what you had planned and simply enjoy!


Flower anatomy is primarily what determines the taxonomy of plants.  While it might seem obvious from looking at a plant that it is a cactus, that's not necessarily so.  Many non-cactus plants, for example, have spiny, sharp projections.  People often mistake some euphorbias, agaves and ocotillos for cactus.  Cactus flowers have a multi-lobed stigma (the white, or cream, structure in the center of the photos, the female part) and many stamens (the male, pollen-carrying structures deeper in the center). 

So, I was sipping my coffee, taking photos, enjoying the flowers and watching the hummingbirds zip around.  My year-around hummers are Costa's and Anna's and I am so accustomed to the sounds they make. 
So, when a new sound entered my consciousness, I looked quickly around to see one of the Anna's being chased by .  .  . a rufous??  Wow, what a surprise!  There was no doubt - the lovely rust-colored wings, the orange-red iridescent throat, and that famous rufous aggressiveness.  Even with my camera in my hand, I was too dumbstruck to take a photo.  Not that he would have slowed down long enough anyway.  The birding experts say the male rufous migrate early, but THIS early?  Oh, that was exciting.  The rufous made a couple more speedy passes by the feeder but never stopped to drink.
No sooner had I calmed down than another hummingbird flew right by my face and it was a blur of color that only registered as blue.  Blue?  Sure enough, a few moments later a better view revealed the red beak and the brilliant colors of a male broad-billed.  What a crazy day!  Flying flowers competing with the torches. 
A desert spiny lizard came out and posed with the flowers. 

Some Gambel's quail stopped by the snack bar.
And those flowers just kept on blooming.


Maybe every day should be a sloth day!  I won't get nervous until I start to see the algae grow.


  1. Gorgeous! I also had a rufus terrorizing everyone else at the feeders yesterday.

  2. What a delightful post! Glad I dropped in for a visit today. The plants and flowers are gorgeous, a nice change from the norm, and that hummingbird and quail are both birds I'd love to see!! Hope you enjoy a lovely week!! ~karen

  3. Stunningly beautiful colors and photos Carole!

  4. Too bad the flowers only last a day, but you're right to drop what you're doing to enjoy them. Somehow I don't think any algae will be growing on you!

  5. Nothing I write here will be enough compliment to this post. Beautiful!!!!!!!!

  6. you're funny, but I can be a sloth too, if that is what I see, soooo beautiful, you are right, if they only open up a day, might as well stop any plans, and enjoy those very beautiful blooms, I am glad you did.

  7. Wow! Now I remember why I look forward to your posts. I learned new info, and got to see beautiful pictures. I never know how to identify cacti by their stigma until now. And the first picture just glowed in that beautiful light.

    I'm helping with the Talk-to-a Biologist program and we are forced to sit somewhere along the auto tour. We have all seen things we've never seen before when just driving through.

    So, while I have a hard time sitting still, I'm definitely sure its the best way to see all the little details of life.


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