Friday, March 11, 2016

Beavertail on the Colorado

Opuntia basilaris
The rocky, almost barren desert of the lower Colorado River valley comes alive in March after winter rains and warm temperatures.  Yellow creosote bush blooms, brittlebush and yellow cups, and purple phacelia shout that spring has arrived.  But, nothing prepared me for the explosion of color that was the blooming of the beavertail prickly pear cactus.  Our annual trip to the river was just a week later this year than usual, and what a difference it made.  Normally I'm happy to see ten or so of these bright pink beauties.  Imagine my surprise and joy to be met with hundreds of the humble little cactus sporting big, bold flowers, everywhere the eye could see.

The flat, jointed pads of the beavertail give rise to its name.  A low-growing prickly pear with gray-green stems and no large spines, the pads are covered with tiny brown bristles called glochids.  These are far more irritating and bothersome to the human body than the big spines.  Note to admirers of the flowers, don't get too close to the plant!

Growing on the rockiest slopes, these plants seem to need little in the way of soil or water.  The flowers range in color from bold magenta to delicate pink, and I understand, there are even yellow and white varieties.  In this section of the Sonoran Desert along the Colorado River, I saw none of the yellow or white.

The flowers are followed by fruits, magenta to pale green, maturing to dry brown-gray, barrel shaped and usually spineless. Cactus bees are the pollinators.

A drive along Cienega Springs Road, and later a hike up Buckskin Trail literally took my breath away with the stunning glory of these flowers. The Death Valley superbloom had nothing on this display!


  1. Just beautiful! I haven't seen any blooms yet where we have been hiking...just lots more buds so it won't be long!

  2. Fantastic blog. And that pyroxolia is stunning.


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