Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Branched Pencil Cholla

The branched pencil cholla, also known as the diamond cholla (Cylindropuntia ramossisima), has many narrow branches made up of cylindrical segments that are green, but then dry to gray. 

The surface is made of diamond shaped patterns. The diamond shaped patterns either have no spines or one long straight spine. 
The flowers are small (about a 1/2 inch in diameter) and are variously described as orange, pink, salmon or brown.   

Finding the flowers is a challenge. The best time to find the flowers is in the late afternoon of the hotter months (May to July) when most people have stopped visiting the desert. That is why very few people ever see them flowering and one source says "many botanists confess they have never seen one." If you do see one, "consider yourself lucky." 

I have had a goal all spring/summer to see the flowers. Each week I look at the pencil cholla and try to decipher when they are going to bloom. I'd been noticing that the ends of many of the branches were growing bulbous and getting lots of tiny spines on the end. 
A photo on June 13th.
Photo on June 20th. The bulbous ends are getting larger. 

Then this last weekend, June 27th, the bulbous ends look like they are starting to dry out. 
I figured that is where the flowers would emerge. Then I started noticing remnants of what I assumed were dried flowers. I then read in a source that the best time to see them was later afternoon (I was always looking for them in the morning). So this past Monday I took a later afternoon visit to the area, having already visited Saturday morning. I was very disappointed to look at a number of the pencil cholla plants and find no flowers. Eventually I surveyed about 50 separate cacti and find exactly two with flowers, one with three flowers and one with one flower. I was excited to see those flowers, but now as I'm thinking about it and reviewing my photos, I'm realizing I've been wrong all along. My photos start showing dead flowers on May 23rd. 
Photo from May 23rd. In hindsight, these are clearly drying flowers. 
In hindsight, that is the beginning of the bloom. I believe the ends expanding are the fruit of the dead flower growing, just like the fruit of the hedgehog cactus that gets lots of spines on it. My later photos are showing the fruit drying up. So the flowers I saw on June 29th are probably some of the last of the season. I needed to do a late afternoon visit in late May or early June.   

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