New England has a profusion of flowers that start to emerge in the Spring. In the Southwest, the number of flowering plants is no different though the form is. When we think of difficult or thorny flowers in the North, roses come to mind. Their beauty is counterbalanced by the care with which they must be approached. But when compared to some in the South, their thorns are but tiny prickles. Once you see the saguaro cactus in bloom, there is little comparison.
Standing erect, high and full of sharps, the saguaro cactus doesn’t seem like a good candidate to sport a pretty flower. But as Juana and I discovered on our first walk today, it has a wide array of amazing flowering forms.
We passed lantanas, yucca, bougainvillea, aloe, agave, and others all of which were flowering. But the flowers that were being hotly pursued by wasps, yellow jackets and bees were those on the saguaro. They swarmed about the trumpet shaped flowers, which had whiteish delicate petals held by a frog-green, scaled casing. They appeared to be the only safe portion of the cactus though the stinging insects indicate otherwise.
The flowers appear initially on the top of the plant and cacti that used to look similar to hairless domes of elderly men are now filled with plugs of flowers. Its sharp needles are complemented by stubby, broads growths. More buds emerge from a scabby protrusion surrounded by needles ensuring nothing will nibble away at it as it grows to flowering size. Soon the cactus is covered with flowers and insects that thrive on its pollen. We dare not take a whiff.
And once pollinated, the flower shrinks and base increases in size to create a fruit that can be harvested in the next few months.
The insects are visitors that come and go while a variety of birds have made these plants into their own apartment towers. The birds seem little bothered by the insects, likely realizing that their actions will deliver fruit that they can feast on later in the year.