For the love of cacti

BigBendApril14to17.2012 625
Haystack cactus (Echinocereus stramineus), often confused with the strawberry cactus, (Echinocereus enneacanthus) in Big Bend National Park, by Rick LoBello

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When I worked at Big Bend National Park I spent much of my time studying the desert plants that surrounded my home at Panther Junction.   My favorite was the large mound forming strawberry cactus commonly called pitaya.   In the spring some of the larger strawberry cactus mounds would burst into bloom with dozens of red flowers that would later in the summer turn into red fruits that tasted like strawberries.  Unlike the fruits of the more common prickly-pear cactus covered with tiny spines called glochids, the strawberry cactus had fewer larger spines that were easy to take off.   Every summer I would collect the fruits of the strawberry cactus, put them in the refrigerator and then eat them with whip cream.  Back in those days it was a 200 round trip drive to get groceries in Alpine, so the bounty of the desert was very appealing to me on a hot summer day.

I have always loved cacti and obviously now that you have read my story, not just because of their beauty.   Earlier this year local authors Gertrud and Ad Konings donated boxes of their beautiful coffee table book – Cacti of Texas in their Natural Habitat to help the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC) with its membership program. This book is no doubt the most colorful and complete book for its size ever published on the cacti of Texas.   I have looked over all kinds of cactus books over the years and few books can compare. As the membership chair of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition I am in charge of giving out free copies of this colorful and informative book to all new and renewing members.   So far the going has been slow, but with the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta coming up next month and the holidays soon after, I am hoping that hundreds of people in El Paso will want to have their own copy.  

If you don’t have much affection for the cacti of Texas, it is no doubt because you have no idea how amazing each species is, uniquely adapted to living in our arid desert.
Everyone living in the Chihuahuan Desert should be able to name at least a dozen or more species. Did you know that the Chihuahuan Desert is considered the epicenter of cacti diversity with 318 species of 1500 species worldwide.  In Texas alone there are 136 species and the Konings were able to include a photograph of each and every one in their book.

Thanks to the generosity of the Konings you can have your own FREE copy by becoming a member of CDEC for only $20!   At this time the books are not being shipped from El Paso, but if you live in El Paso and become a member we will get you a copy by dropping one off where you live or work or when you attend an upcoming CDEC event. The book sells for $59.99 plus postage when you get one on so don’t miss out on adding this title to your home library.

Every day as new developments destroy more and more large areas of desert, the cacti living in our area and all the wildlife species associated with them are disappearing.  Want to help conserve them?  The first step is learning the names of the common species in our area.   Cacti of Texas in their Natural Habitat will help you do just that.





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