Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Prickly pear pad structure

with 17 comments

Prickly Pear Fibers 0392

When I went back on July 26 to Brushy Creek Lake Park, the scene of last year’s coreopsis colony and this season’s expectant snow-on-the-mountain colony, I also came upon a dead prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii). When this type of cactus dies, the outer covering of each pad decomposes and reveals the complex inner structure. The chambers among the fibers shown here once held cells that retained water, but now those interstices are filling in with sand, small pebbles, and other bits of debris blown by the wind.

One form of water that this type of cactus only occasionally encounters in Austin is ice, but the structure of these fibers strikes me as somehow similar to patterns in ice that I recently saw in a post called Fractured River, in the blog Purple Shoe Photography. Follow the link and, if you feel so inclined, tell in a comment whether you too see a resemblance between these two unrelated things.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 2, 2011 at 5:24 AM

17 Responses

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  1. Ah ha – I refer back to one of your first comments on my blog regarding a post on the very same topic! I had a look through to Purple Shoe – and agree that there are many similarities 🙂


    August 2, 2011 at 5:37 AM

    • Good: so I’m not the only one who sees a similarity. Thanks for letting us know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 2, 2011 at 6:56 AM

      • Thank you for the mention, Steve 🙂


        August 2, 2011 at 11:42 AM

      • I’m happy to do it. If I’d had a better memory I would have done it when I posted the article early this morning.

        Steve Schwartzman

        August 2, 2011 at 12:44 PM

  2. Oh Cool! Gawd, I said Oh Cool. sigh much giggling
    Yes they are alike and that is oddly strange, and probably shouldn’t be so. I think that I have had the thought that only I paid attention to things like this. 🙂

    Elisa's Spot

    August 2, 2011 at 6:51 AM

    • No, you’re not alone in paying attention to things like this. From time to time I’ve been impressed by the similarity of structures in unrelated plant species. It’s rarer to find a similarity between a plant and something inorganic, but it’s all the more fun.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 2, 2011 at 7:00 AM

  3. This is an interesting reveal and they are similar. I was also reminded of the similarity to the arterial structure of the human body. Your cactus and the human arteries and veins are very alike in form and function.
    ~ Lynda


    August 2, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    • Thanks for adding arterial structure as another exemplar of the pattern. Now if I find a damaged cactus bleeding red maybe I won’t be so surprised.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 2, 2011 at 7:31 AM

      • I think I misspoke. While alike in form I believe their function is of a more structural nature.
        I like your wit! ~ L


        August 2, 2011 at 8:04 AM

      • Good clarification. And I’ll remember that you were a wit-ness to my sense of humor.

        Steve Schwartzman

        August 2, 2011 at 11:35 AM

  4. Oh yay! This morning I found this on my subscribed blogs updates for Salah, it’s called Nature’s Engineering and carries the same sort of fractal patterns that we have been sharing about here on my own post Fractured River, and over at Steve Schwartzman’s blog Prickly Pear pad structure!

    Elisa's Spot

    August 3, 2011 at 9:00 AM

  5. Aerial view of the ruins of a Roman city? I see aqueducts, temples…


    August 3, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    • And I thought I have a vivid imagination; yours is positively perfervid. But in the midst of our fervid weather, we could use an aqueduct or two.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 3, 2011 at 9:09 PM

  6. Fascinating how patterns repeat, from microscopic to astronomical and everything in between.

    Watching Seasons

    August 4, 2011 at 1:11 PM

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