Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The eyes of Texas

with 14 comments

The prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engelmannii, is an emblem of Texas that has appeared numerous times in this blog, and not just for the past week. One post last year dealt with the structure inside a cactus pad, and another with discoloration on the surface of a pad, but I was intrigued in August of 2011 by the the ringed patterns I saw on the outside of some prickly pear pads that were just beginning to decay. At first I thought of the developing deformations as eyes, but the wavy margins of the one shown here and others like it ultimately made me imagine that I was looking at some sort of strange oyster. I don’t know if this is occasionally a normal type of decay for this species or if some agent like a fungus created the effect shown here.

Yet another flight of mind-wandering carries me back to something I’ve seen in old Texas cemeteries: once in a while a tombstone bears a transparent glassy structure, elliptical in shape and bulging shallowly from the surface of the slab, with a photograph of the dead person sheltered inside it. You’re free to impose that image here if you wish, and to see a bas-relief of a shrouded face where none ever existed.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 15, 2012 at 1:14 PM

14 Responses

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  1. It looks crazy. How interesting.


    February 15, 2012 at 1:21 PM

  2. Steve, I work in a monument company, so I am familiar with the oval portraits. And I love the speckled green coloration of the cactus. But the inside of the decaying area reminds me of a coffee filter! Nice photo, and it did leave me wondering what it is. I’ve gotten used to you telling me 🙂 ~Kyle


    February 15, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    • It’s nice that you have first-hand experience with the oval portraits. You also have an active imagination to see the inside of the decaying area as a coffee filter, something that never would have occurred to me. As for what’s actually in the oval, this is one of many things I see in nature that I can’t identify. Usually I show things that I can identify, but not always, and there’s a chance some knowing person will see one of those unknowns and identify it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2012 at 2:17 PM

  3. I think this plant has a fungus (Phyllosticta) known as pad spot. I’ve seen it happen on plants grown in greenhouses, but never in the wild. If you’re interested, there is a bit of limited information along with pictures here: http://ag.arizona.edu/plp/plpext/diseases/native/opuntia/opuntiaphylo.html

    New Hampshire Gardener

    February 15, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    • Thanks so much for that information. What I read at the site you linked to and at some others makes it seem plausible that this is indeed a Phyllosticta fungus. One site that I found says: “Minute fruiting structures are seen in the infected tissue.” I wonder if those are the dark spots that make up so much of the center of the depression.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2012 at 8:17 PM

  4. So unusual yet intriguing.

    Sheila T Illustrated

    February 15, 2012 at 11:13 PM

  5. I had no idea what this was until I read the text. I figured (for obvious reasons) it had something to do with the plant kingdom but to me it resembles some kind of exotic dessert served at a fancy restaurant. Great photo of a very unusual condition!!!


    February 16, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    • I’m glad to have provided a picture abstract enough that you couldn’t tell what it was. As for an exotic dessert, somehow I don’t think this would be very palatable (though people do eat nopalitos, which are strips of healthy prickly pear pads with the spines and glochids removed).

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 16, 2012 at 9:43 AM

  6. it looks delicately beautiful (although in real life it might be far from delicate 🙂 ?

    abu zar

    February 17, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    • You raise a good question. I never touched one of these elliptical regions, so I don’t know what sort of texture they have or how delicate they are. If i ever find any more of them I’ll try to find out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 17, 2012 at 1:40 PM

  7. […] time. My guess is that the hole you see here was the result of a process like the one I showed in a post almost a year ago, which I assumed to be the work of a fungus. Still, most of you don’t live near cacti of this […]

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