Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A self-inflicted wound

with 19 comments

Prickly Pear Cactus Spine Piercing Tuna 5069

Click for greater size and clarity.

The last post reminded you that the fruits of the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engelmanniii, which turn a rich red when they ripen at this time of year, are known as tunas. The tuna shown here was unusual because as it increased in size it had touched, and then gotten pierced with, the tip of a spine from a nearby pad of the same plant. How much of the interaction was due to the spine’s growth as well, I don’t know, but I’m reminded of another strange feat of prickly pear penetration I encountered and presented here this past January.

Another reminder is in order: the many little spines that surround the base of the large ones are called glochids. These tiny spines are the more insidious ones because when you bump up against them they pull out in bunches, go right into your skin, and are hard to remove. As I wrote last year: once glochided, twice shy.

Today’s photograph of a self-inflicted wound—thankfully the cactus’s this time, not mine—comes from an August 22nd jaunt to the west of Morado Circle in my Great Hills neighborhood.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 23, 2013 at 6:03 AM

19 Responses

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  1. I would not like to be glochided. Our locust trees around here have nasty short barbs on the branches that are not easy to see. If you touch one without heavy leather gloves, you get a bump and sore spot for 2 weeks. Learned from experience. Some of the spines on another variety are 6″ long and cover a large part of the trunk. It discourages climbing.

    Nice close-up today.

    Jim in IA

    September 23, 2013 at 6:40 AM

    • It sounds like you’ve earned the right to say “Once locusted, twice shy.” And I can see where six-inch-long thorns would discourage climbing on the other variety.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 23, 2013 at 6:55 AM

    • It’s interesting that both you and the next commenter used the phrase “nice close-up.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 23, 2013 at 7:56 AM

      • It speaks well of your skill.

        Jim in IA

        September 23, 2013 at 11:04 AM

        • Still, I always give much of the credit to my 100mm macro lens, without which I couldn’t take pictures this close.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 23, 2013 at 12:49 PM

          • I didn’t notice before how the spine has a twist along the length of it. Nice.

            Jim in IA

            September 23, 2013 at 4:10 PM

            • That’s a good observation. Not all the spines have a twist—at least not that I’ve noticed—nor do I know if the twist serves any purpose or is mere happenstance.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 23, 2013 at 4:45 PM

  2. My son fell onto a pot of cacti when he was very young, in the dark, and I foolishly rubbed his hands not knowing what he’d fallen into. Took days to try and pick out the tiny hairs or glochids with tweezers. Poor child was in agony – I probably scarred him for life!! (Nice close-up btw)


    September 23, 2013 at 7:44 AM

    • What a terrible experience your son had; I can imagine how that would traumatize him.

      Thanks to you and Jim (above) for both appreciating this close-up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 23, 2013 at 7:53 AM

  3. A drama in one very short act: Setting, Great Hills, Austin

    Tuna: “I told you. I want to stay here. I’ve got everything I need – food, water, a place to sleep.”
    Papa Pad: “It’s time for you to get out of here and start a new family. I intend to encourage you.”

    The End


    September 23, 2013 at 8:13 AM

    • Your drama wins an award for brevity. Now I can’t help wondering if you’ve ever considered writing a post for your blog that would be in the form of a scene from a play, whether comic or serious.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 23, 2013 at 9:07 AM

      • I hadn’t, but I might. It did occur to me today that I missed adding the perfect title: “Least Tuna”. I wonder if the creators of “Greater Tuna” would sue me?


        September 23, 2013 at 7:50 PM

        • I don’t think that the creators of “Greater Tuna” are attuned to the culture of lawsuits.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 23, 2013 at 10:18 PM

  4. Ouch…


    September 23, 2013 at 8:17 AM

  5. Il vaut mieux être vacciné contre le tétanos si un de ces piquants nous perce le doigt..!
    La photo est superbe Steve


    September 23, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    • Je n’ai jamais pensé au tétanos à l’égard de ces piquants, Chantal. Encore un risque d’être photographe de la nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 23, 2013 at 9:11 AM

  6. You got right to the point about those sneaky little glochids! Yep, I have managed the self-infliction of a rich application of them along the side of my hand and arm when I negligently leaned in too close for a prickly pear photo, not noticing the second-rank palisade of glochids while I so cleverly avoided the primary spines. Of *course* I was en route to the art museum and spent the first 20 minutes of browsing picking those little needles out of my flesh. Can you say, Learning Experience? Perhaps there would be some comfort in seeing that the plants themselves don’t know enough to look out for the defenses, but that’s just admitting to my being no smarter than a vegetable, and *that* smarts!


    September 23, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    • Did you know that the adjective smart is the same word as the verb smart? It’s similar to the metaphor of someone having a “sharp” or “acute” mind. But back to those “sneaky” glochids: I’m sorry you learned about them the hard way. Even though I’m pretty careful now when I get close to a prickly pear, I can’t be looking through a viewfinder and also be checking for safety immediately around me. Sometimes I sit on the ground for picture-taking stability, but the ground near a cactus can be home to fallen glochids. That’s why I often describe glochids as insidious—and we haven’t even gotten to a discussion of the way their barbed tips make it easy for them to stay embedded in our skin.

      As for your experience, maybe you could’ve photographed your glochided hand and arm, then submitted the photographs to the museum as a piece of conceptual—nay, perceptual—art. I saw lots of less-inspired things in the Ft. Worth Museum of Modern Art on Friday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 23, 2013 at 1:02 PM

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