Portraits of Wildflowers

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Tasajillo with fruit

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Tasajillo Cactus with Fruit 3827

Click for greater clarity.

On March 13th I spent some time at McKinney Falls State Park in southeast Austin, where I photographed this Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, known as pencil cactus, Christmas cactus, and tasajillo. Notice how new joints emerge from the upper parts of some of the bright red fruits. Those joints (as well as the others) can break off easily and cling to clothing or fur that has come in contact with them. To give you a sense of scale, I’ll add, thanks to Cacti of Texas, that these little fruits typically reach a length between 1.4 cm and 2.4 cm, or about 9/16 and 15/16 of an inch. Books say that they’re edible, but I think it would take a lot of work, and painstakingly pain-avoiding work at that, to get enough of them to be satisfying.

If you’d like to back away from this closeup and see the kind of thickets that pencil cacti can form, a picture from just over a year earlier will show you; coincidentally, it’s also from McKinney Falls State Park, but a different part.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 4, 2014 at 6:03 AM

Posted in nature photography

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16 Responses

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  1. What a great example of the importance of scientific names. I have a pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) and several varieties of Christmas cactus (such as Schlumbergera russelliana), but they’re quite obviously not this Texas native.

    I can’t remember seeing this one. It’s so strange to see new joints emerging from the fruits. The prickly pear’s fruits are so much more convenient.


    April 4, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    • My process has gone the other way from most people’s: almost everything I know about plants started with species native to central Texas and went out from there to plants native elsewhere.

      The closest to you that the USDA map shows this species is Colorado County, and I don’t know how common it is there. I often see it here in Austin.

      I think we’re all surprised to see those new joints emerging from the fruits. It’s as if a pair of hands started growing on our heads.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 4, 2014 at 7:42 AM

  2. They look delicious but I think I would leave them to the birds.


    April 4, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    • You raise a good question: I don’t know what kinds of animals eat these little fruits.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 4, 2014 at 8:04 AM

      • Oh, I was just going by this http://www.valleycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=999187#.Uz6ucKLdzB0 which says mockingbirds and cardinals. And this says deer, quail and wild turkey http://www.backyardnature.net/n/w/tasajill.htm


        April 4, 2014 at 8:10 AM

        • Those are excellent links. Thanks for providing them and saving me the fingerwork (no legwork needed to walk through the Internet). I found it curious that the writer of the second article refers to the tasajillo fruits as being the size of a mothball. That may be true, but I would never have made that comparison.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 4, 2014 at 8:25 AM

          • Mothballs were very much a part of my childhood. I don’t think about them much anymore. Where have the moths gone? I don’t find moth-eaten sweaters or blankets anymore.


            April 4, 2014 at 7:33 PM

            • Now that you mention it, I remember growing up with the smell of mothballs in certain closets and drawers. Like you, I wonder why our clothing seems to do okay now without mothballs. Maybe somebody has trained the moths to behave.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 4, 2014 at 9:22 PM

  3. oooh! interesting! I’ve never seen this type of cylindropuntia!


    April 4, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    • Oooh is right. After the prickly pear, this is the most common cactus in central Texas. In fact I saw a few today about 60 miles south of Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 4, 2014 at 4:48 PM

  4. I saw one like this at the botanical cactus garden in Phoenix, they are amazing, Great shoot!

    • Except for a day at the Grand Canyon, Arizona is a state I’ve only driven across several times. I’d like to spend some time exploring there one of these days. In the meantime, plenty of prickly pears and pencil cacti keep me company here when I make my forays into nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 4, 2014 at 9:18 PM

  5. I LOVE cacti


    April 4, 2014 at 8:53 PM

  6. […] contrast to the Christmas cactus, a different red and green that I found at McKinney Falls State Park on March 13th was this wild […]

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