Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Prickly pear cactus flower

with 42 comments

I don’t think I did any portraits of prickly pear cactus flowers in 2019. This picture from April 28 along Park Road 4 in Burnet County makes up for that omission. The species is Opuntia engelmannii but I’m not positive about the variety; I’m leaning toward var. engelmannii. Let’s hope I don’t lean too far because I don’t want to get prickly pear glochids and spines in my skin.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 6, 2020 at 4:45 AM

42 Responses

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  1. Wonderful form and the colours glow against the dark background. So perfect it’s like a work of art Steve! Love this.

    Ms. Liz

    May 6, 2020 at 5:01 AM

    • I was pleased with the way this came out. Photography in its early decades had to fight for recognition as an art. Now most people agree that a good photograph is indeed a work of art.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2020 at 6:21 AM

  2. I’ve been in close proximity to prickly pear several times before, and I support your wisdom to not lean too far. The spines are indeed formidable. And I’ve seen it in flower before, but never with this degree of maturity and perfection. I have eaten it also (nopal), with eggs for breakfast, and it was so delicious!)


    May 6, 2020 at 5:04 AM

    • Actually I did reach out a bit carelessly and ended up with two glochids in my hand that bothered me for several days. The nopal is no pal of most Americans; as you attest, Mexicans use it as a regular item in their diet. And yes, this flower was the best specimen of the cactus flowers I saw on my outing that day.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2020 at 6:25 AM

  3. Despite it being a problematic import here, I love its blooms. Your image is definitely a work of art!


    May 6, 2020 at 5:21 AM

    • I’m sorry prickly pears have become a nuisance in your country. Some alien plants are easier to love than others. People are leery of prickly pears because of their spines and glochids, but the flowers are gorgeous. As for the photograph, thanks for seconding its categorization as art.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2020 at 6:28 AM

  4. So beautiful. It strikes me that I haven’t seen a single prickly pear in bloom this spring. That seems odd, but a combination of circumstances probably accounts for it.

    I just skimmed my photos of prickly pear, and found that some have that deep orange center, while others are completely yellow. Oddly, Eason doesn’t mention prickly pear at all, but Richardson’s book on Texas beach plants says that in Cameron County, the plant blooms in colors from bright red to yellow, and all shades in between. I have found orange-ish flowers on the Willow City loop; I suppose some of this is natural variation within species.

    I especially like the way you’ve captured the ‘prickly’ edges of the petals. I’ve seen that sharpness in the sepals, but not in the petals.


    May 6, 2020 at 6:23 AM

    • I’m so used to thinking of “prickly” in terms of spines and glochids that I didn’t see the “prickly” tips of the petals the way you did. That’s a clever transference of the term. Prickly pear flowers may be reaching their peak in central Texas now; let’s hope the ones near you are about to do their thing.

      Isn’t it strange that Eason omits the prickly pear, which produces some of our prettiest flowers? I’m under the impression you’re right about natural variation in flower color. In Austin I most often see all-yellow ones. For purposes of portraiture, give me the ones with red or orange in the center.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2020 at 6:41 AM

  5. The bloom is lovely! I love the shape of the petals.


    May 6, 2020 at 7:48 AM

  6. The dark background makes the prickly pear cactus flower especially beautiful. Just as with roses, the beauty, which is so attractive, also gives warning not to come too close.

    Peter Klopp

    May 6, 2020 at 8:02 AM

    • My skin can tell you from long experience that prickly pears are much more insidious than roses.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2020 at 8:48 AM

  7. Absolutely fantastic picture, Steve! 🙂


    May 6, 2020 at 9:58 AM

  8. This is not a botanical statement. It is an artistic statement. This is a completely different take on the term “sunflower.”

    Michael Scandling

    May 6, 2020 at 10:57 AM

    • You’re right: prickly pear flowers are just as sunny as sunflowers.

      Pictures that are merely botanical don’t interest me nearly as much as those that could be called art.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2020 at 3:52 PM

      • I thoroughly understand, but you do have a fair amount of botanical knowledge and very often a lot of the discussion is about that.

        Michael Scandling

        May 6, 2020 at 6:42 PM

  9. Ooooh pretty! 🙂 I also love all that prickly pear candy they’re starting to make these days.

    M.B. Henry

    May 6, 2020 at 4:19 PM

  10. Lovely flower and one I recognize from raising a few Opuntias. And, of course, you probably remember my story of the blind cactus lover.

    Steve Gingold

    May 7, 2020 at 6:04 PM

    • I don’t recall that story. I searched on your blog but couldn’t find it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2020 at 7:24 PM

      • Maybe I’ve not shared it on the blog.

        Way back in the late 70’s I lived in a communal house. It was an old farmhouse and the landlord had a decent sized greenhouse attached. At the time I had a very large and growing cactus collection with several dozen species, among them a few Opuntias. Someone visiting the house noted my collection and mentioned that he had a friend who liked cactus and would love to come visit. When he came over he ran his hands all over each plant. I was amazed that he could do this without getting a single thorn in his fingers…not even those tiny ones on the Opuntia pads that seem to stick to you if you even get just within a few inches..he was blind and his sense of touch, and the others I would guess, were more highly refined. It was so impressive.

        Steve Gingold

        May 8, 2020 at 2:31 AM

        • That’s a good story. Maybe you can find a way to slip it into a post. I found this on the Internet: “The eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is New England’s only native cactus.” The USDA map shows it in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. I’m guessing its flowering time is now or soon.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 8, 2020 at 6:25 AM

          • If I ever find some O. humifusa to photograph and share I’ll tell the story. I’ve never seen it here, probably because it grows in sandy soil such as along the coasts and I spend most of my time in the woods and meadows. I do know of a site that is sandy locally and should look there. It flowers here in late May.

            Steve Gingold

            May 8, 2020 at 6:43 AM

  11. That looks about right. It is one that I brought back from Oklahoma, although I do not know which one it is either. I could likely identify it by the region it was in.


    May 7, 2020 at 10:10 PM

    • Regardless of the variety, I was happy with the picture it provided. Bill Carr’s Travis County plant document says this:

      “According to Parfitt & Pinkava (1989), the spines of Opuntia engelmannii var. engelmannii have a chalky white outer layer and the fruit is barrel-shaped, whereas the spines of Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri lack this chalky white outer layer, thus appearing yellow, and the fruit is pyriform or rather abruptly narrowed at the base.”

      I wish I’d known that when I was at the site of this picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2020 at 6:06 AM

  12. That hint of leaf and spines behind the bloom is beautifully done.


    May 8, 2020 at 4:04 PM

  13. Super image Steve … the colours and detail are lovely.


    May 11, 2020 at 2:38 PM

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