Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

More cacti near Tucson

with 35 comments

On our way out of Tucson four years ago today we stopped for a guided desert walk in the eastern section of Saguaro National Park. That’s where we first heard about the staghorn cholla cactus, Cylindropuntia versicolor. The second picture offers a closer look at the fruit of this species.

We also saw two other cacti, a fishhook barrel (Ferocactus wislizenii) and a saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea):

And here’s a relevant quotation for today: “Few countries in the world present so marvellous a variety of scenic features as does Arizona, the Wonderland…. Drop upon it where you will, it is wondrous, marvellous, astounding, even thrilling.” — George Wharton James in Arizona, the Wonderland, 1917.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 8, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

35 Responses

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  1. I don’t recall ever going to a guided desert walk out there, though I wish we had. I do recall stopping and hiking a little ways on our own. Such a beautiful area, and I completely agree with that quote. Granted, it does take some getting used to when you grew up with the greenery of the east coast, but as a kid it didn’t long at all to get used to and enjoy. Just don’t go sledding in the mountains after a first snow using your jeans as a sled. Sometimes that little bump up ahead is actually a very spiny cactus under the snow and it has a way of catching you on the way down! 🙂

    Todd Henson

    November 8, 2020 at 6:02 AM

    • We hadn’t planned on taking a guided walk in the national park but when we arrived at the visitor center we discovered one was about to leave, so we joined it. Given how little I know about the flora and fauna there, I figured it would be a good way to learn some things, and it was. The only drawback for me is that I can’t hold up a group, so on tours I take what pictures I can at the time, then sometimes go back for more afterwards.

      Snow in a desert is something I’ve never seen. Unlikely you’d find me sledding in it, even with a real sled in lieu of jeans. It sounds like you speak from (painful) experience.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2020 at 6:51 AM

      • Painful, indeed, though fun to look back on. My brother still sometimes rags me about it. It didn’t snow all that often. I remember waking up to snow, going out playing in it, and then by noon it had all melted and we were back out in short-sleeved shirts. That’s why we went up into the mountains, they were still cold enough for the snow to stick around much longer. And it was much deeper. Fun times.

        Todd Henson

        November 8, 2020 at 5:57 PM

  2. The staghorn cholla cactus looks amazing. I’ve never seen a cactus like that. (And I like them, I have 8 different ones in my flat. 🙂 )


    November 8, 2020 at 6:18 AM

  3. I’m quite impressed with these images! You might be winning me over to appreciate cacti after all. These are all big stunners – not at all like the low-to-ground cacti around here I find to be a nuisance! The last photo is a grand view, showing the landscape, big sky and appreciative size of the barrel and saguaro.


    November 8, 2020 at 7:02 AM

    • After the pandemic ends you’ll have to find the time to take a trip to Arizona, where some kinds of cacti are much larger than anything we see in the south-central part of the country. The saguaros are by far the most famous, but as you see here, the staghorn cholla is also impressive. Arizona does have big-sky views, as you said, and when it comes to grand there’s always the Grand Canyon.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2020 at 7:11 AM

  4. I did my graduate work at U of A in soil science in the early 70’s. I was fortunate enough to be hired by the US Soil Conservation Service, got paid to do soil surveys all over Pima county. Best job I’ve ever had. I love your photos, bring me back to my love of the desert. We’ve been back once, have posts about that trip. We’ll have another trip when it’s safe….


    November 8, 2020 at 7:42 AM

    • I’d also gladly go and visit Arizona again. In the meantime, we look back at photos from other times.
      I see you’ve spent winters in the Austin area. That’s where the majority of pictures in this blog come from, as it’s where I live.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2020 at 9:22 AM

  5. We live in Arizona six months of the year and have spent a lot of time identifying cacti. Or trying. And I remain confused about the different species of cholla.
    The second photo looks to me like what I have heard called chain fruit cholla.
    From Wikipedia: Cylindropuntia fulgida, the jumping cholla, also known as the hanging chain cholla, is a cholla cactus native to Sonora and the Southwestern United States.
    But you identify it as Staghorn, which I thought was different.
    Can you clarify. Thanks .

    Martha Goudey

    November 8, 2020 at 8:07 AM

    • Lucky you to live in Arizona half the year.
      I’m in harmony with your “Or trying,” as I’m not great at identifying plants. At the time when I sorted and labeled the pictures I took four years ago, I apparently had reasons to believe that the second photograph showed a staghorn cholla. What the reasons were, I no longer know; I also don’t know if I was right. Cylindropuntia fulgida seems plausible. Where’s a cholla expert when we need one, right?

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2020 at 9:34 AM

      • I think it’s funny you say you aren’t great at identifying plants. Seriously? I am amazed at your ability to identify plants.
        The cholla though are indeed a mystery.

        Martha Goudey

        November 12, 2020 at 7:52 AM

        • Thanks for your vote of confidence. After 20 years I recognize the common native species in Austin, but I’m in awe of a few people I know here who can walk around and tell you the name of just about every plant, common or uncommon. With some of the species I’ve shown in my posts I’ve spent lots of time figuring out what they were. Inevitably I’ve had to correct occasional mistaken identities. I’ll gladly commiserate with you about chollas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 13, 2020 at 7:17 AM

  6. The variety in sizes, shape and form of these desert plants is amazing.

    Peter Klopp

    November 8, 2020 at 8:17 AM

  7. We’ve just planted a cholla in our back yard.


    November 8, 2020 at 4:37 PM

  8. Amazing specimens!

    Eliza Waters

    November 8, 2020 at 7:49 PM

  9. If I’d come across a photo of that fishhook barrel cactus without any context, I would have sworn it was photoshopped. It’s so much larger than any barrel cactus I’ve seen, it looks unreal. I’d still take it over the Medusa-like staghorn cholla, though. Even the pretty colors don’t keep that one from looking threatening.

    I do like the combination of the saguaro and barrel cacti. Their forms and textures are so different, they play off one another nicely.


    November 8, 2020 at 9:27 PM

    • I did play the saguaro and the fishhook barrel cactus off against each other. The fact that the barrel is in the foreground with the saguaro behind it may make it seem even larger than its already large size, and that could have contributed to your reaction. The picture is Photoshopped, but only because I process all my photographs in that program; clearly you were using the participle in its ‘faked’ sense. And speaking of unreality, I can imagine that the yellow fruits in a circle around the top of the barrel cactus were bolted on.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2020 at 9:40 PM

      • Now that you’ve raised the possibility of bolted-on flowers, I’m suddenly seeing the barrel cactus as one of those pieces of metal yard art that are so popular.


        November 8, 2020 at 9:43 PM

  10. All are nice but I really like the combination in the last shot. That fishhook barrel is a beauty. As much as I enjoy my cacti collection I wish I lived closer to their garden where I could see them naturally.

    Steve Gingold

    November 9, 2020 at 3:22 AM

    • The southwest of our country is a cactus garden on an immense scale. I, too, wish I lived closer to it. I saw other barrel cacti in Arizona but the subject of the third picture is the only one I remember being close to a saguaro.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 9, 2020 at 5:48 AM

  11. Watch out for those “jumpers.”


    November 9, 2020 at 7:40 AM

    • Yup, several of them “jumped” on me during our two stays in Arizona. Fortunately they came off easily enough.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 9, 2020 at 7:45 AM

  12. That is one handsome saguaro! I’ve never seen a staghorn cholla – interesting! I’m eager to get back to Arizona!


    November 11, 2020 at 6:36 PM

    • I don’t remember whether I’d seen a staghorn cholla on our previous visit to Arizona; perhaps I had without really singling it out. I’m as eager as you to get back to Arizona.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2020 at 7:23 AM

  13. Goodness, those are some lovely cacti! And you’re making me rethink one of my plant identifications…
    Have you been back to see the land since then?

    Scott Dee

    January 28, 2021 at 11:29 PM

    • Arizona is certainly a wonderland of cacti. I haven’t been back there since the day I took these pictures, but I’d certainly like to return.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 29, 2021 at 7:30 AM

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